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Embedded Commercialism: Product Placement in 2012 Hollywood Films

February 28, 2013

Products

This study was conducted by GRIID intern Chloe Beighley and Jeff Smith.

Product Placement in films is nothing new and has been part of Hollywood films since the early days. However, contractual agreements became formalized in the 1980s, with the film ET, when director Steven Spielberg got the Reeses Company to sign a contract to pay the film company money to use Reeses pieces in one scene.

Ever since, product placement has not only been contractual, it has escalated to a degree that there might be 30 – 40 different contractual products that appear in any given film. In addition, we have seen the use of branded products go from backdrop props to integral parts of a movie script. This is a trend that is investigated in the 2000 documentary, Behind the Screens: Hollywood Goes Hypercommercial.

GRIID has investigated Product Placement in films in both a 2002 film study and more recently in 2011. In this year’s study there were numerous examples of product placement, both in terms of frequency of use and products that were central to the film’s theme or main characters.

We looked at 49 of films from 2012 for this study and identified those, which had products as props, and those where products are more prominent.

Below is a table detailing the brands that were scene in the films, and the film(s) in which they were featured. Following the table, we provide some content analysis of products that appeared in films and those which were woven into the script.

321 Water The Hunger Games
ABC The Avengers
Absolut Flight
Ace of Spades Prometheus
Acura The Avengers
adidas Safe House
Afflication Here Comes The Boom
Airbus Madagascar 3
American Airlines The Bourne Legacy
Amstel Think Like A Man
Angry Birds That’s My Boy
Apple Chronicle, American Reunion, Contraband, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Fun Size, Hit and Run, Safe House, Taken 2, The Dictator, The Five Year Engagement, Trouble With The Curve, Wanderlust
Aqua Velva Men In Black 3
Arcteryx The Bourne Legacy
Aston Martin Skyfall
Atchisson Assault The Expendables 2
Audi Skyfall
aussieBum The Avengers
Axe Body Spray That’s My Boy
Barnes and Noble Think Like A Man
Baskin-Robins Chronicle
Bing.com The Amazing Spiderman
Black Opal Think Like A Man
Black Sabbath The Avengers
Blackberry Contraband, Project X, Safe House, Wanderlust
BMW Chronicle, Safe House
Bose The Avengers
Britax What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Budweiser American Reunion, Battleship, Contraband, Flight, Rock of Ages, Silver Lining Playbook, Ted, That’s My Boy, The Campaign, The Watch, Trouble With The Curve
Bugles The Watch
Buick One for the Money, Trouble With The Curve
Busch That’s My Boy
Bushmills Flight
C-SPAN The Avengers
Cadillac Hit and Run, Magic Mike, Men In Black 3, That’s My Boy
California Pizza Kitchen What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Campbell’s Soup House At The End Of The Street
Canon Chronicle
Carhartt The Grey
Carter’s What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Central Park Zoo Madagascar 3
Centrum Chronicle
Chevrolet 21 Jump Street, American Reunion
Chicago Cubs The Vow
Chrysler One for the Money, The Dark Knight Rises, Total Recall
Chupa Chups The Expendables 2
Cirque du Soleil Madagascar 3
CNN Safe House, The Avengers, The Campaign
Coca-Cola Battleship, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Here Comes the Boom, House At The End Of The Street, Men in Black 3, Safe House, The Watch, Trouble With The Curve
Colantotte The Avengers
Coldarin Chronicle
Columbia Here Comes The Boom
Converse Fun Size
Corona Flight
Corvette Hit and Run
Costco The Watch
Cracker Jack Men In Black 3
Crown Royal The Expendables 2
Daily Herald The Vow
Dartz Motorz The Dictator
Dasani Think Like A Man
Def Jam Records Fun Size
Dell Safe House, Trouble With The Curve
Delta Airlines What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Desert Eagle Pistol 21 Jump Street
Disaronno The Vow
Discovery Channel The Grey
Disney 21 Jump Street
Dodge Contraband
Dole The Vow
Doritos 21 Jump Street
Dos Equis Think Like A Man
Dr. Pepper The Avengers
Duane Reade Madagascar 3
Dunkin Donuts Hit and Run, Men In Black 3
Ed Hardy The Dictator
Embassy Suites Wanderlust
Evans 21 Jump Street
Facebook 21 Jump Street, Hit and Run, The Campaign, The Watch
Ferrari Contraband, Madagascar 3
Fiero That’s My Boy
Fila 21 Jump Street
Flash Gordon Ted
Ford 21 Jump Street, Contraband, Magic Mike, Men In Black 3, One for the Money, Think Like A Man, Trouble With The Curve
Framers Insurance The Avengers
FujiFilm Total Recall
Getac Underworld Awakening
Glamour Men In Black 3
Glidden What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Glock 21 Jump Street
Goldman Sachs The Campaign
Google The Campaign
Grey Goose Flight
Grey Hound Rock Of Ages
Groupon That’s My Boy
Gucci Tyler Perry’s Witness Protection
Guild Guitars Think Like A Man
Hamilton Men In Black 3
Harley-Davidson The Avengers
