It’s often a challenge to find movies that will earn their 15 dollar ticket price by showing us the products we want to buy being used by the people we want to emulate. Many movies do this subtly, slipping brands into the plot without much collateral damage, while others shove logos front and center with little to no tact. If you don’t know where to turn to get your fix, here are the top 15 most obvious and/or distracting uses of product placement in movies. Some of these you may have noticed — the others you have definitely noticed.
The most memorable character in this one-man film had no facial hair and was luckily a really good listener. Wilson was actually able to pull on the heartstrings of viewers while convincing them to buy volleyballs at the same time — no easy feat. The best decision they ever made was allowing that ball to float away tragically, letting us feel for it, wanting it back… Not for Tom, but for ourselves. It was the number of times we heard him scream that very obvious name plus the number of Fed-Ex logos making their way into the plot that puts Cast Away on this list. Thank goodness people were sending survival gear through Fed-Ex and not using that damn new fangled DHL!
Future movies are often the biggest perpetrators of awkwardly placed products because these fake futures are escapist fantasies we want to be enveloped in, but when the products we see every day make their way into the fantasy they stick out like so many sore thumbs. It’s nearly impossible to do it subtly, as evidenced by the forced conversation between Sly Stallone and Sandra Bullock where she reveals to him that Taco Bell is now the only restaurant left in existence. It won the franchise wars, so better hop on board the champion’s train if you don’t want to be left behind. She gives no hints as to the possible advances in Chaluporrito technology.
One of the better executed placements, here the toys and the story are inexorably linked, offering character traits as well as ad space. While the protagonist toys were at one time made-up representations of action figures, they have since been established as tangible commodities, creating a kind of reverse placement that feeds itself better than any ecosystem possibly could. The background playthings are old-school standbys that needed a jump start and got one better. Lackluster sales of Etch-a-Sketches and Mr. Potato Heads started to skyrocket once they were anthropomorphized as cute, well written comedic relief. It’s important to remember that had the folks behind GI Joe been a bit smarter, Sid would’ve melted 100 of them together to form the ultimate Christmas variety pack. Now with the third one, who knows how far things might be taken? Wooly Willy might come out of nowhere to save the day with his metal beard shavings…
Though it’s not a movie yet, there’s going to be one soon — the series is really just a very, very long prequel. Aside from Jack Bauer not knowing the difference between the words ‘download’ and ‘upload’, he also has a big fondness for Sprint phones, Apple/Dell computers, and a variety of ringtones depending on the season. Consistently amazing is the level of security and features available from the CTU edition of these consumer phones, not to mention how bright the yellow in the logo is. Thank goodness Ford gave us the episodes with limited commercial interruptions so we had more time to catch the model number on that black Explorer Jack always seems to drive so fast and powerfully.
This silly alien flick involves Agents Mulder and Stifler figuring out that the secret to destroying a giant murderous creature is lots and lots of Head and Shoulders shampoo injected straight into the blood stream (or shot out of a firehouse). The reasoning is very scientific: the product luckily contains a specific chemical that kills giant murderous other worldly creatures! What a coincidence, because Proctor and Gamble kindly requested that they be involved in such an important national security venture as this stupid movie.
Written by the same guy who wrote Phone Booth, his second attempt at a script shows considerable growth and advancement, if only in the ‘phone technology’ and ‘ability to gain corporate sponsorship’ areas. Even forgiving the fact that the credits were on the screen of a Nokia phone, the entire film is basically an ad for Nokia. Basically, Kim Basinger gets kidnapped and uses the smashed remains of an old rotary phone to randomly call the cell phone of some guy who must then battle low batteries and weak signals trying to save the day. It drives home the indispensability of the cell phone while at the same time trying to suggest: why not a Nokia? Remember, she would have died if not for cell phones and if she’d had one in the first place, she wouldn’t have had to get her hands dirty with that archaic analog technology.
