Product Placement 2004: Other Notable Highs and Lows
Underachievment: "I could've been a contender"
Last year featured several other outstanding product placements that require mention due to what could be considered relative underachievement.
Vespa's valiant effort in the remake of "Alfie" paired a laddish metrosexual with his scooter, gaining a great deal of exposure. While "Alfie" struggles to get back even half of its production costs, the metrosexual backlash has begun. By no means the worst placement of 2004, just unsuccessful based on its original potential.
For every Audi in "I, Robot" there is a Jaguar in "Catwoman." Nominated for a Golden Raspberry award for worst film of 2004, "Catwoman" has been much maligned by both fans and critics as one of the most unwatchable films of the year. The placement probably won't serve Jag well (or any of the other brands appearing in the film such as Dasani). Other automotive flops include "Thunderbirds," a remake of the classic children's series, which seemingly was underwritten by Ford, and features a slew of Ford models.
As for jarring placement, insurance firm AFLAC's involvement in "Lemony Snicket" was an unnecessary risk. The benefit of a tie-in did not outweigh the harm to both properties of having the duck appear in the film.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are brands that got exposed yet gained no exposure, further proving Brandcameo's Brandsploitation Rule: the audience has to be able to identify the brand to make the placement valuable.
One such product is the sunglasses in "Collateral." Tom Cruise can sell almost any eyewear, as witnessed in this message board dedicated to Tom Cruise's sunglasses. (note the varying nationalities; this is not just an American obsession). Following the release of "Collateral," buzz generated about what kind of sunglasses he wore, making the Silhouette brand placement accessible to only a truly dedicated fan. Similar questions were raised about the brand Cruise wore in 2000's "Mission Impossible 2."
A brand that suffered the same fate in 2004 was Tiffany & Co.'s jewelry on Brad Pitt in "Ocean's Twelve."
Documentaries: Why movies today don't have enough brands
If we were to give a 2004 award for product placement in a documentary, it would have to be called the "Anti-Placement Award," and there would be many contenders.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" skewered Halliburton (amongst others); "Super-Size Me" took on McDonald's; "Control Room" looked at Al Jazeera and other media outlets; and then there was "Outfoxed" with its subtle subtitle "Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism."
What's interesting about the placement in documentaries is that, in some ways, they completely refute the common complaint that there are too many brands in today's films. In fact, it could be argued that films have too few brands to truly represent reality.
Take "Fahrenheit 9/11," for instance. We noticed 54 brand names in the film, more than in any other Number One film in 2004. Were they placed? Some such as Halliburton and Zytech were specifically mentioned in terms of the film's narrative. But then there were brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Altoids and Disney, which simply appeared (prominently) in several scenes on a shirt or a desk.
Further demonstrating this point is the 2002 hit film "Jackass," which featured over 35 brands. By comparison, "Die Another Day," the 2002 James Bond film, which many complained about in terms of product placement, had only 19 noticeable brands. "Minority Report" from 2002 is one of the most cited films with regard to product placement, and it only had 19 brands.
Both "9/11" and "Jackass" were shot outside of studio sets in what one might consider the "real world." In the developed world, where most Number One films are set, a person cannot walk down a street without passing a heap of brands, depicted in ads, on t-shirts, or in product form such as sodas, shops and cars. We simply live in a branded world and documentaries reflect that reality.
Foreign Language: More Potential Overseas?
While a great deal of attention was given to Nokia's appearance in 2004's "Cellular," it came nowhere near Motorola's in 2003's "Shou Ji" a Chinese film about a man, his cellphones, his text messages and his suspicious wife. The film was a domestic box office champ in China and caused a national sensation as women suddenly became paranoid about discovering their husband's affairs via text message logs.
Reportedly, Motorola (along with BMW) helped underwrite the film, reaching a market of 300 million cellphone users, easily the largest in the world. Motorola even grabbed very good placement on the movie posters.
