This weekend will see the release of a film that looks, on the surface, like a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. Yet, from a product placement perspective (our favorite lenses at the movies), Love and Other Drugs is easily one of the most interesting films of the year — not only because it revolves around a single brand, but because it demonstrates how so many folks completely misunderstand how products and movies interact.
Love and Other Drugs is loosely based on the book, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. The tell-all memoir covers the life of Jamie Reidy, a former Pfizer salesman (played by the newly studly Jake Gyllenhaal) who made a mint in the 1990s pushing the boner drug Viagra directly to docs before jumping ship and joining Eli Lilly (which canned him after the release of the book).
The book claims to be to the American pharmaceutical industry "what Jerry Maguire was to professional sports and Frank Abagnale (Catch Me If You Can) was to bank fraud." (Both films, mind you, that made sports agentry and fraud not only sexy and fun, but also redemptive.)
The film version of Reidy's book adds a love affair (with Anne Hathaway) to make the story of the yucky pill of the business of pharmaceuticals go down easier. Trailer below:
Director Ed Zwick is on record saying Pfizer had no input in the film, which examines an industry and its practices that he calls "despicable." Zwick's film openly uses Pfizer's logo and those of its products Viagra, Prozac and Zoloft. The attachment of Pfizer's big corporate brand to a mainstream Hollywood film has also prompted some in the media to ask "How Bad Will [the film] Be for Pfizer?"
The answer is that the film will be awesome for Pfizer.
What Zwick and critics mistakenly believe is that hot Hollywood stars (Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, who were photographed nude for the cover of Entertainment Weekly) can have a negative impact on organizations in which the are involved onscreen.
In fact, "cautionary tale" films meant to warn audiences more often serve to increase the mystique of those very elements they target. For example, films like Barbarians at the Gate, Bonfire of the Vanities, and Boiler Room that were meant to slam Wall Street dealings became cult symbols of that lifestyle.
This is no different than how anti-war films like Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead, Three Kings, Blackhawk Down, and Apocalypse Now, meant to depict military life as unappealing, become cult recruitment films for that exact same military. The author of the book upon which the film Jarhead was based, Matt Swofford, told The New York Times, ”Vietnam War films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. . . . The magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man."
Indeed, Gordon Gekko's "greed is good" became just as much a mantra for a group as did Colonel Kilgore's "love the smell of napalm in the morning."
There is no reason to believe that Love and Other Drugs, which casts one of Hollywood's hottest leading men as a fast-talking, successful lothario who beds one of Hollywood's hottest actresses, will fare any better in this regard. Pharma-what? Exactly.
What audiences will remember is that at one point in the film Gyllenhaal's character takes Viagra and hilarity ensues. (NSFW trailer here.) It's a scene at which everyone will laugh "hard." The takeaway? Laughing. Viagra. Jake Gyllenhaal. Romantic comedy in which the flawed boy (Pfizer salesman) nonetheless wins the girl. Exactly how is this bad for Pfizer again?
Zwick says Pfizer's role in the film "is not a product placement." But this is completely ignorant of exactly what a "product placement" is. Zwick mistakenly believes that "product placement" only happens when money somehow changes hands; but, in fact, product placement occurs any time a product is shown in a film, whether paid for or not. Love and Other Drugs, which places Viagra and Pfizer at its core, is indeed engaged in product placement.
Of course, the irony is that Zwick should be very aware of exactly what product placement is, especially product placement of controlled substances. You see, Love and Other Drugs, while openly lamenting a "despicable" marketing practice, itself engages in what many consider a despicable marketing practice. Below, a mere selection of the uncredited "other drug" star of Love and Other Drugs — Budweiser: