Welcome to the annual Brandcameo Product Placement Awards. Since 2001, Brandchannel has tracked product placement and brand appearances in every film that spent a weekend at the top of the U.S. box office. And every year since 2004 we have honored the good, the bad, and the ugly (and the most) product placement in the year’s #1 films in tandem with the annual Oscars frenzy.
So without further ado: our 2013, 9th annual Brandcameo Product Placement Awards, covering films released in 2012. The envelope, please…
Appearing in 29.4% of all box office #1s, or 10 of 34 films, Mercedes-Benz was 2012’s most frequently placed brand by Hollywood, bumping Apple from top spot.
The brand’s placements, much like the wild rides Hollywood directors often took it on, were all over the map. Think Like a Man and Taken 2 featured prominent placement of new models. (Oddly enough, despite numerous Mercedes vehicles in Taken 2, the logo was blurred out of all promotional clips for the Istanbul-set action film.) Act of Valor plopped in a background Mercedes. The Argo Mercedes was a Tehran-dusty, age-appropriate placement. Then there is 21 Jump Street, whose “greened” vintage Mercedes diesel ran on used cooking oil. Twilight‘s Cullen patriarch Carlisle drove a black S55 AMG. And only James Bond would drive a Mercedes as an airport rental, as Daniel Craig did in Skyfall. Mercedes made several other big-screen cameos in 2012, such as in Jack Reacher.
While Mercedes has never topped the annual brand count, it has never been far behind. Since 2001, Mercedes has been the fifth most common brand to appear in Hollywood’s top films after Ford, Apple, Coca-Cola and Chevrolet. The brand is also getting aggressive about pursuing larger roles. After Taken 2, Mercedes is proving to be the badge for American-badass-in-Europe action with its major roles in the latest Bruce Willis hit, A Good Day to Die Hard. Mercedes reports that its placement in South Korean hit TV drama A Gentleman’s Dignity (??? ??) has also generated positive attention for the brand.
Apple (which appeared in 8 of 34 #1 films in 2012, or 23.5%) was just two places behind Mercedes—but the brand’s product placement dominance in Hollywood has waned. In last year’s Brandcameo awards (for films released in 2011) Apple appeared in 17 of 40 (42.5%) #1 films. In 2009 it was in 20 of 41, or nearly 50% of the year’s top films. Even in a low year, 2010, Apple was still in 30% of #1 films. Between 2001 and 2011, 129 of the 374 #1 films (34.4%) had Apple product placement. In fact, during that period, Apple products appeared in nearly twice as many top films as Sony. But look at 2012 and it’s easy to see one reason Apple’s placements are down and Sony’s are up. The Vow, 21 Jump Street, Amazing Spider-Man, Think Like a Man and Skyfall were all #1 films produced by (you guessed it) Sony’s studio, and all featured Sony products with nary an Apple logo or device to be found.
Even so, Apple was still a product placement powerhouse in 2012 in movies that didn’t make it to #1. Wanderlust, The Three Stooges, The Dictator, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and This Means War all featured major Apple placements. Trouble with the Curve featured a female protagonist armed with her trusty Mac, pitted against against men whose laptops screamed Dell and Toshiba, while This is 40 might as well have been directed by Judd Appletow.
With 38 onscreen products and brand references, Ted packed in Boston landmarks like Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe as well as brand-targeted jokes (e.g., Michelob) and pothead-beloved snack foods like Corn Pops. But from Bud in the club to Bud at the party, to Bud bottles used during the fight to Bud boxes used for moving to Bud’s sponsorship of the scene’s Norah Jones concert, more than anything Ted was awash in Budweiser logos.
Notably, 38 product placements is far less than last year’s winner, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which packed in 71 identifiable brands and products. (Transformers 1 and 2 in 2007 and 2009 combined for 125 products and brands.) It is also significantly short of previous year top counts like 2010’s Iron Man 2 (64), 2008’s Sex and the City (94).
