Real Steel’s Over-the-Top Product Placements (and the FOX/NFL Bot Tie-In We Already Have)


This week’s number one film Robot Rocky Real Steel is a litmus test for which generation one belongs to.

In one generational corner are those who joke that the film as a live adaptation of the old board game Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. In the opposite corner are those who jest that Real Steel is just a boxing movie about the NFL on FOX robot mascot, Cleatus.

But when it comes to the latter, one wonders why FOX’s gridiron cyborg wasn’t even involved in the film’s promotion despite having done similar robot movie tie-ins in the past.[more]

Real Steel is ‘real loaded’ … with product placement. The kind that gives product placement a bad name. It is not good when hardly a review of the film passes without some barb thrown in about just how much product placement is going on.

“The tear-jerking in Real Steel is as shameless as its product placement.” – Rolling Stone

“Loaded with enough product placement to make Jerry Lewis proud.” – Hollywood Reporter

“Couldn’t someone have called time on the over-the-top product placement that clogs up the finale?” – CNN

“Embellished with flagrant product placement for Dr. Pepper.” – The New York Times

“Like the high-fructose-laced soda given front-and-center product placement, this underdog sports story is sweet and corny” – Variety

Real Steel was actually pretty fun. And it’s good to see that there will still be plenty of gratuitous product placement in the future.” – Twitter user @nicknadel

The legitimate lamentations about the brands onscreen aren’t just about the quantity, but also the quality. Easily the worst offender is Sprint, which, in the year 2020, is still apparently using its “The Now Network” tagline. (The upside, we suppose, is that Sprint is still in business in 2020.)

That brings us back to the seemingly obvious Real Steel marketing tie-in that wasn’t: NFL on FOX.

Of all the promotional tie-ins that the film employed—from Bing videos to ringside logo brander Virgin airplanes to star Hugh Jackman appearing on WWE wrestling where he may have and may not have broken another wrestler’s jaw—the one that seemed the most obvious was absent.

An NFL on FOX broadcast regular since the 2006 season, the football-playing robot Cleatus was first introduced in limited segments in 2005. The robot did not have a name until 2007, when one viewer won a Fox contest to name it. Today, Cleaus is even on Twitter (@CleatusonFox) where it breaks the social media branding rules by responding to pointless criticism and getting into tweet brawls.

Those familiar with FOX’s NFL broadcasts are familiar with Cleatus. Indeed, despising it has become a cherished Sunday football tradition. But that familiarity is exactly the point. Those who question the point of the stupid FOX robot answer their own question.

Cleatus is a genius device used to brand what is essentially a commodity. The FOX, CBS and NBC networks all carry NFL football. While these networks reap the ad sales rewards of high NFL viewerships, the games themselves do little to help the broadcast brands. That is to say, one can count on one hand the number of football fans who will refuse to watch their team, or even a game, on a particular network. As a brand, CBS or Fox is completely incidental to the NFL content.

So to brand its particular broadcasts and make them identifiable, FOX added Cleatus. (For their part, NBC has the heavily branded “Football Night on America” and ESPN maintains “Monday Night Football,” which, incidentally, just suffered a major brand setback.)

When it comes to Real Steel, the failure to run a tie-in certainly wasn’t because Fox is beneath pimping out its bot for advertising. Cleatus has appeared in plenty of unique ads, including those for films. In fact, Cleatus has even done tie-in ads for movie robot properties before.

In 2008, Cleatus got his obliterated by Gort to promote the remake of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still.

That same year, Cleatus took a pounding at the hands of not-totally-dissimilar Iron Man.

Then there was the beating Cleatus endured from the eponymous cyborg assassin in the TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

So why didn’t FOX and Real Steel team up? Maybe because the film’s studio, Walt Disney, didn’t want to cooperate with FOX. The Day the Earth Stood Still and Terminator TV series were indeed both Fox properties, although Iron Man wasn’t.

Just maybe it was because it wasn’t worth spending the money to make a connection audiences were already making for free.

For a complete rundown of the product placements in Real Steel, visit Brandcameo.


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