Embedded Commercialism: Product Placement in 2012 Hollywood Films
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|
|Ace of Spades||Prometheus|
|Afflication||Here Comes The Boom|
|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|
|Atchisson Assault||The Expendables 2|
|Axe Body Spray||That’s My Boy|
|Barnes and Noble||Think Like A Man|
|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|
|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|
|Buick||One for the Money, Trouble With The Curve|
|Busch||That’s My Boy|
|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|
|Carter’s||What To Expect When You’re Expecting|
|Central Park Zoo||Madagascar 3|
|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|
|Columbia||Here Comes The Boom|
|Corvette||Hit and Run|
|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|
|Discovery Channel||The Grey|
|Disney||21 Jump Street|
|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|
|Evans||21 Jump Street|
|21 Jump Street, Hit and Run, The Campaign, The Watch|
|Ferrari||Contraband, Madagascar 3|
|Fiero||That’s My Boy|
|Fila||21 Jump Street|
|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|
|Glamour||Men In Black 3|
|Glidden||What To Expect When You’re Expecting|
|Glock||21 Jump Street|
|Goldman Sachs||The Campaign|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Jeep||Contraband, Diary of a Whimpy Kid: Dog Days, The Vow|
|John Deere||Men In Black 3|
|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|
|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|
|Macaroni Grill||The Vow|
|Mack||Men In Black 3|
|Macys||One for the Money|
|Marriott||Think Like A Man|
|McDonalds||Contraband, Dark Shadows|
|Mentos||The Expendables 2|
|Mercedes||Project X, Safe House, Taken 2, The Vow, Think Like A Man|
|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|
|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|
|Olive Garden||The Perks of Being A Wallflower|
|Oliver Peoples||The Amazing Spiderman|
|Pabst||Trouble With The Curve|
|Panerai||The Expendables 2|
|Pella Windows||Magic Mike|
|Penn State University||The Perks of Being A Wallflower|
|Pepsi||Chronicle, Contraband, The Expendables 2|
|Playtex||What To Expect When You’re Expecting|
|Porchse||21 Jump Street, Fun Size, The Vow|
|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|
|Red Bull||21 Jump Street, Chronicle, Safe House, The Campaign|
|Reebok||What To Expect When You’re Expecting|
|Rimowa||The Avengers, Men In Black 3|
|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|
|Schlitz||Contraband, Trouble With The Curve|
|School of the Art Institute of Chicago||The Vow|
|Sears||House At The End Of The Street|
|Sheetz||The Bourne Legacy|
|Singer||Tyler Perry’s Witness Protection|
|Smart Car||The Expendables 2|
|Smart Water||21 Jump Street, Hit and Run, Think Like A Man|
|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|
|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|
|STP||Men In Black 3, Chronicle|
|Sugar Corn Pops||Ted|
|Taco Bell||21 Jump Street, That’s My Boy|
|Taurus Judge||Underworld Awakening|
|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|
|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|
|Utz Potato Chips||Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days|
|Vaseline||That’s My Boy|
|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|
|WedMD.com||The Amazing Spiderman|
|Weekly World News||Men In Black 3|
|Wise Potato Chips||Here Comes The Boom|
|Xanax||Hit and Run|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.