The Envelope, Please: The 2014 Brandcameo Product Placement Awards


Welcome to brandchannel’s annual Brandcameo Product Placement Awards.

For more than a decade, Brandcameo has tracked product placement and brand appearances in every No. 1 film in Hollywood. Since 2004, the Brandcameo Awards have been honoring the good, the bad, and the ugly (and the most) product placement in tandem with the annual Oscars buzz.

If one thing is evident in the product placement industry, it’s that brand cameos in films are on a steady decline. 2013’s average of 9.1 product placements per No. 1 film is the lowest since 2001, when we first started tracking this space. With directors looking to de-clutter their work, producers looking to wrangle more marketing tie-ins off-screen and new film technology proving challenging for brand placements, the big screen is becoming less and less of a billboard for brands. 

This year, Brandcameo hands out awards for the best and worst product placement, the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Forrest Gump Award for Achievement in Reverse Product Placement, as well as awards in 14 other categories.

But there’s no spoilers here. Check out the big winners (and losers) of the 2014 Brandcameo Product Placement Awards, covering films released in 2013, after the jump.[more]

2013 Award for Overall Product Placement – Budweiser 

Appearing in nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of all box office No. 1s, or 9 of the 39 No. 1 films last year, Budweiser and Apple were 2013’s most frequently-appearing products on the big screen. 

Following Apple’s stranglehold at the top, it was only a matter of time before Budweiser won this annual award. Budweiser appeared in nearly one-fifth of all of the films that reached No. 1 at the box office last year. Budweiser and Bud Light’s appearance in 96 of the 502 top films (19.1 percent) during that period make it the sixth most common brand, behind only Ford, Apple, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and Mercedes.

Bud’s placements were all over the map. The brand popped up in such top films as divergent as Texas Chainsaw 3D, Bad Grandpa and Zero Dark Thirty, while the year’s top historical films—42 and The Butler—both found a role for Budweiser. The year’s top superhero films—both rated PG-13—were no different; Man of Steel and Iron Man 3 featured Budweiser, with the latter loaded with at least a dozen on-screen appearances and a Bud-guzzling bad guy. No slouch itself, Man of Steel also featured a number of Bud logos and the Man of Steel himself chugs the King of Beers.

Finally, rounding out the year was Budweiser’s over-the-top, galactically incongruous placement in (also PG-13) Star Trek: Into Darkness. (A Budweiser factory was used as a stand-in for a spaceship in the film’s climax.) Beyond blockbusters, Bud could also be seen in 2013 nominees for Best Picture. Meanwhile, Bud’s presence extended well beyond box office No. 1s. For example, Bud bottles were in what seemed like every third scene in Don Jon.

Bud and Hollywood have a long-running love affair. Top Gun‘s Maverick and Goose chugged Bud. Even though 1984’s Repo Man was famous for its generic products, it featured Bud Light. Adam Sandler films have functioned as 90-minute Bud ads. And recent best film Oscar nominees The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) both included Budweiser. In fact, this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club both prominently feature Bud and Bud signage (although alongside other beers). One reason Bud assures that it appears on-screen as often as possible is by making available a free, full-range of bar props and signage to almost any production.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to see its once-dominant product placement role wither. In 2013, it appeared in 7 of 39 (17.9 percent) films. That’s a long way away from 2011 when Apple appeared in 17 of 40 (42.5 percent) of all  No. 1 films—and even further from 2009, when it was in 20 of 41, or nearly 50 percent, of all top films.

Between 2001 and 2011, 129 of the 374 No. 1 films (34.4 percent) had Apple product placement. But Apple is still a product placement power, with 2013 films like Drinking Buddies and We’re the Millers both featuring the brand, as did China’s Midnight Weibo. Then there is TV, where Apple has upped its presence in hit series like House of Cards and Ray Donovan and overseas in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and China’s knock-off of The Apprentice.

