Let's clear one thing first: this is my personal list. I admit, it's not an objective list. It's based on the movies I've seen, articles and books I've read, the available data and my personal affinity. You'll probably agree with some choices and disagree with the rest. Anyway, this is an attempt to put together the best examples of product placement ever. To make it a somehow more interesting or provocative, I ranked them too. Here we go:
No. 40 – Magnum in Dirty Harry
Technically speaking this is not a proper product placement. But in 1971 Clint Eastwood delivered those legendary lines:
“I know what you're thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
The gun model 44 Magnum wasn’t that popular on the market until the movie Dirty Harry was shown in that year. While Clint’s lines became famous, Magnum then went from an unpopular model to an enormous success on the market (I have to admit that in 2011 that sounds a bit weird).
No. 39 – Suntory in Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation is one of the best movies from 2003. It centres on a unique relationship between aging movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and college graduate Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). The story is set in Tokyo, where Bob is shooting a Suntory whisky advertisement, while Charlotte is with her husband, who is on photo assignment in Japan.
The shooting of Suntory ads was brilliantly included in the story. It showed the brand and at the same time Bob’s troubles with Japanese culture and language, his insomnia…
“It was a great boost for us,” said Masaki Morimoto, general manager for Suntory’s premium-spirits marketing department. “I admit, I felt like there was a slight sense of insult to Japanese, but it’s OK. Our company got famous internationally.”
Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino (2008) is far from a perfect movie and I have to agree with James Berardinelli who said: “Despite its flaws, I appreciate Gran Torino, although I do so more with my heart than with my head.”
Movie’s central piece is Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), an unpleasant and grumpy war veteran. Following the death of his wife, he lives alone with his dog and he barely speaks with his sons and grandchildren. He also has somehow difficult (I could say non-existent) relationship with his neighbours, an Asian family. The complications start when their son Thao attempts to steal Walt’s 1972 Ford Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation.
Eastwood used Ford’s Gran Torino as one of the central points in order to show differences among cultures. Walt is a former Ford employee and a real patriot. He even described his son with the sentence: “I work in the Ford factory for 50 years, and he's out selling Japanese cars.”
Ford Torino is an intermediate car produced by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market between 1968 and 1976. Product placement in Gran Torino worked on several levels, even though Ford doesn’t produce the car anymore. Car’s name was used in the title of the film and in the Jamie Cullum’s title song, its image was used as the background of the poster and several scenes were developed around Gran Torino. But the most interesting aspect of this product placement was a clear message: “If you’re American and you love your country, buy an American car, buy Ford.”
No. 37 – IKEA in Fight Club
IKEA had an interesting role in one of the best movies from 1999: Fight Club. The main character Jack (Edward Norton) was obsessed with IKEA: “Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something clever like the coffee table in the shape of a yin and yang, I had to have it. I would flip through catalogues and wonder, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” I had it all. Even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof they were crafted by the honest, simple, hard-working indigenous peoples of wherever.”
A modern guy’s sitting in the bathroom with IKEA furniture catalogue instead of some porn magazine? Brilliant.
No. 36 – White Castle in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a 2004 American movie and White Castle is a fast-food hamburger restaurant chain in the Eastern United States. It is known for its small, square hamburgers. The movie story follows Harold Lee and Kumar Patel as they decide to go to the fast food chain White Castle after smoking cannabis, but end up on a series of comical misadventures when they cannot find the restaurant.
Apparently Krispy Kreme, an American chain of doughnut stores, was also approached to play a role in the movie, but they didn’t want to be included in such a movie. White Castle had no objections and even decided to promote the movie with collectible cups, radio ads and signage. According to some reports they didn’t pay for product placement. A great coup if you consider that the brand name was in the movie title, the restaurant can be seen in the movie and the main characters talked about the brand.
