Add product placements to that old adage about how laws and sausages are made. You really don't want to know. However, The New York Times recently offered a fascinating account of a product placement specialist pursuing branding opportunities in a screenplay, a thriller, titled The 28th Amendment.
The article details just how integral brand placement has become in the early stages of film and TV development. If you are pro-product placement, the account will be pleasantly reassuring with statements such as, "Writers say [early involvement] helps them work in brands gracefully, rather than finding out later that studio executives have jammed in products at the last minute."
If you are anti-product placement, the following passages will infuriate you:
"'You’ve written Gray has a Dodge Ram,' Mr. Yospe began, discussing a character. 'Does it have to be a Dodge?’
'What’s wrong with Dodge? What have you got against Dodge?' said Mr. Orci, a soft-spoken 36-year-old.
The group began debating. In the script, Gray is described as 'soldier-fit' but with 'psychic damage.' Could someone like that drive, say, a Lincoln Navigator?"
Is an increase of this kind of brand integration going to create horrendous films and nearly unwatchable TV shows? You bet. Is it going to destroy the art of filmmaking? Not at all.
Since the earliest days of film, brands have been used in screenplays as shorthand for character development. The hero of The Da Vinci Code is a "Harvard professor," which clearly informs the audience that the character is the top in his field. In both 2012 and Valentine's Day, rich, self-absorbed doctors drive Porsche sports cars. Done right and responsibly, brand integration adds to an audience's engagement with a film by better defining its characters without an abuse of exposition. A protagonist does not need to take time out to say, "I care about the environment," if the audience sees him driving a Toyota Prius.
Indeed, as brandchannel noted last month, this year's Academy Awards were a testimony to how brand-heavy films can be great films. Both Up in the Air and The Blind Side were awash with character-defining brand placements, and yet both were nominated for numerous awards, including a best picture Oscar.
And then there is The Joneses (trailer above), the complete mind-screw recent film with a core hinged on product placement. As its story, The Joneses offers a leveled and metaphorical interpretation of product placements as the storyline both mocks and earnestly delivers product placements. Now that is creative plot-integrated brand placement.