2013 Award for Achievement in Product Placement in a Single Film – Pain and Gain

From Schlotzky’s Deli to Porsche to Met-Rx, Pain and Gain‘s product placement was as furious as its Michael Bay-directed camera cuts. Era-appropriate brands also got some screen time, including Pontiac Fiero and LA Gear. And it was nice to see The Rock swaggering around in Nike rather than his nearly ubiquitous Under Armour gear.

Many of Pain and Gain‘s 39 on-screen brands were incidental, yet others fit into the plot like Lamborghini and Schlotzky’s Deli. Pain and Gain’s 39 is just one less than last year’s winner, Ted. But it is still far fewer than previous winners like Transformers: Dark of the Moon (71), Iron Man 2 (64) and Sex and the City (94). 

Since brandchannel began product placement tracking in 2001, Pain and Gain’s 39 identifiable products is the lowest count for a film winning the “year’s most” product placement category. Reasons for this decline? Off-screen tie-ins have boomed and directors are looking for less on-screen clutter. Alternatively, the rise of 3D format films and the visual demands on audiences when it comes to 3D may discourage product placement.

2013 Award for Worst Product Placement – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Papa John’s

As does every year, 2013 had its share of bad and egregiously bad product placement. Examples that really rankled audiences include Iron Man 3′s Yili milk and Oracle as well as Man of Steel‘s Sears and 7-Eleven store signs. While it takes a lot to be worse than Star Trek: Into Darkness‘ eye-rolling Budweiser placement, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty delivered.

Already infected with a disturbing depth of brand promotion, including Cinnabon, Time Inc.’s Life magazine and eHarmony prominently featured in the plot, Walter Mitty iced the cake—or sauced the pizza—with its middle-of-nowhere Icelandic Papa John’s location. In the sequence, Mitty imagines himself in a Papa John’s in the nothingness of Iceland’s rural landscape. You see, as a teen, Mitty worked at a Papa John’s in New Jersey, something that is almost impossible, as Papa John’s first ever location opened in Indiana in 1984; Ben Stiller was born in 1965.

Previous winners include The Amazing Spider-Man (Bing), Green Lantern (Hot Wheels) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (IWC).

2013 Award for Product Placement Achievement in an Oscar-Nominated Film – Philomena and Guinness

At a key point in the film, elderly Philomena (Judi Dench) is ready to give up her search in America for the son that was taken from her decades ago in Ireland. To change her mind, journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), seen quaffing Guinness throughout the film, uses the brewer’s Celtic harp logo to draw a connection to the harp lapel pin worn by a man suspected to be her lost son. The Guinness moment convinces Philomena to continue her search. While Guinness is mentioned in the original book, the Celtic harp plot twist was added to the film.

Previous winners include Argo (KFC), The Help (Crisco) and The Fighter (Budweiser).

2013 Award for Product Placement Achievement in a Foreign Film – Dhoom 3 and BMW

It takes a lot to outdo China’s Tiny Times (小时代) and Finding Mr. Right (北京遇上西雅图) when it comes to product placement. But one record-breaking Bollywood film had the product placement of the year.

Dhoom 3—an action film about a circus acrobat-turned-burglar that avenges his dad’s death by taking down a corrupt Chicago bank—took only a few weeks to become the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time. (The film even reached as high as fifth in the UK box office.) The film stars Aamir Khan—think Brad Pitt plus The Rock but Indian—racing around on his BMW super bike. Those pursuing him also ride on BMW bikes, which created a special campaign around the film. 

Previous winners in this category include I Know a Woman’s Heart (我知女人心) and Due West: Our Sexual Journey (一路向西).

2013 Award for Best Role in a Supporting Product Placement – The Internship and Google

More than one movie plot this year was knitted together with a brand name. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty revolved around the decline of Life magazine as a metaphor and catalyst. Gravity proved a much-needed positive boost for NASA. But The Internship is the clear winner in the category with nearly the entire film’s shenanigans set inside the search engine behemoth’s campus and revolving around Google.

