A look at Branding and Product Placement in the Media

We all see it. Sometimes it's quite subtle, and passes almost unnoticed. Sometimes it's so glaringly obvious that we can gleefully sit back and make jokes about it. Product placement in movies and the media is pretty much everywhere, and, looking at the marketing-driven world we live in, it's here to stay...

According to Business Directory, product placement is:

"...an advertising technique used by companies to subtly promote their products through a non-traditional advertising technique, usually through appearances in film, television, or other media."

Subtly. Hmmm...

It doesn't quite always work like that, does it? Let's take a look at some examples of product placement in the media. We'll see if these brands managed to sneakily infiltrate the minds of the audience, or if they're more likely to provoke a reaction of ridicule.

1) Super Branding, Superman

Who doesn't love a good superhero movie nowadays? They're everywhere, and still on the up – so it isn't surprising that some big brands got in on the action with Man of Steel (2013). The most notable of which, and perhaps the most easy to spot, is Nikon. Given that perhaps the largest supporting character throughout the franchise is Lois Lane, a dynamic reporter who gets herself into all kinds of sticky situations, it isn't surprising that the photography giant found it easy to get some screen time...

Nikon's product placement in Man of Steel

...but, looking at some of the previous Superman films, that product placement pales into insignificance compared to some others on show. Take for example the original film's 1980 sequel, Superman II. Both Man of Steel and Superman II feature a dastardly Kryptonian called General Zod, but it's Superman II that really takes the branded biscuit – and shoves it in our faces.

"Enjoy Coca-Cola", says Superman! Plus, not sure they'd get away with a massive Marlborough truck nowadays...

2) Desert Island Brands

You wouldn't think it'd be too easy to cram product placement into a largely dialogue-free film, set on an uninhabited desert island in the middle of nowhere, would you?

Well, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks manage it in spectacular style with Cast Away (2000).

For a start, Hanks' character works for FedEx – and we are treated to a vast amount of logos and branding in various sequences throughout the film:

Fedex branding on show in Cast Away (2000)

But, let's face it. Even with the sheer amount of branding on show here, that's not the one you remember is it? Here's a clue:


The Wilson brand of sporting goods not only features prominently in Cast Away – it does so well that it even becomes a character in itself. That's not bad going! Who didn't have a little lump in their throat when 'Wilson' abandons his companion during our hero's desperate attempt to leave the island?

3) Them Automowotsits Get Everywhere...

...especially the famous ones. It takes big money to get your brand featured in a film nowadays (it's huge business), and getting your brand into a high profile film can be astronomically expensive – we're talking millions of dollars. Who has the money to pay for that?

Car companies – that's who.

Who remembers the original Italian Job (1969)? One of the most iconic scenes in this classic features a car chase through the streets of the Italian city of Turin. Three Mini Coopers (one red, one blue, and one white) showcase their ability to drive pretty much anywhere they want, and the scene has gone down in history as one of the best car chases in a film ever.

Such an impact did this sequence have, it also inspired the 2003 film of the same name to have a similar sequence. The Mini also oozes enough cool to survive another car chase in 2002's The Bourne Identity!

Minis also feature in car chases in the Italian Job (2003) and The Bourne Identity (2002)

Now, it just seems wrong to talk about cars in movies and not mention ol' 007. The James Bond franchise spans over half a century and twenty-four films – and features gizmos galore, beautiful women, questionable one-liners, and, of course, Aston Martin motorcars.

The name is Martin... Aston Martin.

Although Mr Bond has dabbled in other makes over the years, the most iconic brand of car that Britain's favourite secret serviceman drives has to be the Aston Martin. These cars and these films just go hand in hand – and that is a great accomplishment for the company. To be that firmly entrenched in the culture of such a beloved series of films is absolute marketing gold.

4) Back to the Branding

...which brings me to another classic set of films with an iconic car. Who, upon seeing a DeLorean in real life, hasn't made some quip about getting up to 88mph? Or a Flux Capacitor?

(by the way, if you're too young for this reference – ask your dad – and then watch the films immediately)

However, it's not the car we're talking about in this section...