No. 35 – Chevrolet Camaro in Transformers
In 2007 Transformers was the third biggest movie in the USA. It included one of the most obvious cases of product placement prostitution in recent years. There were countless brands included; among them: GMC, Chevrolet Camaro, ebay, Nokia…
However, Chevrolet Camaro was a very interesting placement. The fifth generation of this vehicle went on sale in the spring of 2009, so in 2007, when the movie was released, movie goers could not buy the car. It was a long wait but the movie created a buzz and helped building the expectations. GM said that following the release of the Transformers on DVD, the company received more than 500,000 requests for more information about the car. In 2009 GM decided to put Camaro in the movie sequel: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. This was another success. The release of the movie coincided with the start of sales and Chevrolet ended 2009 with 61,618 Camaros sold.
No. 34 – Peugeot 406 in Taxi trilogy
Taxi is a 1998 French film, produced by Luc Besson. It takes place in Marseille, France, and involves an aspiring race car driver named Daniel, who initially works as a pizza delivery boy, but changes jobs to become a taxi driver. He drives a supercharged Peugeot 406. When he’s finally caught, he’s forced to help the police, who are on a trail of German bank robber. In terms of box office admissions, the Taxi trilogy (1998–2003) is one of the most successful French franchises ever, grossing a reported total of $200 million worldwide and 23 million admissions in France.
This product placement was very interesting, because the screenplay offers a convincing integration for the brand and at the same time fun for the movie goers. As the central ‘character’, the car even appeared on the film posters and on the covers of CDs and DVDs. According to Jean-Marc Lehu’s book Branded Entertainment the placement of Peugeot cars considerably improved the brand’s image with young people and internally. Undoubtedly it also had a knock-on effect on sales of the model.
No. 33 – Reebok in Jerry Maguire
Reebok’s placement in 1997 box-office success Jerry Maguire is a controversial one. The central character Jerry Maguire used to be a typical sports agent: willing to do just about anything he could to get the biggest possible contracts for his clients, plus a nice commission for himself. Then, one day, he suddenly has second thoughts about what he's really doing. When he voices these doubts, he ends up losing his job and all of his clients. He then has to save the only remaining client: Rod Tidwell, an egomaniacal football player.
Why was this product placement controversial? Originally, Reebok and Tristar Pictures had reached an agreement stipulating that the Reebok brand should be presented in a positive manner in the movie. Reebok then provided more than $1.5 million worth of props, equipment and advertising support. During the movie Cuba Gooding, Jr’s character, Rod Tidwell, held a grudge against Reebok for the entire movie because Reebok wouldn’t use him in their ads. Reebok and Tristar Pictures agreed that during the closing credits a fake Reebok ad will be shown. The ad should say: “Rod Tidwell. We ignored him for years. We were wrong. We’re sorry.” However, the ad got cut and Reebok sued TriStar Pictures. The companies have reached an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount, believed to be in the region of $10 million.
No. 32 – Coca-Cola in The Gods Must Be Crazy
Coca-Cola is a truly global brand, available in (almost) every country and with very high brand recognition. Therefore Coca-Cola’s placements need to be very creative or at least very visible/recognized. But sometimes the brand is included in the movie without the permission of the parent company. That was the case in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, a 1980 South African production that involved a Coca-Cola bottle. The Atlanta giant had not been contacted by the director Jamie Uys when he had the idea to use it in the movie.
One day a Coca-Cola bottle falls from the skies and lands near Bushman Xi. Xi’s family finds creative uses for it, but eventually the Coke bottle causes the Bushmen band unhappiness. So, Xi decides that the bottle is an evil thing and must be thrown off of the edge of the world. He sets out alone on his quest and encounters Western civilization for the first time. Even though the Coca-Cola bottle is presented as an evil thing, the movie’s overall positive tone doesn’t hurt brand’s image.
No. 31 – Spinach in Popeye
Popeye the Sailor is a fictional hero who appeared in comic books and animated films as well as numerous television shows. He was created by Elzie Crisler Segar and emerged in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929. In 1933 Fleischer Studios adapted the characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures.
One of Popeye’s characteristics was eating spinach to become stronger. Apparently Popeye’s popularity helped boost sale of spinach: the consumption increased 33 percent in the United States between 1931 and 1936 as Popeye gained popularity, saving the spinach industry in the 1930s.
And according to one study from 2010 children can increase their vegetable consumption after watching Popeye cartoons. It appears that the spinach had to be combined with stories of giant muscles and super strength :)