Previous winners include Paranormal Activity (Xbox), Zookeeper (TGI Friday’s) and The Other Guys (Toyota Prius).

2013 Award for Best Off-Screen Supporting Product – Anchorman 2 and Dodge Durango

Original, off-screen product tie-ins have become almost as sought after as on-screen placements. This year saw a few forward-looking examples, including Gillette’s Man of Steel tie-in (“How does Superman shave?”) and LifeLock’s thematically perfect partnership with Identity Thief. But there is still one master of the craft, and he took it to a new level in 2013.

As Jackie Moon in Semi-Pro, Will Ferrell appeared in original spots for both Old Spice and Budweiser. But things escalated quickly for Anchorman 2, where Ferrell, as Ron Burgundy, cut dozens of original ads for the Dodge Durango. The ads pulled in millions of views online. What’s more, Dodge credits some of the 60 percent year-over-year Durango sales increase to the Ferrell partnership.

2013 Award for Product Placement Impact – Frozen and Norway

Disney’s Frozen is a monster. Just four months after its release, the film is already approaching a global billion-dollar box office bonanza. If you have a child under the age of 10, you almost certainly know more than you want about Frozen; maybe you have even been to one of the special theater karaoke Frozen sing-alongs.

Hoping to cash in on the Frozen juggernaut is Norway. Modeled on Scotland’s partnership with Disney’s Brave, Norway’s tourism authority has leveraged Frozen‘s popularity to draw obsessed kids (and their parents) to the land where the film takes place. Already, Norway’s US-oriented Frozen website has seen traffic triple. Meanwhile, data service Skyscanner has reported a 153 percent increase in searches for flights bound for Norway from the US.

Former winners include The Macallan (Skyfall), Mane n’ Tail (POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) and the American Museum of Natural History (Night at the Museum).

2013 Lifetime Achievement Award for Product Placement – Under Armour

For a brand that’s only been around since 1996, Under Armour has become an on-screen mainstay—in large part thanks to one star.

Warrior, Mean Girls 2, Battleship, Dodgeball, Fantastic Four, Hall Pass, No Strings Attached, Superbad, The Blind Side, Gridiron Gang, The Replacements, The Game Plan, The Other Guys, The Social Network, Takers and This is It. What do all of those top-ranking films have in common? Under Armour. The brand has become nearly as common in films as Nike. Appropriately enough, Under Armor—from the beginning—owes much of its off-screen popularity to Hollywood. 

In 1999, just three years after the brand’s founding, a pre-Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx appeared in an Under Armour jockstrap in the film Any Given Sunday. Since then, Under Armour has gone the extra mile to tie-in with films. It outfitted the Gotham Rogues football team in The Dark Knight Rises and partnered with the Lone Survivor Foundation charity, and then, in no accident, was all over the screen in the hit film Lone Survivor. The brand has also partnered with the upcoming blockbuster Captain America: Winter Soldier as part of its larger deal with Marvel. Expect to see the brand on Steve Rodgers’ chest in the film.

Today, if a film has an athletic theme, there’s a good chance characters will be outfitted in Under Armour. In fact, athletics isn’t even necessary, as evidenced by the biggest—literally—on-screen Under Armour billboard of all: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

In 2013, Johnson starred in three  No. 1 films: GI Joe: Retaliation, Fast and Furious 6 and Pain and Gain. In two of those films, Johnson wore Under Armour. It’s likely that the only reason he didn’t in the third was because it was set in the 1990s before Under Armour was popular.

Former winners in this category include Budweiser, Apple, Gatorade, Everlast and USA Today.

2013 Award for Product Placement Adaptation – Warm Bodies and BMW

“The Mercedes lurches forward, throwing our heads back.” That’s the description from the original novel, which employs a “candy-red ’64 roadster,” a “classic Mercedes convertible,” in the love affair between a beautiful young woman and her zombie suitor. Yet, in a central scene in the 2013 film version of Warm Bodies, the star-crossed lovers cruise around the apocalypse in a shiny new BMW Z4.

