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Normalizing consumption: Branded products in 2012 Hollywood Films

June 20, 2012

There have already been several major blockbuster films this year, with the most recent being The Avengers and Prometheus.

Before each of these films there is tremendous hype, with TV ads, online promotions and the use of all kinds of social media. Much of the hype and marketing is connected to products and cross-promotional campaigns connected to the films.

We have looked at product placement in films for the past ten years, with a report and documentary film produced in 2002. We have since looked at product placement in films with another report in 2010 and an article just this past December.

Product Placement in films is so normal that many of us don’t even notice it anymore. The contractual use of products in films has also evolved from just making any appearance in the film to sometimes being an integral part of the plot. In addition, many films also come with licensing agreements, which means the use of the film or film characters to sell products that do not even appear in the movie.

During the first half of 2012, this trend in Product Placement in films has not diminished. Take for example last weekend’s opening of the film Madagascar 3. The featured brands in this animated film are Airbus, Central Park Zoo, Cirque du Soleil, Duane Reade, Ducati, Ferrari, HP and the New York Knicks. Licensed products (products using film characters as marketing tools) are also numerous, with brand names such as Citi, General Mills, Kraft (JELL-O), L’Oreal, Lowe’s, McDonald’s, Sun-Maid and Hallmark are all using the film to market their brands. Indeed, it is expected that there will even be video games based on Madagascar 3, with game development in the works by Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360.

Men in Black 3, which opened in late May features 23 different branded products, such as: Aqua Velva, Cadillac, Coca-Cola, Cracker Jack, Dunkin’ Donuts, Ford, Ford Taurus, Glamour, Hamilton, Louis Vuitton, Mack, NBC, New York Examiner, New York Jets, New York Mets, New York Post, Rolaids, Roosevelt Hotel, Spalding, STP, Tsingtao, Viagra and Weekly World News.

Other movies with a significant number of product placement in the last six months are Contraband with 14 branded items in the film, Chronicle with 18 brands, The Vow with 16 brands, Safe House with 11 brands, 21 Jump Street with 28 brands, Think Like a Man with 24 brands and The Avengers with 19 branded items in the film.

Most of the branded items in these films have limited roles, such as CNN in Safe House or Budweiser in Contraband. Films that target younger audiences tend to have more branded items or at least branded items that take on a more important role in those films.

On example is 21 Jump Street, which featured 28 branded products with the backdrop of the film taking place in a high school. Another example is Chronicle, which features three high school boys. The movie is shot mostly through a handheld Sony camera, through the eyes of one of the main characters, with most of the settings taking place in spaces where high school students hang out – parties, restaurants, mall parking lots, school and each other’s home. In one scene, all three main characters are hanging out on school bleachers, where they are eating Pringles, drinking Pepsi and using digital handhelds. This is not an unusual dynamic for high schools, but by using branded items it normalizes their role in youth culture, even youth who are anything but normal.

Whatever one may think about the existence of branded products in movies, it is clear that they will remain one of the main forms of marketing in a hypermedia world.

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