Welcome to the annual Brandcameo Product Placement Awards. For the last decade, brandchannel has tracked product placement and brand appearances in every box office-topping film under our Brandcameo banner, looking at brands in the #1 films at the US box office.
Each year, with input from our readers, we honor the good, the bad, and the ugly (and the most) product placement in films released. Without further ado, the 2010 awards. The envelope please....
Apple products appeared in ten (or 30%) of the 33 films that were number one films at the US box office in 2010, outstripping appearances by any other single brand for the year. Nike, Chevrolet and Ford tied for second place, each appearing in 24% of the top films. Sony, Dell, Land Rover, and Glock appeared in at least 15% of the #1 films.
Apple-branded products appeared in more than one-third of all number one films at the US box office between 2001 to 2010 (making 112 of the 334 #1 films in America since 2001). That is second only to Ford (144 of 334) and well ahead of third place Coca-Cola (96 of 334).
In fact, Apple products appeared in more top films in the last decade than McDonald's and Nike combined (92). Pretty impressive, considering that fewer than 15% of American computer-owning households have an Apple. (That figure, by the way, is up from 9% in 2008 — an indication that Apple product placement may be paying off.)
Those numbers do not even include the preponderance of Apple product placement in films that did not reach #1 at the box office.
In 2009 and 2010 alone, the following films featured Apple products but didn't make #1 at the box office: Morning Glory, Somewhere, Repo Men, Hereafter, Machete, Greenberg, Catfish, Dinner for Schmucks, Lottery Ticket, Solitary Man, Going the Distance, Chatroom, Hot Tub Time Machine, Please Give, She's Out of My League, Chloe, Killers, Book of Eli, The Spy Next Door, When in Rome, High School, Cats and Dogs 2, Step Up 3D, Gulliver's Travels, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Knight and Day, You Again, Vampires Suck, Drag Me to Hell, Orphan, I Love You, Man, Duplicity, Crank 2: High Voltage, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Imagine That, Sorority Row, Answer Man, Post Grad, I Love You Beth Cooper, All About Steve, Hurt Locker, New York, I Love You, It's Complicated, Road Trip: Beer Pong, Law Abiding Citizen, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Funny People and Couples Retreat.
This award is bittersweet for Apple, however — it also represents the second straight year of decline of Apple's product placement dominance in Hollywood. The brand is down to appearing in 30% percent of #1 movies last year, vs. 44% of #1 films (19 of 44) in 2009. In turn, 2009 was down from 2008, the brand's peak, when Apple products showed up in almost 50% (20 of 41) of number one films at the US box office that year. Or to put this visually:
This slippage in Apple product placement is not due to Apple giving up on the practice — inevitably, other brands are taking a page from its playbook and aping Apple's product placement strategy. Films that previously would have been dominated by Apples are now filled with HP, Dell and Sony Vaio logos.
Indeed, Sony Pictures has attempted a complete elimination of Apple from its films, replacing them with Vaio-branded notebooks at every opportunity. In the 2003 Sony film Something's Gotta' Give, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson chatted away on MacBooks; that would never happen today. (That said, Hollywood remains loyal to Apple, even slipping a MacBook and iPhone into Sex and the City 2 despite the film's deal with HP.)
2010 Award for Achievement in Product Placement in a Single Film — Iron Man 2
Boasting 64 brand placements, the Iron Man sequel was a veritable brandstravaganza. It contained the biggest number of identifiable brands and products of any #1 film last year. That is an increase of 22 identifiable brands and products from the original 2008 Iron Man's count of 42.
Not far behind Iron Man 2 in the brandbusting race: Valentine's Day and The Other Guys, which tied with a count of 56 brand mentions. For perspective, Iron Man 2 remains well behind the 2001 Sylvester Stallone racing film Driven, which holds the record with 102 identifiable products and brand names.
2010 Award for Worst Product Placement — Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
"We needed help." That was director Oliver Stone's explanation for how so many over-the-top product placements made it into the sequel of his iconic 1980s film. While Wall Street 2 "only" featured 43 identifiable products (fare less than many other 2010 films), it easily claimed the most grotesquely obvious ones. (And there's something ironic about the morally bankrupt Gekko in the now financially-bankrupt Borders bookstore, above.)
From a blatant Heineken plug to a surfeit of Dunkin' Donuts cups, each overt placement was outdone in the film's final moments, when Stone inserts a match-cut from an IWC watch face to a birthday cake:
Sure, it may represent the passing of time. But it's also a cheesy product placement that made Stone's later claim that he never went "out of the way specifically to accommodate" a brand sponsor boggle the mind as much as the film itself.