Heineken Flight, Skyfall, Think Like A Man, Total Recall
Hellman’s Mayo Silver Lining Playbook
Hello Kitty Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
Herbalife Think Like A Man
Honda Contraband, Magic Mike
Honey Nut Cheerios The Campaign
HP Madagascar 3
HTC Safe House
Hunter Boots Fun Size
Hyundai 21 Jump Street
Imperfect Indulgence The Vow
Jack Daniels Contraband, The Grey, Trouble With The Curve
Jack In The Box Total Recall
Jaguar Safe House, Skyfall
Jansport 21 Jump Street, The Amazing Spiderman, The Avengers, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, What To Expect When You’re Expecting
JDate.Com American Reunion
Jeep Contraband, Diary of a Whimpy Kid: Dog Days, The Vow
Jim Beam Flight
Jimmy John’s Chronicle
John Deere Men In Black 3
Kellogg Total Recall
Kinko’s Wanderlust
Lacoste Project X, The Vow
Lamborghini The Dark Knight Rises, The Dictator
Land Rover Safe House
Lay’s Potato Chips House At The End Of The Street
Layer Cake What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Lego Chronicle
LG Battleship, The Avengers
Lincoln 21 Jump Street, Hit and Run
Louis Vuitton Men In Black 3
M.I.T. The Expendables 2
MAC Cosmetics The Avengers
Macallan Whiskey Skyfall
Macaroni Grill The Vow
Mack Men In Black 3
Macys One for the Money
Magnum The Watch
Marriott Think Like A Man
Mazda Premium Rush
McDonalds Contraband, Dark Shadows
Mentos The Expendables 2
Mercedes Project X, Safe House, Taken 2, The Vow, Think Like A Man
Michelob Beer Ted
Miller Beers That’s My Boy
Mini Cooper American Reunion, Contraband, Think Like A Man
Moet & Chandon Wanderlust
MSNBC The Avengers, The Campaign
Mustang That’s My Boy
Nair Fun Size
NASA The Avengers
NBC Men In Black 3
New York Examiner Men In Black 3
New York Jets Men In Black 3
New York Knicks Madagascar 3
New York Mets Men In Black 3
New York Post Men In Black 3
Newcastle Pale Ale Think Like A Man
Newsweek That’s My Boy
Nike The Amazing Spiderman, Think Like A Man
Nintendo Ted, The Dictator
Northwestern University The Vow
NY1 The Avengers
Olive Garden The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Oliver Peoples The Amazing Spiderman
Omega Skyfall
Oracle The Avengers
Pabst Trouble With The Curve
Panasonic The Campaign
Panerai The Expendables 2
Pella Windows Magic Mike
Penn State University The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Pennzoil Chronicle
Pepperidge Farms Ted
Pepsi Chronicle, Contraband, The Expendables 2
Pétrus Safe House
Plantronics The Avengers
Play Station Ted
Playtex What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Pop ‘Em Ted
Porchse 21 Jump Street, Fun Size, The Vow
Pringles Chronicle
Quiznos 21 Jump Street
Raisan Bran Silver Lining Playbook
Range Rover Skyfall, The Expendables 2
Ray Ban American Reunion, The Bourne Legacy
Ray’s Pizza The Expendables 2
Rayovac The Watch
Red Bull 21 Jump Street, Chronicle, Safe House, The Campaign
Red Vines Chronicle
Reebok What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Rimowa The Avengers, Men In Black 3
Robitussen The Vow
Rolaids Men In Black 3
Rolex The Bourne Legacy
Rolling Rock That’s My Boy
Roosevelt Hotel Men In Black 3
Ruby Tuesday The Campaign
Sam Adams That’s My Boy
Samsung Cloud Atlas
Schlitz Contraband, Trouble With The Curve
School of the Art Institute of Chicago The Vow
Scrabble The Campaign
Sears House At The End Of The Street
Sheetz The Bourne Legacy
Singer Tyler Perry’s Witness Protection
SkyMall Wanderlust
Smart Car The Expendables 2
Smart Water 21 Jump Street, Hit and Run, Think Like A Man
Smirnoff Flight
Smith & Wesson 21 Jump Street
Snyder’s of Hannover Chronicle
Sony 21 Jump Street, Chronicle, Diary of a Whimpy Kid: Dog Days, Premium Rush, Skyfall, The Amazing Spider Man, The Vow, Think Like A Man
Sorel The Grey
Southwest Airlines The Avengers
Spalding Think Like A Man, Men In Black 3
Spam Trouble With The Curve
Springfield Armoury 21 Jump Street
Stary Melnik The Expendables 2
Stax The Vow
Stolichnaya Flight
STP Men In Black 3, Chronicle
Subway Battleship
Sugar Corn Pops Ted
Taco Bell 21 Jump Street, That’s My Boy
Taurus Judge Underworld Awakening
Teddy Ruxpin Ted
Tide The Watch
Tom Ford Skyfall
Toshiba Trouble With The Curve
Toyota Premium Rush, The Bourne Legacy, Hit and Run
Tribune Company The Vow
Triumph Motorcycle Here Comes The Boom
Tsingtao Men In Black 3
Twitter 21 Jump Street
Under Armor The Campaign
United States Navy Battleship
University of Cal, Berkeley 21 Jump Street
University of Michigan The Five Year Engagement
UPS Premium Rush
Utz Potato Chips Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Vaseline That’s My Boy
Vespa The Dictator
Viagra Men In Black 3
Voli Vodka American Reunion
Volkswagen 21 Jump Street, Chronicle, Skyfall
Volvo Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Fun Size, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
Waffle House Magic Mike
Walther PPK Skyfall
WedMD.com The Amazing Spiderman
Weekly World News Men In Black 3
Wellbutrin Wanderlust
Wheaties Dark Shadows
Wise Potato Chips Here Comes The Boom
Xanax Hit and Run
Yamaha The Campaign
Yashica The Amazing Spiderman
Zingerman’s Bakery The Five Year Engagement

