A couple of weeks ago all major news agencies had run a story about product placement in the Chinese propaganda movie Beginning of the Great Revival. Apparently in one scene, the actor playing Communist China’s founding father Mao Zedong accepts a gold Omega pocket watch from his girlfriend. The camera zooms in and makes the brand name visible to viewers.

On a first glance we could think of this scene as a product placement, but in reality it (probably) wasn’t. Liu Ye, who plays Mao in the movie, told Associated Press that, »there is not a single product placement in the entire movie. As for the watch, maybe the directors weren’t really mindful of what brand it was. « Co-director Han Sanping kind of confirmed what Ye said: »It is definitely not [product placement]. It is a detail of our prop design. «

Omega in Beginning of the Great Revival (2011, screen capture)

I don’t want to go into a debate about whether it’s right or wrong if a communist leader receives a luxury watch or to include product placement in those kind of movies. I’m more interested in examples of politicians who used some branded products. I’ve found some rather interesting cases.

Barack Obama & BlackBerry

During the last presidential campaign Barack Obama was known as a heavy BlackBerry user. He repeatedly admitted how much BlackBerry means to him and how would he miss it, because he’d have to give it up, for legal and security concerns obviously. »I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry, « Mr. Obama said in an interview with CNBC and The New York Times. »They’re going to pry it out of my hands. «

According to marketing experts Barack Obama could charge more than $25 million and maybe as much as $50 million for the endorsement of BlackBerry. »This would be almost the biggest endorsement deal in the history of endorsements, « said Doug Shabelman, the president of Burns Entertainment, which arranges deals between celebrities and companies, in an interview for New York Times. »He’s consistently seen using it and consistently in the news arguing — and arguing with issues of national security and global welfare — how he absolutely needs this to function on a daily basis. «

Senator Barack Obama with two campaign constants: his BlackBerry and his chief strategist, David Axelrod.

Fidel Castro & Adidas

Former Cuban political leader Fidel Castro was the nation’s Prime Minister from 1959 and president from 1976. In 2006 he got seriously ill and resigned from the office in February 2008. In August of 2006 Cuban government released photos from the hospital to prove that his condition is not that serious after all. In the photo below you can see Fidel wearing a red, white and blue Adidas jacket.

A recovering Fidel Castro wears an Adidas jacket, a random bit of advertising for the sportswear company.

»We don’t really look at it as anything, « said Travis Gonzolez, head of public relations for Adidas for the New York Times. »It’s not a positive, not a negative. We are a sports brand. We are making products for athletes; we are not making them for leaders. « He also said that Castro’s jacket appeared to be a generic tracksuit from the country’s sports federation.

Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi & watches

Watch publication HODINKEE published a piece on watches worn by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

According to HODINKEE Putin wears a Perpetual Calendar by legendary watchmaker Patek Philippe. Putin’s watch features a self-winding movement, with a leather band, that retails for approximately $60,000, which is roughly the same amount he is paid every year by the Russian government as a salary.

Berlusconi wears even more expensive watch: a Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Minute Repeater Perpetual Calendar. This luxury piece has a 37mm platinum case, leather strap, and multiple complications including: Minute Repeater, Moonphase, and Perpetual Calendar. Its price is a staggering $540,000.

Putin's and Berlusconi's watches
Putin and his Patek Philippe & Berlusconi's Vacheron

JFK and Marilyn & Rolex

In 2005 a gold Rolex that was given as a birthday present to John F. Kennedy by Marilyn Monroe, inscribed “Jack with love as always Marilyn May 29th 1962”, was sold on auction for $120,000 to an anonymous American collector.

JFK's Rolex
JFK's Rolex, a gift from Marilyn Monroe

Silvio Berlusconi and Cherie Blair & Locman

In October 2010 Cherie Blair, wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sold the Locman Mare Titanium watch on eBay, the auction website, for £98 after advertising it as “unused in its original box with guarantee”.

Apparently the watch thought to have been given to the former prime minister by his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, who has or had a habit of giving watches to politicians as gifts. There are reports that he gave nine of them to Mr. Blair.

The price for a new wristwatch could be at least £300.

Cherie Blair's Locman that was sold on eBay

It’s certainly great for a brand to be used or worn by a prominent politician. As we could see with the BlackBerry case the benefits can be huge, as long as you don’t ruin it on eBay ;)

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  1. You forgot to mention Slovenian prime minister Borut Pahor, who used to be a heavy Red Bull drinker… ;)

  2. A statement related to the topic keeps comming to my mind. Matej Praprotnik said on air that all slovenian politicians wear the same clothing brand: Masmo Nadutti*.

    *Phonetically identical to “how arrogant we are” in Slovene.

  3. Let me get to a more serious point: how can an elected representative of people use that image for its private benefit?

    It is highly inappropriate to try that during the time of office, it should not be done even unconsciously as it always comes around. It is just wise not to be tempted. Yet.
    Payback time comes when the office is given away. Still a very well known public persona it usually starts with a book of memoirs: selling well, rarely for its quality. That person becomes a brand itself: its shine deriving from the former function. With some effort that shine may not go out for decades, and with some skill the sky could be the limit.

    Well known film actors becoming presidents is just the other side of the coin. Can we immagine a former German chancellor hosting an american late-night “reality” show? Perhaps we should.