Brands for serial killers

Last weekend I managed to watch the entire 4th season of TV show Dexter. The main character of the show is Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter-pattern analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department, who leads a second life as a serial killer. But he's not a typical serial killer, he's more like “I'm-doing-a-good-work-for-society” serial killer. Dexter is a good guy who kills other killers who were not convicted.

Of course, Dexter Morgan is not immune to brands and Dexter (TV show) is not immune to product placement. The 4th season includes prominent placements by Nokia and HP. Almost all characters in that season had Nokia mobile phones and all policemen from the Miami Metro department had HP computers on their desks.

HP computer in Dexter (2009, Showtime, screen capture)

Nokia cell phone in Dexter (2009, Showtime, screen capture)

There were some interesting examples of product placement that occurred during the last season. I’ll describe the most notable/interesting ones.

In the 2nd episode Dexter was under severe pressure from lack of sleep and his last (relatively unsuccessful) killing. He helped himself with coffee and energy drink: enter Red Bull.

Red Bull in Dexter (2009, Showtime, screen capture)

During the whole season Dexter and his family drove Fords and for his personal needs he used Mac and Nokia N96.

Ford in Dexter (2009, Showtime, screen capture)

Mac in Dexter (2009, Showtime, screen capture)

Movies and TV shows about serial killers tend to be low on brands, because you don’t want your brand to be associated with a serial killer. But that’s not really true in case of Dexter. As I mentioned he’s not an ordinary serial killer, because in some sick way he’s striving for a better world. If we consider Dexter as a good guy, then in my opinion there’s nothing wrong if he uses various brands. Seeing brand in Dexter‘s hands can’t really hurt brand’s image. But we must not forget … Dexter is still a serial killer.

Nokia cell phone in Dexter (2009, Showtime, screen capture)

Here’s another, more extreme example from the movie Hannibal. In the closing scene we can see the main protagonist Hannibal Lecter having a lunch during a plane journey. He unwraps a Dean & DeLuca takeaway package that he brought on board with him. His lunch includes plenty of delicious products from this upmarket delicatessen. However, there is also a small box that includes a piece of human brain. How’s that for a product placement. Would you want your brand to be in that scene?

Box from Dean & DeLuca in the movie Hannibal (2001, MGM, screen capture)

Apparently Dean & DeLuca agreed to this product placement because “they liked the idea of being identified with a ‘hip, edgy’ movie like Hannibal”. Dean & DeLuca's Pat Roney, who okayed the collaboration, said: “We figured people would know that the container's contents didn't come from Dean & DeLuca. We have a lot of exciting products, but that's not one of them.”

Box from Dean & DeLuca in the movie Hannibal (2001, MGM, screen capture)

We can see that not all serial killers will ‘kill’ the brand, if we put it in their hands. Dexter is a family friendly serial killer, living in suburbs and driving a Ford SUV. As I said, in my opinion he can’t really harm a brand (if he uses it). On the other hand Hannibal Lecter is a much more complex character. In 2003 he was chosen by the American Film Institute as the greatest villain that ever appeared on the silver screen. Lecter is a brilliant psychiatrist and also a cannibalistic serial killer. But in both The Silence of The Lambs and Hannibal he often functioned as the protector, rescuer and mentor of Clarice Starling. He’s also the ‘ultimate connoisseur, a meticulous perfectionist with a passion for things exquisite’.

So, even if you put a brand in Hannibal Lecter’s hands, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even cannibalistic serial killers have to eat ;)