Since we began tracking product placements in the #1 films back in 2001, the 38 identifiable products in Ted is the lowest count for a film with a year’s most product placement. The reasons for this could be numerous. While off-screen tie-ins boomed, directors may be looking for less clutter on-screen. Alternatively, the rise of 3D format films like The Avengers (19) and The Amazing Spiderman (25) may be a factor. As we’ve noted, the visual demands on audiences when it comes to 3D may even discourage product placement.
As with many years, 2012 had its fair share of bad and egregiously bad product placement. Incongruous on-screen brand cameos such as Subway in Wreck-It Ralph and Acura in Avengers are the stuff that gives the practice of product placement a bad name. But while even Heineken’s role in James Bond had a few defenders, practically nobody came out to stand up for Peter “Spider-Man” Parker’s choice of search engines.
Making Bing’s forced Spider-Man placement worse was Microsoft’s inability to spin the negative publicity to its advantage. Ironically enough, Comicbook.com points out that in the comic book, Peter Parker uses Google as his search engine of choice. (A bit like how the film version of E.T. famously featured Reese’s Pieces while, to this day, the novelization uses M&M’s.)
Previous winners in this category include Green Lantern (Hot Wheels) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (IWC).
When audiences follow the CIA’s operative into Tehran in Oscar-winner Argo, the sudden appearance of Iranians chowing down on the Colonel’s secret recipe is an unexpected sight. But it is historically accurate, as at least one reviewer has noted, and director Ben Affleck uses the mere appearance of the brand to say something about the complexity of the anti-American-in-spirit post-revolution Iran.
Other notable product placements in 2012 Oscar nominated-films include the era-appropriate Knickerbocker Beer in Django Unchained and covert BlackBerry usage in Zero Dark Thirty.
Previous winners in this category include The Help (Crisco).
China, like Bollywood, is quickly becoming a product placement powerhouse. A standout in 2012 was Hong Kong’s raunchy Due West: Our Sexual Journey.
Throughout the month of its release, it was regularly a top-ten trending topic on the Weibo social network. An American Pie-like 3D raunchy romp, the chronicle of one guy’s sexual journey from masturbation to brothels was not released on the Mainland but was readily available to stream online or buy on pirated DVD. And Due West bared brands as well as breasts. Apple computers and iPhones populated the story as did, oddly, Coors Light. From the brothels of Dongguan to camping on Hong Kong island, the “champagne of beers” was the choice beverage. Coors Light, by the way, launched in Hong Kong in 2005.
Previous winners in this category include I Know a Woman’s Heart (?????).
Last year saw a few brand names woven into movie plots. The neighborhood watch Trayvon Martin tragedy deep-sixed the box office hopes of The Watch, which saw Ben Stiller as a Costco manager whose murderous aliens troubles begin, and end, inside his retail location. The deal Ford cut with Think Like a Man saw the automaker’s MyFord in-car entertainment system worked into a scene. It’s unclear how The Dictator‘s “I clean semen out of laptops” Apple store and Nintendo Wii Terrorist 2K12 bits reflect on those brands.
But no film integrated a product quite as well as the fourth installment of the “found footage” Paranormal Activity franchise did with Xbox. And not only did the technology behind Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect directly feature throughout the film, it had the benefit of being (kind of) true. In numerous YouTube posts, Kinect owners demonstrated how the stunt from the film was real. That’s viral marketing you cannot buy (unless of course Microsoft paid for the placement).
Previous winners in this category include Zookeeper (TGI Friday’s) and The Other Guys (Toyota Prius).
The jury is out on how the brands most associated with the latest Bond film—Heineken, Omega, Coca Zero—fared from their investments. But Skyfall has already produced a bounce for smaller products. The Royal Doulton Bulldog figurine on M’s desk, and later bequeathed to Bond, sold out quickly (but you can pick it up on eBay for around $150.) And after Bond is treated to an erotic shave in Macau, shaving goods retailers reported 400-plus percent sales spikes for “cut-throat razors.” (Shades of how The Avengers boosted shawarma sales.)