Simultaneously a joke on celebrity endorsements and a commercial break in its own right, the Subway sandwich spot in this one served only the interests of the company and Happy’s old, destitute grandmother. Anyone who paid to watch this movie (whether directly or through the more clearly defined ads on TBS) must feel slightly cheaper after that scene, the revelation happening just before subconsciously humming the tune to five dollar foot longs.
The placement of Merlot and Pinot Noir in this movie was not only blatantly obvious, it was incredibly effective. Following Paul Giamatti’s snobbery, sales of Pinot Noir rose exponentially while poor Merlot became the punchline of every derivatively wine-related joke since. Hard to say if this was a deliberate ploy to knock the king of house wines off it’s high horse, but the opinions of one lonely failed writer managed to somehow shift widely held perceptions.
McDonalds certainly didn’t back this one, but there was also no need to waste their money since Morgan Spurlock was willing to do all the heavy lifting for free. On the surface he’s bashing the company and doing a pretty decent job of it… but all those golden arches racing past the screen made you want a quarter pounder — don’t lie. Ironically, one of Spurlock’s major points is that the product association work is done when our minds are young and supple. His film is telling us one thing but all we hear is the other.
Mac and Me
One of the most shameless movies in recent memory, this alarmingly blatant ET ripoff was backed by Coca-Cola and McDonalds from the beginning. The ‘free’ burgers and soda are nice, but they sure ain’t actually free. Plus, the cute little aliens who show up in this one were told by the execs to have an uncommon affinity for a certain dark soda. It turns out to be their lifeblood, actually (in addition to Skittles), and the family saves their little (big?) mac from being confiscated by the US Army or something… Sold!
Why we don’t hand over control of our national security to Nicholas Cage is a mystery, especially after he brilliantly uses a simple Aquafina® bottle (label out) to magnify something very small and crack a national case. Who knew he had such a resourceful spirit? In that moment, a lifetime relationship was born and Aquafina became the official bottled water of treasure hunters nationally.
You’ve Got Mail
Back when AOL was still relevant, this movie was major power play by the now defunct internet giant. The title reflects their most famous catch phrase and the message of the film is that AIM brings soul mates together even if they already found each other in Seattle a few years earlier. Just because they’re on exact opposite sides of a central conflict doesn’t mean that they can’t fall in love anonymously online. There’s little question this flick was responsible for a million fat guys coming to a million creepy revelations. It also probably kept AOL afloat for an extra 5 years.
Sometimes a commercial is so long and story heavy that you forget what product they’re selling by the end of it. This is not the case with the Wizard. Though there’s some story about a video game tournament in there somewhere, it’s tough to tell through all the scenes spent pushing Nintendo’s Power Glove and everything else they sold in 1989. What they failed to recognize (besides the fact that the games sell themselves) was that the evil kid’s line “I love the Power Glove, it’s so bad” just doesn’t cut it. Even a 10 year old can tell that they’re watching a commercial, no matter how bad-ass that commercial was. On top of it all, everyone in this movie is obsessed with video games — parents and kids alike they all know their way around a d-pad.
The ultimate chance for product placement opportunists, this Michael Bay reboot of the classic series is loaded with car company close ups and Mountain Dew or Xbox shape-shifting. There are a few parts in particular that just scream ‘ad agency’ and leave a strange taste after lingering a bit too long. When the robots decide they need to be disguised and scan only the newest, coolest GM models, all bets are off on the possibility of organic integration. They drive fast in tight formation down a wide, empty highway, eventually pulling into a spotlit section of the street blaring a Led Zeppelin riff and the perfect moment for any multi-million dollar commercial.
The obvious choice but also one of the most egregious cases of carefully placed products, this futuristic Will Smith vehicle featured no less than 10 blatant plugs. The peaceful robots of the future (as opposed to the evil ones that come later) all work for Fedex. And those new kicks he gets at the beginning? There’s actually a line where he says “Converse: Vintage 2000’s” just in case you didn’t realize these shoes are available to be purchased right now at a store nearby during your time period! This is not to be confused with the Audi he drives — that kind of technology is not going to be available for some time. Thankfully, the logo is still exactly the same.