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  brandchannnel's 2004 Product Placement Awards   brandchannnel's 2004 Product Placement Awards  Abram Sauer  
Two-thousand and four was a banner year for product placement. Besides being the title of both a concert DVD by DJ Shadow and Cult Chemist, and a short film by Andrew Delaplaine (about a placement deal), product placement became a media buzz word, getting mentioned in the Western press over 500 times in January 2005 alone.

Throughout 2004 we've been tracking product placement in films (including building an archive dating back through 2002). And now it's time to award the brands and films that made their mark in the product placement arena last year.

The Awards

Brandcameo's 2004 Award for Overall Product Placement: Pepsi
"Bring me four fried chickens and a Pepsi." This likely would have been John Belushi's line to Aretha Franklin in "The Blues Brothers" had the movie been released in 2004 when Pepsi was the soft drink of choice in top films. Instead the year was 1980, two years before "E.T.," and the line read Coke.

Product placement essentially has one of two functions, introduction or reinforcement. Successful introduction placements tend to have sensational, obvious results, while reinforcement placements tend to be harder to measure. Whereas Reese's famous "E.T." placement was introduction, Pepsi's numerous placements are brand reinforcements (ditto Apple's, Coca-Cola's and most big brands'). Pepsi's seven placements in Number One films in 2004 may not seem like a whole lot, but that's an average of nearly 20 percent of the total.

For every placement in a Number One film such as "Alien vs. Predator," Pepsi could be seen in numerous less successful films such as "Agent Cody Banks 2" or "The Cookout."

Pepsi wins this award based on its appearances in Number One films, but the brand's other properties, such as Mountain Dew and Aquafina, also had excellent years. Mountain Dew was all over the films "Secret Window" and "Little Black Book," and Aquafina had a crazy placement in a film that was Number One for three weeks, "National Treasure."

Brandcameo Lifetime Achievement Award for Product Placement: Apple
From its seminal 1984 mini-movie ad for the Mac (spoofing Orwell's 1984) Apple has been prevalent in our entertainment, if not in our actual lives.

As early as 1986, hits "Short Circuit" and "Star Trek IV" used Macs. Ten years later Apple appeared in three of the top five grossing films. By 1998 Apple computers were in more than 17 major films. Apple's sleek machines now appear in romantic films like "Something's Gotta Give" to slasher flicks like "Seed of Chucky," to comedies like "Dodgeball" to children's films like "Garfield."

Apple's placement across genres, from serious dramas to child- and tween-targeted films like "Sleepover," assures the brand a target audience of those who not only influence mom and dad's purchasing habits, but also those who are mom and dad. The brand's pace is unlikely to slow down in 2005, as we can already see in 2005's "Constantine" and "Fever Pitch."

If space aliens such as those from "Independence Day" or "Men in Black" (two films featuring Apple computers) knew about humans only what they learned from our movies, they would surely think two things: 1) We are an exclusively beautiful species, and B) we all use Apple computers. Yet Apple's global market share for computers dropped to less than two percent in 2004 (1.87 percent market share in Q3 2004 down from 2.19 percent in Q3 2003). And while its iPod is certainly gobbling up market share, it is Apple's computers that have been onscreen for the last 20 years.

In terms of product placement's effectiveness this raises some huge questions, one of which seems to imply that, at best, the effectiveness of product placement is completely unpredictable or, at worst, product placement doesn't really work at all.

If Apple stopped getting its traditional level of exposure through product placement would its market share stay the same?

If yes, this would appear to negate the benefit of almost 20 years of product placement.

If no, would Apple's small market share be even smaller without its product placement exposure? If Apple's market share did shrink, the effectiveness of product placement would be established but Apple's brand would prove to be much weaker than has been reported. And with numerous bodies attempting to put together an agreed-upon system for measuring the value of placements, Apple's history of placement versus its sales results would seem to present an almost crippling challenge.


The "E.T." Reese's Award for Achievement in Press Coverage: "I, Robot" and Audi
Google produces about 497,000 hits for "product placement." Of these, about 164,000 also reference the film "E.T., the Extra Terrestrial" and Reese's Pieces. Mention of this pair's performance, so often prefaced by terms like "since" or "beginning with," has become the go-to starting point for product placement commentaries everywhere. Therefore, this award goes to the placement receiving the most overall press attention in 2004. With over 37,000 Google hits, almost double any other major placement, the winners are "I, Robot" and Audi.

