Taken 2 marked a cinematic return of more than one kind. On one hand, it was a return to the role of retired CIA dad for Liam Neeson, the Cialis user's Jason Bourne — "When the time is right… to violently dispatch some swarthy foreigners..." But Taken 2 is also a return to form for Apple product placement. In a year that saw the iGiant forced to talk about its Hollywood placement secrets, Apple product placement in top movies has fallen off a cliff, hitting the lowest level in a decade.
Taken 2 contains significant product placement for both the iPad and iPhone, especially the latter. Those who have been mocking Apple as the brand of mom and dad would consider Apple a perfect fit for Taken 2, considering the whole film is basically a big wet kiss to Boomer men.
But the generational politics of Taken 2 aside, Apple product placement has been a hot topic in 2012, just not in the way Apple is used to.
During this summer's Samsung lawsuit everyone got a rare glimpse inside Apple's marketing machine. To nobody's surprise, Apple — which has never responded to any questions about product placement beyond statements that the brand never pays for product placement — admitted that it relies heavily on product placement.
Apple's head of marketing, Phil Schiller, told the court, "We would love to see our products used by stars in movies, TV shows, and we have a person who helps provide products to people that want to do that." Apple's attorneys even provided a chart and DVD of Apple product placement clips and samples into evidence.
It's no wonder Apple loves to see its iPads, Macs and iPhones "used by stars in movies." The value Apple gets back is enormous and certainly far outweighs any retainer it pays to the "person who helps provide products to people that want to do that."
For our 2012 Product Placement Awards, brandchannel worked with Front Row Analytics, the analysis division of Front Row Marketing Services, to measure the dollar value of seven of the top 2011 films in which Apple enjoyed significant product placement. In the case of just one film, Mission Impossible 4, Apple spent more than five total minutes on the screen for a value of over $23 million.
Even if those dollar valuations are adjusted for a margin of error, Apple is still getting an enormous return for its product placement efforts.
So certainly, the brand has to be a bit miffed that Hollywood appears to have closed the door a bit on Apple's free ride.
Including Taken 2, Apple has appeared in only four of the top 29 films so far in 2012, or just 17 percent. Compare that product placement rate to 2011, when Apple appeared in 17 of the top films, or 43 percent of all films that were number one during their respective release weekends. The brand appeared in 30 percent of top films in 2010, 44 percent in 2009 and a full 49 percent in 2008. A rate of just 17 percent is the lowest since 2004, when Apple appeared in just 11 percent of top films.
Apple is so far off its recent product placement performance in Hollywood hits that it would have to appear in the top movie every weekend between now and Christmas just to equal its number of appearances in last year's top films.
One things that's happening to Apple is that Sony's push into its own studio's films is paying off. In the past, films like The Vow, 21 Jump Street, Think Like a Man, and The Avengers would be sure to sneak in an iPhone or iPad somewhere. But not this year. Box office-topping films 21 Jump Street, The Vow, and Think Like a Man all featured Sony Vaio computers. More importantly, Sony's involvement meant that those films did not feature Apple products, something Sony productions had sometimes failed to accomplish in the past.
In many respects, Apple has had a rotten year. A media obsession with its China manufacturing facilities, a good deal of blowback from what many saw as an overzealous patent lawsuit, and then the whole iOS6 maps flap. For 2012 to also be the year Apple lost its product placement dominance might be too much.