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Monday 24 June 2002

Hazards of Product Placement

Minority Report, which I saw the other day, shows us something of the future of product placement. Hardly a scene in the movie doesn’t contain someone’s logo or name.

Almost all product placement is cheesy, and the product placement in Minority Report is no exception. As I understand it, product placement is supposed to show the sponsor’s product or name in the way it would be shown were the film a documentary. People in documentaries drink Pepsi, they walk past billboards, they drive certain cars; so do fictional characters on the screen.

In some cases, this works seamlessly. The classic James Bond drove an Aston-Martin; for a short time in the 1990s, he drove a BMW. He’s got to drive something. The fact that James Bond drives a car makes it cool for some people, so that’s a good product placement. (Bond’s famous vodka martinis are themselves a result of clever product placement.) In Minority Report, the animated, constantly-updating newspaper is USA Today. That’s far less distracting than if the characters had been reading The Big City Herald.

Other times, though — most times — product placement is cheesy. Long, lingering shots of Pepsi cans; AT&T logos inexplicably slapped on the bottom of telephone handsets; larger-than-in-real-life logos on nearly everything: these might pay the bills, but they do so at the expense of the Fourth Wall. They make it obvious that we’re consuming a product, not spying on the little alternative universe up on the screen. Sometimes, it’s so bad that you almost long for Archie Bunker’s blue-and-white cans of “BEER”.

Anyway. So I went to see Minority Report, and I was amazed by how much I’m advertised to during the course of the movie, and how little effort went in to disguising that fact.

In this case, at least, though, the trick backfires on some of the advertisers. Minority Report is set fifty years into the future. A major part of the plot centers around the fact that, nearly everywhere you go, your irises are scanned by gadgets in the ceiling, and you are identified. Sometimes, this is explicitly for the purpose of tracking your movements; sometimes, it’s so an advertising billboard can speak to you directly.

In one scene, our hero, Tom Cruise, walks in to a Metro station, and is greeted by a number of billboards in succession: one hawking American Express cards, another selling Guinness, etc. Back at HQ, these identifications of him are used by those chasing him to track his movements.

Let me put that more clearly: In this movie, American Express, Guinness, and other real-life companies are (admittedly, unknowingly) in league with the bad guys against the hero. And they paid Spielberg money to be in that position.

Unfortunately, this will probably result in nothing but more tightly-restrictive product placement contracts, ones that will call for a lingering product shot in a scene without any serious ethical points being made. And we’ll be wishing more and more for the return of the cans of BEER.

Posted by tino at 22:47 24.06.02
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I think you’ve actually managed to miss the point of the product placement scenes in Minority Report. The point in here was to show that marketers and salespeople are just as much a threat to privacy in the Big-Brother distopia as are the authorities chasing Crusie.

They’re supposed to be obnoxious, out there, annoying right in plain sight.

And I don’t think Minority Report will cause market people to change anything one wit. #1, I don’t think too many people actually thought about anything presented in the movie once it was over. #2 Almost any publicity is good publicity.

Posted by: Ster at March 6, 2003 10:44 AM

Even though the movie is set within the near future the way in which the product placment has occured is one of extreme advertising.

It could be said that Spielberg could have used anomous products just like BEER but in the shape of real brand banners. Instead he wanted to cash in on a storyline that quite blantly allowed an intrusion of marketers.

Just like our future conterparts on screen we are subjected to the advertising within the picture and im sure that I know more about Lexus now after the film than i did before it!


Posted by: J at May 6, 2003 05:15 AM

I think suitability is important. You could put your product up for more that 5 sec and stillnot have the viewers remember them afterwards. But if you associate what you see with the movie you are watching, then it is more impactful. For GoldenEye, Bond’s cars has always been the thing to look for in the movie and BMW did the right choice of placement even if it was only for few seconds

Posted by: brenna at August 21, 2003 04:38 AM


Posted by: at October 17, 2003 11:52 AM