As we all know, product placement can range from subtle to more direct, in-your-face approaches. The placement of different type of venues and restaurant chains is no exception, and interestingly enough, venues do not seem to be among the most common types of product placement. Nevertheless, I’ve picked some of the best, worst and most successful venue placements that appeared in the movies.
The first chain that comes to my mind is Pizza Hut that has an appearance in a classic scene from Wayne’s World, where Mike Myers shows a Pizza Hut box while sarcastically stating “I will not bow to any sponsor”.
While some could consider Myers’ statement funny, some movies managed to do an awful job, e.g. Mac and Me from 1988. McDonald’s that appeared in the movie would be one of the favorites in the competition for the worst product placement ever. One could ask oneself why it would be necessary to put a lengthy, completely plot-unrelated dance scene at a McDonald’s in a movie about the friendship between a disabled boy and a fugitive alien.
What a contrast compared to the classic Pulp Fiction scene where Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) discuss how a Quarter Pounder is called a Royale with Cheese in France, although that was almost certainly not paid for by the fast-food chain.
Domino’s has a history of several in-your-face placements. In the original 1990 movie of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Donatello and Michelangelo at one point even say “Hey, kids, did you know that Domino’s delivers in half an hour or else your parents don’t even have to pay for it?”. So much for subtlety.
If you think the franchise would have learned anything from that travesty, think again. In the 2014 remake, Splinter goes on a monologue over Pizza Hut’s 99-cheese pizza (yes, the Turtles are shell-outs) during the balancing scene, elaborating tediously about the history and the different cheeses until Michelangelo finally cracks and relieves the viewer from the rat’s discourse.
Betting on Exposure
Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, Raymond Babbitt, was persuaded by his brother, played by Tom Cruise, to count cards at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. This iconic scene is not alone in placement of a Las Vegas casino. Moreover, the very same casino is relatively subtly featured in the first and third movie of The Hangover trilogy.
Casinos are often used in movies. You have probably seen many of them, e.g. Ocean’s Eleven, Casino, the aforementioned The Hangover and many more. One of the most memorable recent casino cameos is of course in 2006’s Casino Royale, set in the Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco. Speaking of the Bond movies, it is almost as if gambling is a product placement in itself, appearing in no less than eight flicks: Dr. No (1962), Thunderball (1965), Casino Royale (1967), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), For Your Eyes Only (1981), License to Kill (1989), and Goldeneye (1995).
Finding Fast Food in Film
One of the most successful reverse restaurant product placement occurred after Forrest Gump (1994). In the movie, Bubba suggested getting into the shrimping business, and idea that Forrest pursued after Bubba’s death. Two years after the movie released, the first Bubba Gump Shrimp Company opened up shop in Monterey, California. Twenty-one years later, the chain has 40 restaurants, of which eleven are outside of the U.S. dispersed over countries like Mexico, the U.K., Japan, and Malaysia, among others.
Another very successful restaurant placement was, of course, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004). Apart from the pretty unique feat of having their name in the title, the chain’s burgers get praised throughout the entire movie and allegedly, White Castle did not even have to pay a dime for it.
Having the main characters talk about a chain is pretty cool product placement. For example Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) describing Starbucks in You’ve Got Mail (1998): “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”
One last very successful store chain placement that deserves a mention is the Ikea scene in Fight Club (1999). In this classic, Edward Norton’s character goes on a short, genius rant about how he tries to express himself through his Ikea furniture. If you have not seen it, check the clip on YouTube.
Even though there are not many venues and restaurant chains in the top 40 product placement list, there are still some beautiful gems in the category. Let’s forget about all those in-your-face placements and think about success stories such as White Castle’s prominence in the Harold & Kumar movie, and the development of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.