Product placement is an old and not-so-honoured tradition. Beginning mostly with the excessive use of cigarettes in the 60′s to modern films like Skyfall acting as an expensive Sony brochure, the use of real world products in cinema is nothing new. Product placement is often criticised an cited as a blight on cinema, but I pose you this question: does it really matter?
I’ll start with a recent example I’ve already touched on: Skyfall. This mega-grossing film was considered one of the crown jewels of 2012, a Bond film for the old and new fans and one with smarts and sophistication. The film was, in case you are blind and didn’t notice, funded and partly owned by Sony. How can the average user tell? Well, Bond pulls out his Sony phone to send an email to Q on his Sony laptop while watching a Sony TV. Many fans hated this “insane” product placement. However, it served a purpose. Being a film Sony was definitely banking on with a large $200 million budget, they definitely wanted it to succeed. Now, budgeting is a big issue in films. On one hand, you want to spend enough money so that the quality of the film is the best it can be. But, spend too much and you might lose money or barely make any. So saving money is key.
Now, Sony wouldn’t ever charge themselves for their own products. They could just get them. Why spend extra money getting Bond an iPhone or Galaxy when they just give him a Sony Xperia and save the money. Does Bond using a Sony phone as opposed to an iPhone impact the film? No. Could he do his job better if his phone had NFC or Air Gesture? Doubt it. The products placed throughout Skyfall are just to show “Okay, the character is now using their laptop.” It doesn’t really impact the story or tone of the film.
A commonly used example Skyfall is a shot of Q using his laptop, with the Sony logo very visible in the shot. People immediately went to conclusions saying Sony just wanted their product in the film. Well, if Q was using an Acer laptop, the Acer logo would be in the shot. Is there a difference?
The use of real world products also allows a sense of reality to the movie. If a character used a phone or computer that had no resemblance to any real world brand or product line, then we wouldn’t really recognise what the item is. If suddenly a HTC phone is pulled out, suddenly we know what the product is and how it works. Building reality and immersion is important to modern film makers with formats like 3D, IMAX and High Frame Rate (HFR) trying to make the film feel “real.” If the movie doesn’t resemble the world, then no 3D IMAX HFR mega production will matter not if nothing is close to reality.
Now, sometimes you could argue that product placement can go too far. The TV show Chuck is a great example. Chuck drinking game: one bottle of sauce every time someone says the word “Subway.” Yes, a character eating Subway could and probably should happen in a show set in America. In this particular instance, however, Subway should be thanked for saving the show. The other cool thing about Chuck is the attention to detail with real world products. Jokes are thrown around about iPhones, Call of Duty is specifically shown to be Activision’s franchise, and Morgan is seen playing Gears of War on an Xbox in the pilot. The next morning, the TV is showing the “you are dead” screen. Awesome!
Product placement is not the blight on humanity some believe it would be. In the end it serves only as a minor annoyance, and although it isn’t ideal it certainly helps the film industry in the long run. What do you think of product placement? Does it annoy you and what would you see changed? Let us know down below.
This article was first posted on June 18, 2013