Transformers 3 Product Placement: If Tom Hanks Gets a Pass, Michael Bay Does Not


Over the July Fourth holiday weekend, America gave thanks to those who have given it its freedom and defended its liberty from the powers that would take it away: Transformers.

Indeed, one of the film’s spots (above) seems to leverage both its Independence Day weekend release date and America’s anti-terrorism zeal to ratchet up the rhetoric. “We will kill them all,” growls good guy Optimus Prime after a passing tattered stars and stripes flag flaps in the destruction of an American city, a declaration that could apply to the film’s Decepticons as well as Al Qaeda.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is hardly only a mirror of the nation’s political discourse — it is also a commercial juggernaut so knitted together with product placement that it’s impossible to tell where the film ends and the commercial begins. In other words, it’s classic Michael Bay.[more]

T3 has already taken its lumps from audiences and critics for all of its product placement. But then, just how upset can one get about the commercialization of a film that begins with the title card “in association with Hasbro?”

Sure, Transformers 3 is a bunch of commercials hemmed together with a little bit of plot and dialogue, but does that make it worse than the “serious” Hollywood A-lister film it opened against this weekend?

As we noted, the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts film Larry Crowne featured arranged product placement from Ford Fiesta, Vespa, Oreck, Mejor Tequila, and Cuisinart, amongst others brands. Yet, Director Michael Bay “can’t stop himself stuffing it with intrusive product placement” while Director Tom Hanks creates “a timely story and superb romance.”

Anyway, a few points worth making about products in the latest Transfomers:

The Cisco teleconferencing placements are best summed up by blog Slashfilm:

“…Cisco shows up at so many random points in this film — for video conferences that, in other films, would not be branded, and as a strangely prominent router in another situation — that it’s absurdly distracting. Assuming Cisco did sponsor this movie, what did they hope to gain? Is there a huge overlap between the target audience for this film and Cisco Telepresence? Are high-powered executives really watching this film and saying, “Hey, we should get that for our international offices!” Are military brass really watching this film and saying to themselves, “Glad we integrated that Cisco Telepresence!” What possible purpose could this sponsorship serve?”

Another tech brand that saw screen time was Nokia. But Nokia’s product placement seems to have been a bit of a waste, considering the brand abandoned its Symbian platform, the one featured in the movie.

Lenovo. Lenovo. Lenovo. The computer-maker’s name was everywhere. The brand even ran tie-in ads in India and other places.

Yet, even with all that sponsorship, which must have cost the brand a pretty penny, Apple‘s iPad still found its way onscreen:

Speaking of the scene with the iPad, eagle-eyed audiences will recognize the iconic Milwaukee Art Museum in Dark of the Moon as the same location Bay used in the 2010 Victoria’s Secret holiday ad. Bay, as it was revealed recently, is not shy about ripping himself off.

It’s been pointed out that this isn’t the first time Bay’s done this.

Another partner brand that shelled out an undisclosed amount? Mercedes.

Alongside Chevrolet’s, many of the automaker’s models make the film, including the Maybach and the E550. But the Mercedes SLS AMG steals the show, including an entire sequence in which the human hero goes online to watch a Mercedes SLS AMG commercial. “It’s the most beautiful car I think I’ve ever seen,” said model turned star Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. “I actually bought that car,” said Michael Bay in the same Mercedes Benz TV special about the film and the automaker’s role in it.

There is little crossover, if any, between the target audience for Transformers and the consumer target for the $200,000 car, but as a brand-building exercise, the placement is a winner for Mercedes. Indeed, it’s hard to tell which Bay’s camera salivates over more when they’re onscreen together, the Mercedes or its driver.

What is questionable for Mercedes is how its marquee placement ends up (maybe) backfiring. First of all, the Mercedes SLS AMG (named “Soundwave”) is one of the evil Decepticons. While that may be no big deal, the Mercedes is probably the most brutal of the Decepticons.

In a climactic scene at the end of the film, the transformed Mercedes SLS AMG begins executing “good” robot prisoners of war, starting with another Mercedes (E550) named “Que,” who is somewhat evocative of Albert Einstein. 

Sure it’s a stretch, but is it really wise for German brand Mercedes to be depicted executing war prisoners, especially another one meant to stand in for Einstein, a German who fled the country to avoid that exact fate?

Also, it was good to see the “Bee-Otch” air freshener from the first film dangling from the Datsun. Hopefully this time producers won’t incur the wrath of the product’s inventor, who sued Bay and crew in 2007 after the film “borrowed” her idea.

Lenovo isn’t the only Chinese brand to see a lot of love in Transformers 3 Shuhua Milk is the subject of a short joke. But offscreen, Transformers is making its mark in China as well, especially with a partnership with fashion brand Metersbonwe.  

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Transformers 3 is the latest film to use a reinterpretation of the 1960s as a plot platform. After X-Men: First Class reworked the Cuban Missile Crisis to tell a superhero story, Transformers has done the same with NASA’s race to moon.

For the full, long list of brands and products spotted in Transformers: Dark of the Moon visit our Brandcameo product placement tracker.