2010 Award for Product Placement Achievement by an Oscar Nominated Film — The Fighter and Budweiser
From ringside advertising to neon signs at dive bars, the King of Beers is woven through The Fighter, bringing its familiar red and white branding to scene after scene. The above scene, in which a down on his luck Dickie clings to a Bud tall boy while riding in a limousine, speaks volumes about his character without saying a word.
Adam and Cat Stone organized the product placement in The Fighter as well as Oscar nominee The Kids are All Right and Oscar winner The Hurt Locker. Adam Stone told us that the Budweiser placements were "a matter of historical accuracy," and "really the only choice that made sense in the film."
2010 Award for Product Placement Achievement in a Foreign Film — Color Me Love
While not #1 at the US box office, we tip our hats to this Chinese comedy. Loosely based on the American film The Devil Wears Prada, China's Color Me Love (爱出色) follows the work life and love life of a young woman at a glossy fashion magazine, Flair.
Numerous brands were integrated into the film, including Diesel jeans, Apple, Cartier, Versace, Aston Martin, Dolce & Gabanna, Audi, Starbucks, Hermes, and, of course, Prada.
Color Me Love's heavy product placement, and that in its peers such as 2010's If You are the One 2 (非诚勿扰2) and Go Lala Go (杜拉拉升职记), is symbolic of how Chinese filmmakers are venturing into a practice long embraced by Hollywood.
2010 Award for Best Role in a Supporting Product Placement — Prius
Chevrolet, Ford, and even Range Rover scored more overall appearances in top films last year than did the Prius — but no other auto model landed more high-profile cameos than the Toyota-owned Prius.
In 2010, Prius popped up in hits (The Other Guys), bombs (Repo Men), Oscar-contenders (The Kids are All Right) and everything in between (Wall Street 2, The Next Three Days).
What's unique about Prius product placement is that the car has become shorthand for a certain kind of character, and (unfortunately for Toyota) a go-to punching bag for a quick laugh. Often, a Prius doesn't just appear onscreen — the characters point it out as a comment on the character that owns it. In three of the top 2010 films, Prius was referenced, and not lovingly.
In Little Fockers, the protagonist's "2003 Prius" was called old technology. In The Town, the female lead's Prius was mocked as a "toonie car," with Ben Affleck adding, "If you have a problem with your Prius, I can always throw it in the back." And then there was The Other Guys, in which the Prius was derided as "a tampon on wheels" and described as "like driving around in a vagina." In one scene, a cop sizes up the Prius, "My Suburban s**t one of these the other night." Toyota tells us that it treats this stereotype "with a sense of humor."
Toyota says it had nothing to do with The Other Guys role but that the brand is "moderately active in attempting to get the Prius into films." Toyota's emphasis is more on television integration, where it stars in shows including The Office and Big Bang Theory. But often Toyota makes no effort whatsoever, as Doug Coleman, Prius Product Manager, wrote in a Prius message board in 2009. "Generally speaking, OEMs have to pay to get their cars into these programs, sometimes a pretty penny if it's well integrated," he commented. "But almost always with Prius, it's the studios asking us for the vehicles, and very little or no money. That's one of the nice perks about having been so warmly received by Hollywood."
The product-placed Prius is unique in that it is truly a supporting character that communicates details about the story and characters. In The Other Guys, The Town, Little Fockers, The Office, Valentine's Day, Wall Street 2 and The Next Three Days a Prius reference telegraphs to the audience that a character is timid, the same way a Porsche is often used to define a character as vain, shallow and narcissistic. It's a unique twist — but not one the brand may want.
2010 Award for Product Placement Impact — EA Sports and Gatorade
With accountability and ROI crucial to the growth (and acceptance) of the product-placement field, no product placement in 2010 had greater immediately measurable impact than — in a wake-up call to studio marketers — Gatorade. But not in a movie, but in Electronic Arts video game titles.
Crossferenced retail scans of UPC data on 100,00 households that purchased at least one of six available NHL and NBA EA titles with a variety of Gatorade product placement found that households with one of the Gatorade-heavy games increased their Gatorade purchases by 24%. Now, that's ROI.
2010 Lifetime Achievement Award for Product Placement — Glock
"They told me Brendan Leahy was coming down here to roll up on you with a Glock 21."
That line by Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner in The Town is just one of Glock's memorable placements in 2010's top films.
Glocks also appeared prominently in 22 #1 box office films last year. In addition to The Expendables, Inception, The Other Guys, Kick Ass, and Takers, it also surfaced in Date Night, Red, The A-Team, Brooklyn's Finest, MacGruber, The Losers, Faster, Repo Men, Machete, Knight and Day, The Bounty Hunter, Edge of Darkness, Daybreakers, Legion, The Spy Next Door, The Crazies, and Green Zone.