 

There is a varying degree of integration of these products into films. In some of the films, the product was written into the script, and is a prominent part of the film. On the other side, in some of the films, the product is used merely as a prop or a means to an end.

Products as Propsamericanreunion2

Often times, the product placement that is seen in films does not affect the overall film. One prime example of that would be the film American Reunion, the final installment of the American Pie films. This movie featured quite a bit of product placement. Apple products are used twice, an apple iMac computer, and an iPhone. There are two different types of Ford cars seen, as well as a Mini Cooper. When the characters are at the beach, they are all wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses. When they are at the bar, they are drinking Budweiser products, and only Voli Vodka is seen behind the bar. Also, while most movies use fake websites, the dating site featured, jdate.com, is a real site. While those products were not integral to the film, they were all shown and used.

amazingspider

The Amazing Spider Man offers the majority of its product placement via websites that are shown being used. The Microsoft search engine “Bing” is used three times by Peter Parker, and he clicks through on one of those occasions to the medical search engine “WebMD.com.” We also see accessories as product placement in this film, as three of the main characters are wearing different models of Oliver Stone glasses. Also, the characters use all Sony products. Again, these products were all used as a means to an end for the characters.

Taken 2 offered quite a bit of product placement from Apple, namely the iPhone 5, as well as Mercedes. The iPhone placement is not surprising since the movie was released on October 5, 2012, and the iPhone 5 was released on September 21, 2012.hungergames

Product placement is even seeping into films where it seems less likely, such as The Hunger Games. Despite the film takes place in a futuristic society, with the majority of it taking place in a forest-like setting, one product did manage to slide into the film. In a scene in the “Control Room,” there is an image of the futuristic looking 321 Water Bottle. Even though it was not a prominent part of the film, it was still used as a prop.

Often times, one of the largest spots for product placement to be used as props is with vehicles. It is nearly impossible to feature a “name-brand” car, so big name automotive makers are featured in quite a few films. In 2012, 33 different types of cars, trucks, and motorcycle were used as transportation by main characters or as props.

avengers2It is not surprising that these cars and trucks were used for brief periods of time in the films we included in the study, but the vehicles often appear at key moments in the plot. For example, in The Avengers, in the middle of the large fighting scene, there is a clear shot of a new Acura SUV that was cross-promoted with the film while the film was being advertised at the box office. Towards the end of the film, there is another image of a new Acura sports vehicle. Similarly, in American Reunion, the men are standing in a parking lot talking at one point, and happen to be standing around a Chevy truck.

This type of placement for the sake of placement is something that we see quite frequently with snack foods and drinks. Coca-Cola is seen in 8 of the 49 films, but is not necessarily intrinsic to any of those plots. Similar, we see many different types of cereals, potato chips, water bottles and snack products in general as was documented in the product table previously.