But no brand got more exposure than The Macallan whisky, which appeared in several scenes and was even called out by name as one of Bond’s particular favorites. All the better, the placement didn’t cost Macallan a (Money)penny. “When the final edit of the Skyfall came out our Macallan director was a little nervous about the drink being associated with the scene where Daniel Craig takes a dram then fires a gun—as obviously being an alcoholic beverage it is important for us not to be associated with violence, crime, and underage drinking,” Lucy McQueen, the public affairs assistant for Macallan-owner Edrington Group, told brandchannel.
The Macallan had little input and no advance knowledge of scenes, though producers did ask for brand clearance. Without the official partnership, Macallan’s options for a Bond tie-in were limited. The brand was a presence at Skyfall’s rollout though; in Singapore and South Africa, Macallan was served at the swank Skyfall premier parties. The week Skyfall was released, search volume for the term “Macallan” increased 150 percent from its 2012 average. “Overall we have had a really positive response with the brand placement… it’s certainly raised our profile to perhaps a younger audience,” said McQueen.
Front Row Analytics, the analysis division of Front Row Marketing Services, estimates the value of Macallan’s appearance in Skyfall at $8.98 million. And that’s just the theatrical value through January 2013. Front Row, which uses proprietary analytics to put a dollar value on eyeballs and other subjective criteria, further projects value of $473,647 (DVD / Digital) and $256,667 (future broadcast airings) for Macallan. But there’s more.
“The brand value that Macallan has and will receive over the lifetime of the film, is unlike other product placements,” said Eric Smallwood, Senior Vice President of Front Row Marketing Services & Front Row Analytics. As with Walther handguns and Aston Martin, Smallwood said, “This product integration has created an affinity and connection that is invaluable, which will forever link the single malt scotch to the Bond franchise and will live on for decades to come.” Skyfall producers literally wrote Macallan into permanent Bond lore. Just a few months after Skyfall‘s release, Google “Macallan” and Bond references are first-page results.
One sidenote: the “50-year old Macallan” used in Skyfall is actually a 1962 vintage (25 year) that will run 007 fans about $2,600. A true 50-year Macallan bottle falls in the $7,800 range.
Former winners in this category include Mane n’ Tail (POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) and the American Museum of Natural History (Night at the Museum).
What do film classics Another 48 Hours, About Last Night, Basic Instinct, Roxanne, Superfly, Tootsie and Ghostbusters all have in common? Budweiser product placement.
In the last dozen years, Budweiser has appeared in nearly one-fifth of all of the films that reached #1 at the box office. Budweiser and Bud Light’s appearance in 87 of the 463 top films (18.8%) during that period make it the sixth most common brand, behind only Ford, Apple, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and Mercedes. In all of #1 films since 2001, Budweiser was more likely to appear on-screen than Pepsi, Nike, or BMW. Audiences were 2.5 times more likely to see a Budweiser logo than one for McDonald’s, and Bud appeared more than four times as often as Miller. Ironically enough, Bud’s 2011 Super Bowl commercial (inadvertently) openly mocked Hollywood’s overabundant Bud product placement.
It’s unknown what Bud’s first-ever movie role was. Despite the film’s famous no-label products, 1984’s Repo Man featured a Bud Light sign. Bud’s placements are also international. Director John Woo’s Hong Kong action classic The Killer is full of Bud, and even thanks the brand in its credits. If a movie has a scene in a bar—and many do—a neon Bud sign is to be expected. A few 2012 hits that featured Budweiser include Looper, Ted, Resident Evil: Retribution, The Dark Knight Rises, Jack Reacher and Contraband. No film saw more Bud labels, however, than Adam Sandler’s 2012 That’s My Boy. Front Row Analytics valued Budweiser’s initial exposure in That’s My Boy at $3,489,474, plus another $195,760 worth of exposure for Bud Light and Bud Light Lime— and that’s before DVD and other broadcasts.