The Back to the Future films focus on the adventures through time of a teenager and his peculiar (mad?) scientist best friend – and was there ever such a fantastic opportunity to get a bit playful with your product placement?

Products and branding in the Back to the Future films

Initially set and released in 1985, Back to the Future sends Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) thirty years into the past. It's sequel, Back to the Future Part II (released 1989, although still initially set in '85), sends him thirty years into the future, to 2015. Yes, I realise that's actually last year now – just go with it (nobody gave George Orwell this crap).

What we get is a look at America in 1955, and a look at America in 2015 (according to the imagination of the filmmakers of the time). And it is marvellous. The nostalgia of the past, the wonder of the future.

Perhaps the most noticeable throughout the films is Pepsi, which appears in multiple time zones, with a bit of a different look – but unquestionable the same branding.

Pepsi and Pepsi Free product placement in Back to the Future Parts I & II

...but that's not nearly all of it. Universal Studios had recently created a 'product placement department', so the films are jam-packed full of references and appearances from brands such as Texaco, Calvin Kline, Miller beer, Pizza Hut, The Weather Channel etc. etc.

It was possibly the following two brands that had the most attention in Back to the Future II, though. Mattel's branding can be seen on the famous pink hoverboard that Marty acquires, and the absolutely awesome 'Power Laces' shoes are by none other than sporting goods giant Nike.

Mattel and Nike show off their brands in Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Just as a point of interest – as well as making a bunch of replicas of these shoes to be auctioned off to raise money for Parkinson's disease research (another fantastic way to get your brand into the public eye), Nike announced in May this year that they had actually developed the HyperAdapt 1.0 – a pair of self lacing shoes that will be available for purchase!

5) Little Mix, Big Brands

So, we've seen how movies do it. But not everything has a running time as long as your bog-standard blockbuster. What if all you've got to work with is a music video?

Step one: remove shame. Step two: remove subtlety. Step three: partner yourself with a hugely popular 'band' (in this case, the X-Factor manufactured, fun-lovin' pop girl group Little Mix). Then sit back, relax, and watch the exposure skyrocket.

Little Mix - a magnet for Big Brands...

Little Mix's video for Black Magic tells the story of a group of unpopular nerdy girls, who find the ability to remove-their-glasses, put-in-contacts, shorten-their-skirts and pout-an-awful-lot – all via a book of magic. It's daft, and it's nonsense, but it's a bit of fun, and we're not looking for anything more from them.

Oh, and there's this:

Hey, girls and boys! Listen to your brand new Little Mix single on your fabulous Beats wireless headphones...

Then you get the video for Hair, which tells the story of a girl who needs to forget about the boy in her life, with the help of her friends who come round, eat pizza and get ready for a night on the town with her.

Get ready? For a night out? What possible product placement could they squeeze in to this one?

Little Mix having a Good Hair Day

6) A Bit of Branding Satire

This one, although not real, is a brilliantly knowing look at product placement in the media. The Truman Show (1998) tells the story of Truman Burbank – the world's first person to get adopted by a corporation. Said corporation builds an artificial city around the child, and he grows up living in blissful ignorance of the television show that is being filmed all around him – about him – with all his friends and family actually being actors.

Poking fun at the lack of subtlety that a lot of product placement demonstrates, we range from his 'best friend' taking a large pull from a can of drink, looking into the camera, and exclaiming "Now that's a beer", to his 'wife' offering him the chocolate drink that boasts "all natural cocoa beans from the upper slopes of Mount Nicaragua, no artificial sweeteners."

Some examples of product placement in The Truman Show

The 'show' and it's relationship with product placement is perfectly summed up by this small exchange between the producer of the show ('Christof') and an interviewer:

Christof: "Everything on the show is for sale. The actor's wardrobe, food products, to the very homes they live in."

Interviewer: "And of course all of it available in the Truman catalogue."

...and that feels like a good place to wrap this up. There are literally hundreds of examples of product placement out there – I think we've covered some biggies. Can you think of some huge examples that trump these? Does product placement annoy you, or is it something that you don't really notice?

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