OK, I’ll admit it – I saw ‘2012’. I didn’t go of my own volition – my arm was twisted by a disaster-movie junkie (Michael and I even saw ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ – in the theater, no less!). But, I did learn that even at the end of days, with destruction imminent, brands will make us feel safer.
I didn’t go into this movie with a notepad in hand. But, the product placement was so awkward and so overwhelming that I came out of the theater and wrote out this list of brands that I saw just to purge them out of my brain.
Now, as a marketer, I get the business case for the rise of product placement. We spent 50 years in advertising amalgamating larger and larger mass audiences in front of the TV. We sold eyeballs in 30 second spots that would reach 80% of households in one fell swoop. Then, we build an entire industry of metrics around measuring viewership and brand impact through these TV spots. Everyone in the industry got paid, and cereal cost 5 cents more to pay for it.
Man, that must have been easy money.
Now, we have torn that infrastructure down. The internet and cable have destroyed that mass audience. We’re in the midst of a great, wrenching industry upheaval. The old rules have been demolished. The audiences don’t accumulate in front of Bonanza or Bob Hope anymore.
All of a sudden, any lump of a few million people is a reason to pitch. And movies – especially big, Hollywood, blockbuster, effects-driven movies – can still bring together 5% or 10% of the US population, making them a target for brands to drool over. “If only people see us!” they think. “Then we can demonstrate success with our outdated metrics!”
At the same time, the movie cycle has sped up, which forces studios to look for ways to mitigate risk – by bringing in partners, selling off pieces, and lowering their overall investment in a project. The allows them to break even sooner on a picture, which means that they have one more asset to add to their long-term arsenal to re-release on DVD, Blu-ray and the forthcoming Brainload format (in which a movie is jacked directly into your cerebral cortex – but only once. You have to pay for multiple vieweings). And, in this re-formating, finally, someday, the studio also makes money.
So, that’s how we got to this list of brands that were so obnoxiously placed in ‘2012’:
John Cusack is a limosine driver, rolling in a Lincoln limo.
The 2012 Bentley plays a part as an escape vehicle also. And the voice activation feature is highlighted in a way that’s so out of context that it is practically its own 30 second spot in the middle of the flick.
Cusack’s character is no James Bond, but he still rolls with a Breitling watch that gets him out of a tough jam.
The US President and other heads of state meet via secure video link conference, and every one of dozens of people in the room has a Sony VAIO laptop in front of them. Imagine as the camera pans around the circular table! All those product shots with the steely gaze of Danny Glover over the top!
This movie was equal opportunity, though without a clear demo. Aimed at the moms in the audience, Goodnight Pullups took their three separate mentions and spun them into zero heartwarming moments (though they aimed to produce one heartwarming moment, this failed due to the fact that there is nothing heartwarming about the fact that a little girl needs Pullups).
Woody Harrelson played a conspiracy theorist/nut job/mountain man/pickle eater. Actually, I’m not sure if he was actually hired to act in this movie, or if they just asked him to show up and chat with the cast and crew while they filmed. But, he maintained his zany/wacky/irreverent street cred by hitting Pabst Blue Ribbon. He even shared with Cusack’s drifting, mealy writer character, and Cusack resisted cracking on PBR, even though you would expect his character to be a beer snob. And why is eating pickles so crazy? I love pickles!
Also, a note to PBR: it’s hard to maintain your street cred with the hipster set when you’re selling out to big budget Hollywood schlock. Did you see others? Let me know what I’ve missed, or other product placement nightmares, in the comments.
Finally, the mother of all product placement scenes was completely useless and pointless for the film. And since the movie was 2.5 hours long, it was irresponsible to include. Amanda Peet and Thomas McCarthy were trolling a grocery store when – a tremor hits and rips the store apart! The plot is not moved forward in any way, and some crude handsiness makes it all the more torturous. But, it gave us lots of opportunities for:
All Bran, Rice Krispies and Special K: Kellogg’s must have paid the most, since the quake hits when the characters are in the cereal aisle, with long shots of the boxes shaking and falling. Campbell’s Chunky Soup got a nice medium shot with Peet in the foreground, and Baked Doritos and Baked Lays were the focus of the medium shots with McCarthy. One of Pullups’ three appearances was in the grocery store too.
Did I miss any products? Let me know in the comments.