But Bud’s appearances aren’t just in booze-soaked fart-fests like Sandler’s. Many an Oscar-nominated film features the brand. Best picture nominees The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) both featured Bud bottles because, according to Cat and Adam Stone, partners at Stone Management that placed the Bud, the brand “fits in so many ways in the fabric of America.” In stories about everyday Americans, they say, “Bud just plain made sense as an organic brand that the film’s characters would drink.”
Budweiser pays for some placements, though most are free and organic. When the placements are paid, they are almost always part of a more robust tie-in where Bud is a film partner. Case in point: Will Ferrell’s film Semi-Pro, which saw placements for Budweiser onscreen and a tie-in campaign with Ferrell—in character as an absurd 1976 basketball star Jackie Moon—pitching Bud Light in commercials. (“Bud Light. Suck One.“)
Also helping Bud win roles is its ready-to-go inventory of branded props a set dresser needs, like neon signs and pool table lights. Bud makes producers’ jobs easier by delivering these assets quickly and efficiently, making Bud the “go to” beer for Hollywood. But more than that, the Stones say Bud’s man in Hollywood, Anheuser-Busch Entertainment Marketing Director James Holleran, “is the perfect blend of savvy meets affable, and always makes working with Budweiser a great experience for all involved.”
It is hard to name the greatest Budweiser product placement of all time. Tom Cruise is more famous for drinking Red Stripe in The Firm, but when Maverick and Goose lost all their love and feeling in Top Gun, they did it alongside a lot of Bud empties. The classic romp Cannonball Run sees Burt Reynolds land his airplane on a small town main street so that Dom “Captain Chaos” DeLouise can run in and buy a six-pack of Bud.
Previous winners in this category include Apple, Gatorade, Everlast and USA Today.
Last year’s critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated, feel-good romantic comedy highlighted a lot of brands, including Philadelphia’s Eagles, AstraZeneca’s Seroquel, Ketel One, Apple (“Who doesn’t have an iPod?”), Budweiser and the curious case of the Hellmann’s mayonnaise jar. But only two brands that appeared on-screen also appeared in the original novel by Matthew Quick: Raisin Bran and Budweiser.
From Quick’s novel: “‘I’m not supposed to drink,’ I say when Mom distributes the bottles of Budweiser, but my father says, ‘You can drink beer during the Eagles game.’ Mom shrugs and smiles as she hands me a cold beer”; and, “When the raisin bran comes, I open the little single-serving box and pour the cereal into the bowl the diner provides free of charge.” Notably, the novel uses the generic term “raisin bran” while the film’s shooting script uses “Raisin Bran,” with Post’s Raisin Bran brand making it onto the screen.
The real-life Pennsylvania location (“Llanerch Diner“) used for the film’s Raisin Bran scene has seen interest skyrocket in recent weeks, particularly interest in the particular booth seen in the film. Ironically enough, when we called the Llanerch to ask which Raisin Bran the diner offered, we were told “Kellogg’s.” And yes, the diner had an Oscar-viewing party on Sunday night.
Mentioning “product placement” and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, often prefaced by terms like “since” or “beginning with” in reference to Reese’s Pieces, is a prerequisite for press coverage of product placement. This award goes to the placement receiving the most overall media attention in 2010.
With about 220,000 search results for “product placement” associated with it, Skyfall walks away with this award.
Notably, the Bond film Casino Royale won this award in 2007.
The 1985 film The Coca-Cola Kid celebrated one man’s struggle with a Coca-Cola franchise. This award celebrates achievement not only in a branded film title, but also in fully integrating the title brand product into the action.
The core plot of India’s Ferrari Ki Sawaari, a warm and humorous Bollywood film, involves a dad “borrowing” a Ferrari to fulfill his son’s dream. Ferrari hijinks ensue, including a Ferrari-heavy musical number (above).
