Onscreen Advertising

This was originally posted on my Filmography blog.

Is it me, or have the number of adverts in movies gone up of late? Product placement has long been a feature in films, a way for studios to help make some extra money to offset the expense of production, but usually it’s done in a very subtle way. By that I mean people are using a mobile phone as part of the story, it just happens to be this brand of mobile (in The Matrix, for example), or the lead characters are drinking a beer and so they do a deal with a brewing company to put their brand in. Some of the films I’ve seen of late are starting to veer towards a real life version of The Truman Show where the story stops and a character explains that “I drink Tasty Beer because it’s not only tasty, it’s lower in calories than most other leading brands,” before turning to smile at the camera. Something like the scene from Wayne’s World:

Benjamin: Wayne! Listen, we need to have a talk about Vanderhoff. The fact is he’s the sponsor and you signed a contract guaranteeing him certain concessions, one of them being a spot on the show.
Wayne: [holding a Pizza Hut box] Well that’s where I see things just a little differently. Contract or no, I will not bow to any sponsor.
Benjamin: I’m sorry you feel that way but basically it’s the nature of the beast.
Wayne: [holding a bag of Doritos] Maybe I’m wrong on this one but for me the beast doesn’t include selling out. Garth you know what I’m talking about right?
Garth: [wearing Reebok wardrobe] It’s like people only do these things because they can get paid. And that’s just really sad.
Wayne: I can’t talk about it anymore it’s giving me a headache.
Garth: Here take two of these!
[Dumps two asprin into Wayne’s hand]
Wayne: Ah, Nuprin. Little. Yellow. Different.
Benjamin: Look, you can stay here in the big leagues and play by the rules or you can go back to the farm club in Aurora. It’s your choice.
Wayne: [holding a can of Pepsi] Yes and it’s the choice of a new generation.

Wayne’s World and The Truman Show used it as a comedic element but a growing number of films seem to be making advertising part of the plot. Instances in three Will Smith films come to mind (purely out of coincidence, I’m not having a dig at Will specifically):

I, Robot
Spooner (Will Smith’s character) walks out of his mum’s apartment and into a Fedex robot, which has nothing to do with the story. He also drives a rather swish Audi with suprisingly noticeable badges to make sure you know it’s an Audi.

Men in Black II
MIB headquarters seems to be affected by the same virus that has spread through all airports: franchise fever. Never mind they’re a secret organisation that caters to aliens, they’re bound to want a Sprint (mobile phone) shop and a Burger King outlet, because, let’s face it, it’s well worth coming 8 billion miles for.

Bad Boys II
There are a lot of nice cars roaming about in this movie, most of them never mentioned, but when they stop the Cadillac that Dan Marino happens to be taking for a test drive and then Will Smith’s character says, “Dan Marino should definitely buy one of these…” it was going a little far for me.

I appreciate trying to maximise your revenue streams, but you don’t need to be so in my face about it. I go to see a movie for the story, for escapism, to see the funny and witty characters, not to sit through 90 minutes of advertising.

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