Propaganda GEM, the agency that brokered the deal, says that it was a win-win. By using current vehicles instead of classics, the production was ensured multiple, identical cars for continuity, stunt scenes and planned damage. The free cars also offset costs of buying several classic Mercedes. What’s more, BMW marketed the film off-screen on social media, increasing the film’s reach.

Previous winners in this category include Silver Linings Playbook.

2013 Award for Visual Effects in Product Placement – Rush

Since the 1998 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, product placement of cigarette brands has largely disappeared from cinema screens (though it still exists in films like 2013’s Escape Plan for Marlboro).

But what to do with a period film? Rush tells the story of the race for the 1976 F1 championship, a story in which one of the main characters is sponsored by Marlboro. While in the name of historical accuracy, the placement of Marlboro logos throughout the film was unavoidable, the film’s promotional posters were a different story.

The Forrest Gump Award for Achievement in Reverse Product Placement – Anchorman 2 and The Rigid Ghost condoms

The popularity of the film Forrest Gump brought a fictional brand to real life with the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant chain. This award recognizes a film’s achievement in bringing a film product to market instead of marketing an existing product.

There is still hope that the world might someday drink a bottle of Stanley’s Whisky glimpsed in The Wolverine. It might be the same people who sign up for the $5,000-a-year eHarmony eH+ service launched, in part, by Walter Mitty. But by far the most memorable reverse product placement of 2013 was from Anchorman 2.

It’s no surprise that the franchise that gave the world Sex Panther cologne (also a successful reverse placement) would give us more. Those seeking some afternoon delight can now choose from Brian Fantana’s condom collection, including The Rigid Ghost and The Hooded Guest. (The Gentle Mongoose and Lou Dobin’s Good Time Weiner Pouch are not yet available.)

2013 Coca-Cola Kid Award for Product Placement Title – 午夜微博 (Wǔyè wēibó) “Midnight Weibo”

The 1985 film The Coca-Cola Kid celebrated one man’s struggle with a Coca-Cola franchise. This award celebrates achievement not only in a branded film title, but also in fully incorporating the title brand in the plot.

The core plot of Midnight Weibo, a hit Chinese 2013 horror film, centers on the spooky fates of five youths who venture into an abandoned factory after finding messages posted to their social media accounts on Weibo (aka “China’s Twitter”).

Previous winners include Ferrari Ki Sawaari, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, The Devil Wears Prada, Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Lincoln Lawyer.

2013 Wayne’s World Award for Product Placement Product Placement – Anchorman 2 and Jockey

Wayne’s World openly skewered product placement. This award recognizes achievements in winking at the entire embedded ad enterprise.

Will Ferrell is a master of self-aware brand product integration, so it isn’t a surprise to see Anchorman 2 win this year. “Give your little Anchorman the support he needs” went the motto for Jockey’s era-appropriate men’s briefs campaign starring lead field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd).

Former winners include Ford Mustang (That’s My Boy), Jack and Jill (Al Pacino’s Dunkin’ Donuts “Dunk Acino”) and The Joneses.

2013 Award for Unwanted Product Placement – Anchorman 2 and BP

“BP Oil, nature’s best friend!” reads the announcer as Anchorman star Ron Burgundy drunkenly takes the SeaWorld stage. It’s just one of the film’s several jabs at brands but it’s the one that stings the most, an immediate reminder to the audience about an event BP PR is still trying to escape.

Speaking of SeaWorld and unwanted publicity, the Anchorman 2 production was hit with a significant call to skip filming at SeaWorld. The protests came in response to the impact of the 2013 documentary Blackfish about the brutal consequences of keeping killer whales in SeaWorld-like captivity. It’s a film whose impact has kept SeaWorld on its toes as boycotts and social media attacks hit the park. Pixar’s sequel to Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, even changed its ending because of the film’s influence.