Previous winners in this category include Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, The Devil Wears Prada, Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Lincoln Lawyer.
The 1993 Mike Myers and Dana Carvey hit Wayne’s World openly skewered product placement. This award recognizes achievements in winking at the entire embedded ad enterprise.
“Do you still have the ‘Five Point Oh’?” That’s the question asked of Vanilla Ice in 2012’s Adam Sandler farce, That’s My Boy. The duo then tears through town in the late ’80s model Mustang 5.0. The gag was directed at Ice’s hit 1990 song “Ice Ice Baby” which features the lyrics, “Rollin’ in my five-point-oh” and a video with the rapper driving said Mustang. Worth mentioning is that an ’80s-era Mustang also made an gag cameo appearance in 21 Jump Street, aping the original show’s much cooler vintage model.
Former winners in this category include Sandler’s Jack and Jill (Al Pacino’s “Dunkin’ Donuts ‘Dunk Acino'”) and The Joneses.
“We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film,” read a statement from Anheuser-Busch in response to the brand’s prominent appearance in the hands of an alcoholic pilot played, superbly, by Denzel Washington. The role won Washington an Oscar nomination, and AB InBev a massive hangover.
At least Bud can share the pain with Corona, Ketel One, Grey Goose, Absolut, Miller, Tanqueray, and Stolichnaya, the last of which also asked to be removed from later copies of the film. But this year’s lifetime achievement honoree knows, you take the good product placement with the bad, and filmmakers are under no legal obligation to get clearances under “fair use.” That said, Bud did manage to get its logo blurred out of a scene in The Hangover 2.
Previous winners in this category include The Gap (Crazy, Sexy, Love).
The 1988 film Coming to America features a famous plot point pitting the Golden Arches and Big Mac of McDonald’s against the Golden Arcs and Big Mick of “McDowell’s.” This award recognizes achievement in fake on-screen brands.
An uplifting ending is not enough to get the air under the product placement wings of any real-life airline when it comes to films depicting a crash. Flight‘s Southwest-Funjet amalgamated “SouthJet” airline is just the latest in a long line of fictional airlines you don’t want to fly, including Oceanic (Lost / Executive Decision), Trans-American (Airplane) and Atlantic International (Passenger 57). That said, depending on your lifestyle, Snoop Dog’s Nashawn Wade Airlines (Soul Plane) might be worth looking into.
Heineken and other brands propped up the budget of Bond’s Skyfall and Taiwan’s cops and robbers action film Black & White Episode I: The Dawn of Assault saw nearly a third of its budget (about NT$100 million) come from a deal that ultimately placed Taiwanese automaker Luxgen’s Luxgen7 SUV into major scenes. But Looper was a whole new animal.
Meant to be set in Paris, Looper producers switched one of the film’s settings to Shanghai when Chinese partners came on board with an investment that more or less made the film possible. China’s co-production officials allowed it to fall outside the nation’s foreign film quota system. But re-setting the film in Shanghai also opened up some new product placement opportunities.
In versions of the film screened in China, extended scenes of the hero in Shanghai were added along with significant product placement of China’s online retail giant 360Buy.com. Looper‘s leadership in the brave new world of recutting two versions of a film for U.S. and China audiences—such as with 2013’s 21 and Over—may prove a way not just to maximize profits by bifurcating audiences but also by double-selling product placement opportunities.
Our personal favorite fictional product was the travel coffee mug collapsible bong from Cabin in the Woods. Judging by the number of online search queries, a real-life version would have a market, but production costs were too high to make it viable.
And while the Under Armor fan collection for The Dark Knight Rises football team Gotham Rogues was intriguing, the 16-inch, talking, plush teddy bear replica from Ted is easily the most successful reverse placement of 2012. When purchasing one ($84), be sure to pay attention as it’s available in both R-rated and PG-rated versions.