An Ephemeral Look at Product Placement

There are plenty of lists detailing the worst product placement in movies; the fantastic Cracked.com’s The 10 Most Shameful Product Placements in Movie History is worth a look in particular. Everyone knows how E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was originally meant to use M&Ms rather than Reese’s Pieces, and that sales of the latter increased by 85% after the release of the 1982 film (Janet Wasko, Hollywood in the Information Age, 1995, p.190). Rather than compile another list or rehash more facts, I thought I would look at some interesting points (the term ‘highlights’ may be misleading at this juncture, as may the term ‘interesting’) throughout the history of product placement in Hollywood.

The Old Timey Product Placement

Product placement in the movies is nothing new, despite its prominence in the last thirty years. In 1945’s Mildred Pierce, Joan Crawford’s drink of choice was Jack Daniels. The placement of this brand was less obvious than some more recent attempts at promoting drinks.

The Quintessential 80s Product Placement

Part of the reason Santa Claus: The Movie holds a special place in my heart is because of the shameless product placement of those most high-profile of brands; Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. It is made all the more amusing by the fact that the film appears to propagate an anti-capatilist message. The McDonalds product placement complemented the Santa Claus: The Movie Happy Meal toys (as seen in the above advertisement). Product placement tie-ins truly reached a zenith in the mid 1980s.

The Mundane Product Placement

In late 2011, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol heavily feaured BMW cars. Earlier that year, How Do You Know featured another type of transport. The Metrobus was omnipresent in James L. Brooks’ film. In the movie, this mode of New York transport was punctual, reliable and clean. Only natives of the city can say how reliable this depiction is. As product placements go, it is hardly the most glamorous.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is out on DVD from 27th February 2012.

Film Review: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary about advertising in the movies is light and entertaining. Although The Greatest Movie Ever Sold explores some interesting ideas, the tone is always jovial.

Famed documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock takes on the unique task of making a film about product placement while trying to sell product placement for the film. Spurlock approaches a number of brands to ascertain their interest in taking part, whilst also delving into the world of advertising in films, and advertising in general…

What makes The Greatest Movie Ever Sold so appealing is the presentation style of Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock, who co-writes and directs the film, keeps the tone light and amusing. After all, the documentary focuses on a subject that is neither traumatic nor completely humorless.

There are moments in the film that explore a more serious side to the prominence of advertising. The investigation into advertising in schools, and the decisions made by school boards in America is enlightening. With this aspect, Spurlock broaches the more significant issue of the necessity of advertising. It is interesting to hear how one head teacher tries to balance limits on advertising with finding the necessary revenue for her school. Similarly, the segment filmed in Brazil highlights issues of advertising on a wider scale.

Spurlock discusses the issue of product placement in films with a variety of people involved in the industry. Some well-known directors pop up, as well as industry lawyers and executives. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is successful in its aim to depict just how prolific product placement is, and the reliance of the film industry on this stream of revenue.

Elsewhere, the ideas for advertising are greatly amusing, as are the actual adverts that feature in the film. Tellingly, even the companies game enough to get involved with a project such as this still want to call the shots. This is illustrated unambiguously in one CEO nixing ideas for the in-film advertisement.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold will not be overly enlightening for those who already have an interest in film. Nevertheless, Spurlock raises some interesting issues, and presents the documentary in an entertaining fashion.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is released on DVD on 27th January 2012.