Previous winners include Budweiser (Flight) and Gap (Crazy, Sexy, Love).

2013 Cleo McDowell “My Buns Have No Seeds” Award – Movie 43 and ViewThisTube and Zwoogle

The 1988 film Coming to America features a famous plot point pitting the Golden Arches and Big Mac of McDonald’s against the Golden Arcs and Big Mick of “McDowell’s.” This award recognizes achievement in fake on-screen brands.

The most high-profile example of this phenomenon this year was Anchorman 2‘s CNN spoof: “GNN” (Global News Network). But the sophomoric and crass—and oddly A-list star-studded—Movie 43 takes this walking away with its faux YouTube and Google gags: ViewThisTube and Zwoogle.

Previous winners include “SouthJet” (Flight), “Frienderz” (The Roommate) and “Vericom” (The Town).

2013 Award for Product Placement Production – Smurfs 2

Man of Steel set a record last year, pulling in a mind-boggling $160 million from product partners, leading Ad Age to call it “the most Madison Avenue-friendly film of the summer.” But with its $225 million budget, there is one 2013 film that did comparatively better.

By the time Smurfs 2 opened, it had already made up its $105 million budget with about $150 million worth of product and marketing support from its global brand partners that included everyone from McDonald’s and Walmart to Gourmet Trading Company and the Ferrero Rocher brand of chocolate.

2013 Award for Original Short –  Sriracha! The Movie

Sriracha! The Movie is a look at the origins and modern day cult status of the eponymous hot sauce. The documentary follows the sauce from its Vietnam origins to its current spot on the table of some of America’s (literally) hottest restaurants. It’s a 33-minute anthem for those who have become obsessed with the iconic spicy condiment.

Previous winners include Kikkoman’s Make Haste Slowly.

Our Methodology

A total of 39 films hit No. 1 at the US box office in 2013. In those top 39 films, we logged 325 identifiable brands or products on-screen, or an average of 9.1 product placements per film. This average is the lowest in any year since 2001, with 2012’s 10.9 products per film the closest. 
As always, it’s worth keeping in mind that this average may be offset by films set in time periods during which placements would be few or impossible such as The Hobbit, Riddick and Oz the Great and Powerful.

A full one-third of all of 2013’s top films had no, or one, product placement. Movies that featured no products included Ender’s Game, Frozen, Hansel and Gretel, Oz the Great and Powerful, Jack the Giant Slayer, The Croods, Monster’s University, Despicable Me 2, The Hobbit 2 and Riddick.

Films with only one brand included Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Purge and Star Trek: Into Darkness. For films with two or more placements, the average products per film was 11.1.

The 2013 average of 9.1 products per No.1 film continues an overall downward trend in total product placements per top film. The average number of identifiable products per film since 2001:

  • 2001 – 22.2 products per No. 1 film
  • 2002 – 17.8 PPF
  • 2003 – 18.1 PPF
  • 2004 – 13.4 PPF
  • 2005 – 22.1 PPF
  • 2006 – 21.5 PPF
  • 2007 – 20.7 PPF
  • 2008 – 19.6 PPF
  • 2009 – 17.5 PPF
  • 2010 – 17.9 PPF
  • 2011 – 17.8 PPF  
  • 2012 – 10.9 PPF
  • 2013 – 9.1 PPF

It should be noted that no two brand appearances in a film are equal. Though counted in the database as one spot, the prominent Nike placements in Pain and Gain and One Direction: This is Us are not equal to the passing mention of Pontiac in Gravity or Tsingtao’s easy-to-miss placement in Fast and Furious 6. Putting a dollar metric on product placement and its impact continues to be a major challenge for the industry.

Take a look back at previous Brandcameo award winners, and share your thoughts on this year’s winners in the comments below:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *