Legacy Issues: Coors’ Tron Product Placement Revisits Controversy


A New York Times Media Decoder blog post today is noteworthy for how it perfectly frames the primary misunderstanding of exactly what product placement is.

In the piece, which notes the appearance of a Coors can in Disney’s upcoming film Tron: Legacy, (above) the Times notes, “Cynical moviegoers may think the screen time is a case of product placement, where marketers pay Hollywood to embed their wares into the action… But Coors did not in fact pay for its part in the film.”

Curious why The New York Times is wrong, both about what product placement is — and why Coors should be fretting?[more]

Though the term has come to represent the the (often derided) practice of brands paying cash to be worked into a film or TV series, product placement is much more.

A product placement occurs anytime a specific product is intentionally “placed” in a film. So, when the Times notes that “[Coors] was worked into the movie because of the burnt gold color of its can,” it means the branded product (Coors) was intentionally placed in the film.

For product placement to occur, money need not change hands. In fact, the most commonly cited cases of product placements, including FedEx in Castaway and Junior Mints in Seinfeld, saw no money exchange hands. Even Reese’s Pieces in E.T., the all-time most cited case of product placement, saw no payment.

As with fashion stylists and celebrities, brands have relationships with prop masters or Hollywood agencies that specialize in providing products to production designers for use in film. In many cases these products are “pre-cleared” for use, and that is the how they receive placement. Apple computers is a master of this non-paid product placement. So while paid product placement is becoming more common, unpaid placement is — contrary to popular, and the New York Times‘, opinion — still the norm.

Finally, the Times notes that “Coors did not respond to requests for comment, perhaps because the cameo in Tron: Legacy is tiny compared with what remains its cinematic claim to fame, Smokey and the Bandit.” But it is far more likely that Coors (and Disney) will not respond for comment on the placement in the hopes that attention to it goes away.

You see, Coors is a beer. Disney Studio’s Tron: Legacy is rated PG (i.e., very children-friendly). And Coors should have already learned its lesson four years ago when the “Silver Bullet” was protested (and sued) over its heavy involvement in the PG-13 Scary Movie franchise. See the Tron:Legacy clip with the Coors placement, below:

Maybe Tron: Legacy should have stuck with the product placement in the original Tron: Pepsi (below).