These days you can’t avoid product placement in movies. The trend may be slowing in top movies—the top films of last year held an average of 9.1 brand placements each, the lowest since 2001, according to Brand Channel – but in the average movie it’s going strong. Marketers are well established in placing their brand into movies.

One form of movie branding not fully saturated in movies, however, is employer branding. In fact, when “The Internship” highlighted Google’s unique office, many viewers thought it was the first movie or TV-show to so openly promote a real-life workplace. It wasn’t, but the movie is one of relatively few that highlight real-life employer brands. We’ll look back at some of the best instances of employer branding in entertainment and how your company can learn from them.

“The Internship” and Google

It is clear that “The Internship” shows Google in a positive light. The actual work that employees and internships do in the movie is vague. What really shines instead is the culture, the community atmosphere, and the really cool technology. The nap pods, slide, and free food all highlight the company’s unique and slightly ridiculous work atmosphere. Google’s success is in its acceptance of its own quirks. Google embraces its nerdy employees, making the employer more desirable.

Google in The Internship (2013, 20th Century Fox)
Google in The Internship (2013, 20th Century Fox)

So what can you do to make your employer brand appealing – even without an awesome workplace, free marketing, and cool technology? Learn from Google’s mastery. Make fun of yourself by embracing your quirks. Do your employees have unique traditions or habits that set them apart? Don’t try to hide them, highlight them. In embracing oddities, your company can evoke a sense of pride in the community and attract others.

“30 Rock” and NBC

Whereas Google technically didn’t have to pay for “The Internship,” NBC puts money into “30 Rock.” That’s because NBC produces the show. Though “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” the television show that “30 Rock” centers on, is fake, the show also pokes fun at the real NBC network. How does this help its employer brand? Though the show parodies the absurdity and corporate structure, it also shows the exciting, fast-paced, and far-from-ordinary lifestyle of working for a TV show or network.

30 Rock

Sure Liz Lemon might have to deal with some pretty outrageous workplace conditions and requests from her boss, the occasional president of NBC (in the show). That doesn’t stop her from being one of TV’s most beloved characters, and holding one of the nation’s most coveted jobs. Why? NBC plays to its strengths and illustrates the best aspects of working for the network: fame, glory, and constant entertainment.

Companies and their recruiting teams should learn from NBC’s tactics. A brand’s unique value proposal is its best asset. Find your employer strength, whether it’s great benefits, a great culture, or an emphasis on employee development. Then, highlight those strengths in your outreach efforts.

“Miracle on 34th Street” and Macy’s

The original “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) and the remake in 1973 both prominently feature the Macy’s department store, its customers, and the inner workings of its employees. Unlike “The Internship,” “Miracle” really focuses on the real lives, issues, and machinations of the people who work at the company. Doris Walker needs to replace a drunk Santa so she unwittingly chooses Kris Kringle. Later, she worries about his mental stability and makes tough decisions about whether to keep him on board. The happy ending highlights the great leadership of Macy’s as a company, the inside of the store, and the magic of the holiday season.

The lesson learned? Though it’s important to show your work in a positive light, more people will relate to employees that are real people. In the movie, Doris Walker (Karen in the 1973 remake) makes mistakes. Her mistakes don’t make working for Macy’s look any less magical, but instead highlight her realistic character and allow viewers to picture what they would do in her shoes.

“I Am Sam” and Starbucks

Before the pumpkin spiced lattes and after Tom Hanks’ rant in “You’ve Got Mail,” there was “I Am Sam,” a 2001 movie in which Sean Penn plays a developmentally disabled Starbucks employee who loves his job. Although most of the film is about Sam’s troubles keeping custody of his daughter, his employer is prominently—and positively—featured in the film. The movie portrayal of the major coffee chain helped cement its reputation as tolerant, responsible, and cutting-edge.

Starbucks in I Am Sam (2001, New Line Cinema)
Starbucks in I Am Sam (2001, New Line Cinema)

If Starbucks can do it, so can you. The most damaging press for recruiters or HR departments is when the company is shown to have little tolerance for difference or diverse thinking. Conversely, a reputation of tolerance and inclusivity can recruit for you. Qualified employees want to be a part of a team of diverse ideas. Enhance your reputation for tolerance and responsibility, and you can follow in Starbucks’ success.

“Entourage” and Avion Tequila

In Entourage seasons 7 and 8, Turtle becomes a promoter for Avion tequila. The tequila company, through blind luck, got completely free product placement from the show. Though it was free for Avion, the show didn’t always show the company in a positive light. Turtle occasionally struggles with the promotion of the drink, and with its effects on Vince. Turtle makes mistakes, but in the end, he helps launch Avion into the national spotlight –both in the show and in real life.

Avion Tequila in Entourage
Avion Tequila in Entourage

In the end, both Turtle and Avion come out on top. Though not all Avion employees can be best friends with movie stars and date models, the portrayal in the show lends some romanticism to working for the company. That star power is something you can use in your recruiting efforts. Does your industry have some sort of exaggerated cultural stereotype? Don’t shy away from it. If you use those stereotypes, make fun of them, and show how you are different, you can play to the crowd and develop a unique culture—something that Avion did well.

You don’t have to participate in the $4.750 billion U.S. product placement industry to build an employer brand and have success in hiring for your company. Instead, you can learn from these 5 brands and use their tactics in different—and less expensive—ways. Help out your recruiting team this year by highlighting what makes you special.


Katherine Wood is Managing Editor for Talent Tribune, a data-driven HR blog focusing on technology and business solutions.

1 Comment
  1. Good day

    I run LIFE brand. We work with brands changing the world for the better. I would love interns to connect with me (Design, Brand Strategy, Web development/Coding, Copywriting, Marketing, Film and Photography etc). Any time of the year but preferably a minimum of two months.

    Kindly see attached our portfolio and website

    We are based in Cape Town, South Africa.


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