Products As Part of the Script

In Silver Lining Playbook, the product placement is very subtle. There are mentions of Raisin Bran cereal, Bud, and Bud Light. However, the most notable brand is Hellmann’s Mayonnaise jar. The book that the movie is adapted from states that the lead character has a mayonnaise jar that he keeps water in, and drinks out of obsessively. However, they do not name the brand in the book. In the movie, it was given a name and a label and seen in the mental hospital, the family kitchen and the dance studio where the characters practiced. There was also some speculation as to whether the major pharmaceutical companies had bought into the movie as well,  since the names of a variety of medications were mentioned. They did not have a contract with the movie, and the names were added for dramatic effect.thatsmyboy

Both That’s My Boy and Flight feature many scenes where the lead characters are drinking Budweiser products. In That’s My Boy, it was more than a prop since Adam Sandler’s character was seen drinking it in nearly every scene. In Flight, the drink was used as a vice and the downfall of Denzel Washington’s character.

flightThe movie Flight did not have a contract with Budweiser, while the movie, That’s My Boy, was sponsored by the company. It is legal for movies to use products while not under contract with a company, however, Budweiser has asked Flight to remove all aspects of it’s beer from the DVD and digital releases of the film. The Vice President of Budweiser released a statement regarding the uses of their product in the film, saying that Anheuser-Busch had “no knowledge of the use or portrayal of Budweiser. We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving. It is disappointing that Image Movers, the production company, and Paramount chose to use one of our brands in this manner.”

However, That’s My Boy portrays the main character as having an addictive personality, much like the main character in Flight, but again, Bud products are seen in nearly every scene of the movie.

Budweiser products were featured in 11 of the films we included in our 2012 study that contained product placement. The theme among the films was very similar, all featuring white, male, lead characters, which are doing some kind of work and are drinking Bud products in “fun” situations or to relieve stress. It was not necessarily more than a prop in these films, however we see the added dimension of Budweiser targeting teenagers and men in these films.batman%20football%20field%20615

The Dark Knight Rises offered one, very large, product placement of Pittsburgh Steelers player Hines Ward. Though the jerseys and field were not 100% Steelers, there was certainly the illusion that was the team playing. Also, pre-movie product endorsements, included the Mountain Dew exclusive trailer, and website, which allowed viewers to interact in Gotham city, as well as a Nokia Lumina App which offered exclusive Dark Knight games, wallpapers, and ring-tones, only available on that phone.

Zingerman's

The Five-Year Engagement was certainly a large promotion for the Michigan city of Ann Arbor. The majority of the movie takes place there where one of the main characters works at The University of Michigan, and the other works at a famous local bakery and sandwich shop, Zingermans.

Universities are frequently written into scripts as parts of the plot, like in The Five-Year Engagement and also in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, where Penn State University was featured. Using specific universities helps to add an air of realness to the films, and enables the viewer to connect with the characters on a deeper level.

This technique is also something we see in the use of restaurants in films. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the popular restaurant Olive Garden is featured. In Magic Mike, the characters frequently reference eating at a Waffle House. These are restaurants that the majority of viewers will be familiar with, thus normalizing them as commercial places to eat for the general public.

One brand that was largely featured was Apple. The products that were used were iPhones, Macbooks, iPads, and their larger desktop computer. Apple products were seen in 12 of the top films of 2012 that featured products. They were not necessarily more than a prop in some of the films, however, one difference in the placement of Apple products is that they are seen being used by a younger demographic in a majority of these films. They are targeting a younger audience who may use the products for entertainment or educational purposes. Furthermore, in the film That’s My Boy, an application created for Apple products, “Angry Birds” is featured.

In the movie The Dictator, a character becomes an employee of the Apple Store, one of their “Genius” workers. The scene from the movie makes a commentary on the Apple products and Americans.

When the main character Aladeen met Nadal in a restaurant, he asked him to help him get back into power as the dictator of his small country.

Nadal: “What? No. Why would I do that? I have a perfectly good job here. I’m a Mac Genius!”

Aladeen: “What do you do?”

Nadal: “Mostly, I clean semen out of laptops.”The Watch

Aladeen: “Congratulations. Living the American dream.”

One last film where the product is more than a prop is the film The Watch, where one of the main characters played by Ben Stiller is the manager of a Costco. There are many scenes in The Watch that take place inside Costco (displaying even more branded products) and outside of Costco, where the name on the building in is prominently displayed.

The Watch -2

In addition, the scenes taking place in and around the Costco store, Costco is mentioned dozens of time in several different dialogues in the film, since not only does Ben Stiller’s character management the store, but the store is the part of a murder scene and is the location of the big finale, where the neighborhood watch takes on aliens from outer space.

Product Placement is so much a part of the Hollywood movie experience that people might not even notice it. Even if audiences do recognize product placement, they might react with a certain level of indifference, since the branded products we see are often part of our lives. However, it is important to not only recognize that in all forms of media, including film, there is an increasing level of hyper-commercialism. This hyper-commercialism is deliberate and is part of corporate campaigns to brand their identities with the public, despite the fact that they add no real artistic value to movies.

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