On the small screen, Glocks also appeared in TV shows Hawaii Five-O, Justified, The Closer, Fringe, and CSI.
In Ashton Kutcher's 2010 film Killers, there is an entire scene about a Glock:
And in marketing for the film, Kutcher took to Chatroulette to show off his Glock:
The poster for 2010's Cop Out, meanwhile, read: "Rock Out With Your Glock Out."
Coincidentally, "Rock Out With Your Glock Out" is the same title given a segment of the 2011 edition of Glock Autopistols, a special edition glossy magazine put together by Glock marketing and published by Harris Publications ($4.95 at select newsstands). Subtitled, "The World's Favorite Pistol Takes Aim at the Mass Media!," notes that "Angelina Jolie sure does love GLOCKs," adding of the gun's role in 2010's Salt, "…when Angelina shares the screen with the Austrian super gun it's hard to know where to look."
It's a prideful recognition by the brand of just how powerful Hollywood is as a (free) marketing tool for Glock. The live firing Glock pistol used during the filming of Angelina's Jolie's 2010 film Salt sold on movie memorabilia site The Golden Closet for an undisclosed amount. (A live firing Glock used during the filming of The Sopranos is still for sale: $6,500.)
Glock's PR machine loves to mention that Die Hard star Bruce Willis is a "real life Glock owner." Willis, of course, provided Glock with one of its earliest, and best known onscreen roles in 1990's Die Hard 2 when he launched the legend of the undetectable "porcelain" firearm that cost "more than you make in a month."
That Willis misidentified the Glock model, manufacturing material (plastic) and the nation of origin (Austria) mattered little. Soon, the Glock was the most mysterious, and wanted, handgun in America. The end of that decade would see Arnold Schwarzenegger state in 1999's End of Days, "Between your faith and my Glock 9-millimeter... I take my Glock."
Die Hard 2 may be Glock's most memorable movie role but it wasn't its first. That honor belongs to 1989's Johnny Handsome. In the film, struggling crook Mickey Rourke looks to buy a black market handgun and is shown a number of models. Holding up a molded case, the salesman drawls, "We got the new number one baby right here…. Austria… make it plastic so it don't freeze up in them mountains they got." In the film the gun is never identified by name, but the credits list a "special acknowledgement" for "Glock Industries Inc."
It's impossible to know how many product placements Glock has secured since 1989. Easily thousands. But the brand certainly would not have come so far so fast without the invaluable product placements given it by Hollywood.
2010 Award for Product Placement Stunt Double — Ducati and Knight and Day
The Expendables. Takers. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Tron: Legacy. Ducati had sizable roles in all four of those 2010 number one films. Ducati even claims it didn't spend a cent for any of it. None of those roles were more valuable than Tron: Legacy. After the film, Tweets such as "I'm getting a Ducati now" and "Ducati in Tron awweesooome" were standard. A Ducati rep told us it was an "absolute win" and that "The amount of feedback we’ve gotten from that film was incredible, easily the most in recent memory."
But one film Ducati got credit for turns out to be the work of a stunt double.
Ironically, this role was in I-do-my-own-stunts Tom Cruise's Knight and Day. A big Ducati fan, Tom Cruise reportedly hand picked the Ducati HyperMotard model upon which he and costar Caeron Diaz prominently rip through Spain. Except, eagle-eyed motorcycle aficionados noticed that the body under the Ducati shell did not match that of a HyperMotard.
The E.T./Reese's Award for Achievement in Press Coverage — Iron Man 2
Mentioning "product placement" and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, often prefaced by terms like "since" or "beginning with" in reference to Reese's Pieces, is a prerequisite for press coverage of product-placement. This award goes to the placement receiving the most overall media attention in 2010.
With about 845,000 search results for "product placement" + "Iron Man 2," the sequel to the original product placement heavy film, easily wins this award.
2010 Cleo McDowell "My Buns Have No Seeds" Award — The Town and Vericom
The 1988 film Coming to America features a famous plot point pitting the Golden Arches and Big Mac of McDonald's against the Golden Arcs and Big Mick of "McDowell's." This award recognizes the The Town for its use of near-Verizon telecom brand, "Vericom."
2010 Coca-Cola Kid Award for Product Placement Title — I Love You Phillip Morris
The 1985 film The Coca-Cola Kid celebrated one man's struggle with a Coca-Cola franchise. This award celebrates achievement not only in a branded film title, but also in fully incorporating the title brand product in the plot. Former winners include Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, The Devil Wears Prada, and Because of Winn-Dixie. Last year was not a great year for brand-referencing film titles. Phillip Moris (one "L" too many) and Elextra Luxx were the only true contenders. 2011 promises to be better, with films such as The Lincoln Lawyer and From Prada to Nada.
