Skyfall‘s continued success at the box office, becoming the highest grossing film in UK history, is clearly good news for the various sponsors and companies who stumped up the cash to have their products featured, commented upon, consumed or destroyed in Bond’s latest outing. Brands have long been associated with Bond, so it’s nothing new – sometimes it works (personally, I liked the “Rolex?”/”Omega” exchange in Casino Royale – it makes sense in the context), and sometimes it don’t (when one company – naturally studio Sony – is responsible for seemingly all technology).
The reality is that we live in a branded world, with company names, advertising and logos everywhere you turn. If you don’t feature them, then you end up creating as much of an unbelievable fantasy world as if everyone only ever drunk Heineken. A world in which people buy adhesive tape, correction fluid, and sticky tac instead of Sellotape, Tipp-Ex and Blu-Tack like regular people do. And fake products can end up being just as distracting as the real thing (in some cases, that’s the point and it’s a directorial trademark, a la Kevin Smith’s Mooby’s and Tarantino’s Red Apple Cigarettes).
So, there are some cases where product placement not only works, but actually improves the scenes in which they are featured, despite what David Lynch or Morgan Spurlock’s rather obvious The Greatest Movie Ever Sold might say. And I’m not talking about just lazily setting a sequence in Times Square and letting the billboards do the work. Or the astonishingly brazen likes of The Wizard or Mac and Me. So to sort the branded goods from the branded not-so-goods, here are my five favourite product placements in movies and why.
5. DIE HARD
Being that I am writing this slap-bang in the middle of the primary gifting period in which it is set (i.e. Christmas), perhaps I am more acutely aware of the more commercial aspects of The Greatest American Action Movie Ever Made. But in each instance, it feels in service of story and character, adding natural, human touches that make Die Hard superior to more common guns-n-splosions fare.
Of course, we get the ubiquitous Twinkie, a soon-to-be-no-more foodstuff which became some kind of magical unobtainable manna in the mind of a child via its appearances in the likes of this, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Ghostbusters, but in reality tastes not to dissimilar to how I imagine the “thousand year old” one John McClane scoffs would (Sergeant Al’s listing of their ingredients should’ve been the warning sign). And then there’s Al Leong (Bill and Ted’s Genghis Khan no less) raiding of the chocolate counter, opting for a Crunch bar.
But my favourite is Harry Ellis and his glass of Coca-Cola. There’s just something about the way the can is poured, the bubbles fizzing in the tumbler. It just seems like the perfect beverage for the cocky, coked-up (geddit?) yuppie to be served and sip from before being shot unceremoniously in the head. Take that America!
4. BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II
BTTF2’s great trick wasn’t just in referencing existing brands (one of the first film’s key running gags was Marty McFly’s accidental alias Calvin Klein), but associating those current brands with products that could exist in the future. Sure, that doesn’t lead to an instant boost for what’s on the shelves for the company, but it’s all about reciprocal association (it’s why you get tie-ins between companies and films that seem absolutely irrelevant to either) and playing the long game (unless of course you’re being featured in Blade Runner). Whereas Home Alone 2 had TalkBoys designed, manufactured and in shops in time for the VHS release the next year, we had to wait over 20 years for Nike and Mattel to finally get round to releasing approximations of their Nike Mag trainers and Hover Boards respectively. Okay, so the film versions were found in 2015, three years away, but neither can these tie their own laces or support a human being…yet. We can but hope. See also impossible to open Pepsi bottles, automated Texaco garages, dehydrated Pizza Hut, and Jaws 19.
3. TOY STORY 2
Unlike Transformers or Star Wars or Cars, which have been criticised for being “jumped up toy commericals”, Toy Story works precisely because amongst its own creations, it features actual existing toys and approximations of generic nostalgic favourites. Seeing playthings come to life (in a non-horror setting, Sid’s bedroom notwithstanding) is one thing, when they are toys you’ve grown up with, it adds something extra magical. Toy Story 2 builds on this by not only introducing even more recognisable brands (Mr Potato Head is joined by Etch-a-Sketch, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, and, the major coup, Barbie), but nicely commenting on the fallout from the first film’s own merchandising, and the demands and shortages of the real-life Buzz Lightyear toy mirroring that depicted in the film. Clever, but not as clever as…
2. JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS
A live-action teeny-boppy adaptation of an inoffensive Archie comic/Hanna-Barbera cartoon isn’t the first place you would look for a biting satire on the music industry, commercialism and brainwashing teenagers. But that’s exactly what the underrated, funny and deceptively smart Josie and the Pussycats effectively is. When the titular band is picked up by a global super corporate record label, their music is enhanced with subliminal messages making their target demographic mindlessly purchase branded products. It’s more They Live than Hannah Montana. The beauty is in its use of genuine superbrands, and how it both lampoons and embraces the ludicrousness of marketing and consumerism. The best dissections of the film are naturally found on conspiracy-heavy websites, but this compilation of relevant clips offers some fine examples (as long as you ignore the commentary from the guy who thinks he’s “opening our eyes” to the astoundingly obvious).
1. WAYNE’S WORLD
The obvious number one, and probably my favourite scene in the movie, Wayne’s World’s brilliantly silly “I Will Not Bow to Any Sponsor” sequence is another commentary on yet prime example of product placement, and hilarious with it. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey capture the creepy artificiality of advertisements, speaking in slogans that are met with silence, and with smiles held just a little too long for comfort. It speaks for itself.