At the Movies: I Am Number Four … or an iPhone Commercial?


When we noted that Chrysler was going to crank up the volume on its product placement efforts in the coming year we had no idea it was going to get this loud this fast.

I am Number Four, which came in second at the US box office over the weekend, features both new Charger and new Challenger models. But that’s not the product placement that steals the film. No, it’s not the Belstaff jackets either.

Think of of it as iAm iPhone Four — one long Apple iPhone commercial held together by a plot about a powerful teenage alien hunted by other aliens.[more]

Yes, Apple infects I am Number Four. In a change from last week’s mocking of Apple and the iPhone, Number Four includes iPods and MacBooks and a Mac cinema screen. And then there is the iPhone. In scene after scene, our hero whips out his iPhone, or the smartphone’s distinctive chimes sound offscreen and it’s pulled into frame to check the message.

No surprise that the film’s marketing has the an incredible cross-promoting tie-in app for the iPhone. The idea behind the free app is that you, the iPhone owner, have found Number Four’s lost iPhone. The app skins a user’s iPhone to look just like Number Four’s. Then, iPhone users begin receiving messages from Number Four, requesting you help him solve problems.

It’s no surprise the iPhone (and Apple) is all over in the film. Its director, DJ Caruso, is on record raving about Apple technology… at an event held at an Apple Store, no less.  The director said that the iPad was used extensively throughout production of the film and that “It’s just become part of our cinematic culture. It’s really is an amazing tool. It’s amazing. I never thought I’d say that, I thought it would be cool to get one, but I don’t even carry my script anymore. All I carry is my iPad.”

There was even meant to be an iPad in the film, but the scene was cut. Caruso said, “”The mog commander is very fascinated with this planet and he does have an iPad in one of the scenes in his car and he’s basically looking at something on YouTube and trying to mimic what he’s seeing on YouTube.”

Besides the iPhone, the most notable branded element of the film is how the dialogue has been infected with teenage brand mentions. Three of the primary humor points in the film are all product-referenced. First, there is a Hannah Montana joke (just like in last week’s top film, Just Go With It). Then there is the punchline “I play a lot of Xbox,” as an explanation for why the nerd kid is suddenly such a good shot with alien weaponry. Finally, one of the other hero aliens, after being juiced up by Number Four’s light powers, wryly explains, “Red Bull is for pussies.”

Interestingly, the original young adult novel on which the film is based mentions almost no brands at all. Not Dodge, not Dickies, not Jansport, not Nikon and certainly not the iPhone. It just refers regularly to “cell” phones. That dialogue that riffs on brands (Red Bull, Hannah Montana) is nowhere to be found in the original book, having been added by the filmmakers.

Tomorrow we will announce our annual Brandcameo Product Placement Awards. And yes, Apple will get an award.