2010 Wayne's World Award for Product Placement Product Placement — The Joneses
Well before its time, the film Wayne's World openly skewered product placement. This award recognizes achievements in winking at the entire enterprise.
No film last year provided better meta-product placement than The Joneses, a film about a model family whose job it is to move to a community and promote products to neighbors by using those very products. Of course, throughout the film, those same products, like Audi, Dell and Ethan Allen, are being advertised to the audience as the sort of products that a high-end, wealthy beautiful family should be using.
2010 Award for Unwanted Product Placement — Pfizer and Love and Other Drugs
Based on the true story of former Pfizer salesman Jamie Reidy, Love and Other Drugs paints Pfizer's business as a cynical con game. Where Wall Street 2 used fictional entities to represent real brand players, Love and Other Drugs goes right ahead using names like Viagra and Zoloft to paint a grim picture of all involved.
The Forrest Gump Award for Achievement in Reverse Product Placement — Twilight: Eclipse and the Bella Engagement Ring
The popularity of the film Forrest Gump brought a fictional brand to real life, with the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant chain still around many years later. This award recognizes a film's achievement in creating a product for market instead of marketing an existing product.
Twilight: Eclipse may have been "only" the fourth highest grossing film of 2010 but it was certainly the most influential of the year. From Jeeps to jackets, if it appears in Twilight, it's a must-have, bestselling item.
Infinite Jewelry Co. says it worked directly with Twilight author Stephenie Meyer to create both the Bella Engagement Ring™ ring and the "Bella' Bracelet™ ($59 to $1,999). The ring is so popular that it is now available in all variations of "authorized," including at Buy.com and Drugstore.com.
2010 Readers Choice Awards
We also invited our readers to share their thoughts about the year in product placement. Thanks to everyone who participated. The results:
Apple as a brand or an Apple-branded product (iPhone/iPad) was chosen by a full 25% of our readers as the most memorable product placement of 2010. The next closest single brands were Ducati (Knight and Day,Tron: Legacy) and Audi (Iron Man 2), which both received around 7% of votes.
Sex and the City 2 was selected by 26% as the 2010 film with "too much product placement." The next closest film was Iron Man 2, with almost 13%.
We were also curious if audiences are getting tired of product placement on the big screen. Interestingly, a full 87% responded "no" to the Yes/No question, "Are product placements ruining films?"
Several films were number one for successive weeks, such as Avatar, while How to Train Your Dragon was #1 twice. Last year's crop of #1 movies featured 591 identifiable brands, the lowest since our product placement awards launched in 2004. This works out to 17.9 products per film.
Much like 2004, many of 2010's biggest hits featured no, or few, products. Animated features such as Chronicles of Narnia 3, Megamind, Tangled, Shrek Forever After, How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans were virtually free of real-world brands (Disney marketers, cleverly, made hay with Tangled's mock brands). Also, like 2004's Passion of the Christ, 2010 featured a film with almost no products or brands that dominated the box office for more than a month — Avatar.
The 2010 average of 17.9 products per #1 film in 2010 continues a moderate trend downward since 2005. Average identifiable products per film since 2001:
2001 - 22.2 products per #1 film
2002 - 17.8 PPF
2003 - 18.1 PPF
2004 - 13.4 PPF
2005 - 22.1 PPF
2006 - 21.5 PPF
2007 - 20.7 PPF
2008 - 19.6 PPF
2009 - 17.5 PPF
2010 - 17.9 PPF
To date, 2011 is averaging 20.7 identifiable products per film, although it is very early in the year.
Also, it's worth pointing out that no two brand appearances in a film are equal. Nobody would argue that Ducati's prominent placements in Tron: Legacy are equal to Jeep's passing placement in The Town. You might say it's not exactly apples to apples, or even Apples to BlackBerrys, comparisons, although we've been tracking this space for more than a decade with an eye to the brand impact and perception of product placement.
Measuring product placement value and impact continues to be subjective and imprecise — and, of course, entertaining.
Thanks to all our readers who weighed in on this year's Brandcameo Awards, and feel free to comment on the results below. Stay tuned for more Brandcameo coming your way in 2011! - Abe Sauer
Abram D. Sauer has written about brands and branding trends since 2001. Visit www.abesauer.com for more of his work on branding and product placement.
I am a proud supporter of South African products and services and I think it would be super cool if this campaign is taken to the streets and into the large black market of this country in fact I have an excellent plan on how that should be done but where should I go and to whom should I talk to? Boitumelo
Boitumelo Mamome, self-employed, student - February 27, 2011