In many ways, product placement in foreign films (in developing nations especially, considering much of Europe bans or heavily restricts the practice) has the most potential for brands. Not only are many of these filmmakers starved for the funding a huge brand can bring, but also the audience is less jaded about product integration.
A 2004 Mediaedge global survey found the following percentages for people who said they would be attracted to a placed product: Mexico (53%), Singapore (49%), India (35%) and Hong Kong (33%). Meanwhile the US logged a lower rating at 26 percent. None of these figures compare with the Netherlands at nine percent and France's paltry eight percent, suggesting that placing for these audiences probably isn't worth the effort.
Of course brands must still follow the rule of seamlessness and be careful not to force placements at the risk of ruining a good relationship with the audience.
"Shou Ji" isn't the first brush with product placement for director Xiaogang Feng. His 2001 hit "Da Wan" (Big Shot's Funeral) featured a storyline spoof about a foreign director in China and his lackeys' attempts to complete his historical epic using modern product placement, like that for Coca-Cola.
Missed Opportunities: The horror, the horror
While contemporary or futuristic films in 2004 averaged over 20 brands per film, teenage horror films (such as "The Grudge") only averaged five brands per film, including "Dawn of the Dead," which took place in a mall. (Over three years 2002 to 2004 such horror films averaged 6.8 brands per film while other contemporary or futuristic films averaged 21.2).
Most top grossing horror films are very contemporary (the exceptions include "Exorcist: The Beginning," set just after WWII) and command an audience almost exclusively made up of young adults (2004's "The Grudge" and 2002's "The Ring" even managed PG-13 ratings), the modern day demographic holy grail. So why aren't there more brands?
The director of 2004's "Dawn of the Dead" Zack Snyder claims Starbucks refused to appear in a very prominent role. Even supposing that this was due to concern over content, this still seems like an enormous missed opportunity given the audience's make up and size (the film's already made over US$ 100 million worldwide, five times its budget).
Why would Starbucks refuse to appear in a positive role in "Dead" yet agree to a very big role in 2004's "In Good Company," where it is the beverage of choice of a solipsistic, unhinged, calculating young executive who uses it as fuel (never mind that "Company" will never post audience numbers like "Dead")?
Brandcameo: The Numbers and the Methodology
How we do what we do
A total of 37 films were Number One during respective weeks at the US box office in 2004. Several films reigned for weeks, such as "Shark Tale," while others like "Man on Fire" dropped quickly from sight. In these films, brandchannel spotted 483 brands. This works out to approximately 13.1 discernable brands per film, slightly lower than 2003's 18.1 brands per film (762 brands in 42 films) and 2002's 17.0 per film (594 in 35 films).
Some of this drop off can be explained by 2004's large number of epics such as "Passion of the Christ" and "Troy," which take place pre-World War II, when few brands can logically be placed. Interestingly enough, adjusting these numbers to represent films set after WWII produces 15.6 brands per film in 2004 (16.1 per film 2002 to 2004). And adjusting to include only films set both after WWII and within a "real" (non-fantasy) contemporary or future world, the average number of brands per film not only jumps to 21.1 in 2004 but also eliminates the drop-off with the average for all 114 films in 2002 to 2004 coming to 21.2 brands per film.
No two brand appearances in a film are equal. Nobody would argue that Aquafina's prominent placement in "National Treasure is equal to Sprite's appearance in "Saved." Furthermore, "Saved" was a smaller film with a smaller release and a smaller audience, further diminishing the value of Sprite's placement. But product placement is a subjective field if ever there was one.
Brandcameo employs five placement trackers. With a gender ratio of 2:3, ranging in age by almost a generation, if the brand is in the film and we don't recognize it the placement has a problem.
Our margin of error is dependent on first-run films versus DVDs. Tracking brands on DVD is vastly easier than tracking brands on the big screen. However, the benefit of tracking on the big screen is that if the brand placement doesn't make an impact on those of us actively looking for it, chances are it won't register with any audience.
For a cross-referenced list of brands and films, from 2002 onwards, please see Brandcameo.