Brandcameo Award for Achievement by an Oscar Nominated Film: "Sideways"
With everyone lamenting the difficulties of measuring the ROI of product placement, "Sideways" presents impossible-to-ignore numbers on the powers of persuasion. Thanks to the main character's snobbish partialities, sales of pinot noir, traditionally an ignored varietal, have skyrocketed, increasing 22 percent in the US from mid-December to mid-January alone. The film's disparaging of merlot, on the other hand, has reportedly had a negative effect on sales of that varietal.

One wine brand, Blackstone Pinot Noir, has seen sales increase by almost 150 percent since the film opened. Additionally, “Sideways” has increased tourism to California’s wine region and driven business up 30 percent at The Hitching Post, a restaurant featured in the film. These real, quantifiable results make "Sideways" our 2004 Oscar nominated award winner.

As for the rest of the 2004 Best Picture nominations, the Oscars are rarely a good place to go searching for product placements. In the last 15 years only four best picture winners could be considered contemporary enough to feature a great deal of brands. For every Suntory Whiskey in 2003's "Lost in Translation" there is a brand-less "Braveheart," "Lord of the Rings," "Dances with Wolves" and "Shakespeare in Love."

Oscar loves biographic period pieces, and biopics don't love many brands except the ones that lend to depicting reality. While Forrest Gump can drink Dr. Pepper in the White House in the sixties, other brands get caught in a time-period warp. An Internet comment board listed the following for 2004's Cole Porter biopic "De-Lovely": "Parked in front of his Massachusetts house is a 1966 Chrysler. Porter died in 1964"; and for 2004's "Friday Night Lights," set in 1988: "Numerous players in the movie were seen wearing Under Armour [sic] accessories. Under Armour [sic] did not come out until 2002." (Under Armor did have a good year though, appearing in "Dodgeball" and "Mr. 3000.")

While best picture nomination "Finding Neverland" barely enters the 20th century, the names of both era and area are on show in "Ray" and "The Aviator," showcasing music and aviation brands. Too bad some of the majors of each film, such as ABC Music ("Ray") and TWA ("The Aviator"), are nonexistent today.

A great deal of media attention has been paid to Clorox bleach's plug in "Million Dollar Baby." While we agree that it was successful (especially since Clorox paid nothing), it was actually Everlast's appearance that captured our attention, continuing the brand's reign as champ of the boxing world.

The "The Coca-Cola Kid" Award for Achievement in Title: "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle"
The ultimate brand name plug, 1985's "The Coca-Cola Kid" is a film about a guy trying to establish a Cola-Cola franchise. In 2004, "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" best represents the legacy of not only placing a brand name in the title of the movie, but also making the movie about the brand. We salute White Castle's courage in cooperating with a film about two stoned yet loveable buddies on a road trip.

The "Forrest Gump" Award for Achievement in Reverse Product Placement: "Napoleon Dynamite"
"Forrest Gump," the 1994 winner for best picture, is an interesting case study in product placement. There were the 15 Dr. Peppers Gump drank, and the "fruit company" he invested in (Apple Computers, again), but while these brands tied nicely into the storyline, their exposure probably had little effect on actual sales. Bubba Gump Shrimp was another story. In a remarkable turn, a fictional brand was brought to real life through its association with the film. Today one can eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurants in New York, Tokyo and elsewhere, or cook with The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cookbook.

This award recognizes a film's achievement in creating a product for market instead of marketing an existing product; there were two potential winners for this award in 2004.

The limited edition Team Zissou adidas shoes from "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" were never intended as a real sale item. Yet online discussion boards soon featured ringing endorsements like: "Those shoes are crunktastic. Where can I buy them?" The demand for the shoes had some entrepreneurs hand-making versions to sell on eBay and even sparked an online petition to adidas.

But the winner of the 2004 "Forrest Gump" Award is a shirt from the quirky film "Napoleon Dynamite." To support his friend's run for student office, the film's protagonist makes his own Vote for Pedro t-shirt. It wasn't long before fans started making their own and buying them en masse. lists its US$20 Vote for Pedro shirt as one of the top 25 sold in the US.

The Photoshop Award for Achievement in Revisionism: "Spider-Man 2"
With somewhere around 60 percent of the American box office now coming from overseas, Hollywood has begun catering its product placement opportunities to the international set. A brand that sells well in the US may not even be available abroad, thus necessitating a digital fix and the insertion of a more local market-friendly property. "Spider-Man 2" is the perfect example.

Though prominently placed in the US version, soft drink Dr. Pepper really doesn't have an overseas market. The solution was to sell overseas placement rights to the beverage maker Mirinda and digitally overhaul the necessary scenes.


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.     



Abram Sauer would like to thank the products that made this research possible, including NetFlix, Internet Movie Database and Stolichnaya.

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