Four Ways to Turn your Movie into a Crap Sandwich Using Advertising!
What makes me angry? Terrible use of product placement in movies – it grinds my gears, pushes my buttons…choose whatever phrase you wish, it’s my pet peeve in cinema, even more so than overused cliches.
But what exactly is product placement? Simply put, it is the act of injecting suplimentary funds into a movie with on screen advertising. From KFC to the U.S. Army, anyone can choose to dump (literally and figuratively) extra money into a movie if their products are “placed” into the film. How they go about implementing it is often a mixed bag that at the best of times works on a subliminal level, and at the worst…well, continue reading to see how absolutely, mind-blowingly heinous it can become.
What follows are a couple of rules that when used correctly, prevent your movie from turning into a parade of overpriced products for customers that don’t care.
More is just more
When I watch a movie, I expect there to be at least a few scenes where advertising is present – a billboard, a poster on the wall, or a stranger wearing a T-shirt that carries a popular brands *cough”Nike*cough* but sometimes, filmmakers just go overboard by literally stuffing their films with a multitude of desirable products from several different sponsors.
The best example that I can think of in this situation is a notorious little film called Mac and Me. Mac was virtually an ET clone – everything just seemed like a direct ripoff (even the bicycle scene is shamelessly lifted from Spielberg’s classic). Surely copying ET should be cinema gold, right? Wrong – the film was so overpopulated with advertising that it was nothing more than that. Every damn scene had an advert in it, heck, there was even a dance scene in a McDonalds that goes on for like 10 minutes. WAIT! hold on a second…Mac, as in “MAC-donalds”?!
It doesn’t get worse than that and just like the greasy garbage that it advertises, it literally make me sick.
Excessive use of the advertised product can work if incorporated well however, case in point: Michael Bay’s Transformers. While the robots in disguise is nothing more than a standard action/sci-fi, Chevrolet’s brand was appropriate for the context – I mean why not take advantage of all the cars? They struck while the ironhide was hot and a large chunk of the budget for the film was supposedly sponsored by General Motors. It was a win/win situation.
It’s all about moderation, that’s it, even for a Hollywood big wig, it’s not that hard a concept to understand…at the very least, it can prevent a passable film from becoming a crime against humanity.
Too obvious to be oblivious
When incorporated into the film, product placement can enhance the real world credibility of a story but one has to realise when enough is enough. When a scene is simply dedicated to a product, it isn’t compelling, just irritating - if I wanted to see adverts, I’d watch television. At times even Apple lowers their guns, as is the case with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo where the computers are used in a tasteful manner considering that the main character is a hacker.
On the opposing side, we have brands that not only feature in one scene but are reprised several times which just makes it even more cringeworthy.
In spite of the tasteful Dragon Tattoo, Apple just goes overboard at times. In the film Abduction, two teenagers are in a bedroom and they’re all surfing the internet on their Macbooks and iMacs, all of which have the infamous logo basically plastered onto the camera. Later in the film, the supporting character uses his iPad in the school cafeteria and explains some or other technical jargon – note that while the important info would have been on the tablet’s screen, we mostly get the view from behind the iPad which is now covered with a protective jacket- this might suggest that Apple went all out with the bedroom scene and cut their budget a little short.
“So, er…are you gonna buy the new iPhone using you Macbook?”
The fault here lies in the writing alone. A skilled writer will be able to incorporate advertising without the film degenerating into a puss-filled eyesore of a movie.
Don’t sell a chainsaw to a hippy
Unless it’s a zombie apocalypse of course. There have been too many situations to list where the product advertised is of zero interest to the target of the film – it’s with misteps like this that a movie begins to turn into an advert as it usually ties in with the previous point.
Drawing from the film Dark Tide, is a scene where a Canon camera is horribly and overtly force-fed to the audience. It’s not so much that the camera is irrelevant in the context, but the model itself is one of Canon’s flagship models and far out of the economic reach of the vast public that would watch the film. What scratches the wound is how the plot incessantly revisits the product and spurts out aggressive marketing phrases like “it takes fantastic photos” and how it’s easy enough for anyone to use…anyone? The equipment goes for around R30 000 (+/-$3600), if Canon thinks that “anyone” is going to buy this, their marketing team really have their heads firmly shoved up their asses. Even though the characters using the tech are wealthy, the film is notably B grade – hardly the high brow entertainment that would attract such a consumer.
Lets face the facts, hardly anyone would voluntarily watch advertising over honest entertainment. If your audience hates adverts, why even use it? The bottom line is that everyone needs to eat, and as long as the movie industry thinks that because a character endorses a product, so too does the actor, we’ll be going through this for a really long time.
Is this a Movie or an Advert?
This is the ultimate WTF in cinema. Have you ever seen a film where a product was incorporated into the plot? Well there are a few and they’re usually single-minded advertising campaigns with a side order of poorly written stories and F grade acting. The product placement of that the film literally becomes a feature length advert. It’s not a common occurence but when it does surface, it actually becomes laughable rather than informative as is the intention of ads.
The most well known example is the cult classic known as The Wizard. Plenty has been said about this film but crux is that The Wizard was just an absurdly long advert for Nintendo and the NES video game console that was immensely popular at the time. This movie was not created for entertainment, it was created for children and video game fanboys. There’s nothing more to it – the kids basically make an exodus to a gamer challenge where the best participant takes away cash and a car. The film even features the infamous NES accessory – the Power Glove in a scene that has forever been immortalised as a YouTube meme.
Yes, yes it is bad (literally)- I would know, I owned one.
This never turns out to be good idea – there is no film that follows this formula that has become a true critical success. A financially successful but brutally repugnant film titled Think like a Man surfaced from the primordial cesspool of awfullness earlier in 2012. The film was virtually a two hour infomercial for Steve Harvey’s self help book similarly titled “Act like a woman, think like a man”. Throughout the entire run time, all I managed to see were a group of people that preached to the success of the book in the most convincingly retarded manner.
Product placement isn’t inherently bad – it’s a tool for financial backing. But if used incorrectly becomes a malicious leviathan that engulfs what possibly could have been a watchable film. It turns Citizen Kane into Citizen Pain and up until the 70′s it wasn’t a big deal. but in the 21st century, it’s the sadistic bane of the film industry.
So this an open letter to all you would-be filmmakers: don’t shit where you eat – if you’re going to use product placement, please use it sensibly! There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, worse than having to sit through a film that is stuffed with advertising scenes that:
1. Make zero sense in the film’s context.
2. Receive way too much screen time, and
3. Are used in an absurdly obvious manner
If you want to make a feature length advert for garbage that nobody wants while simultaneously forcing us to take cover in avoidance of the barage of brainless marketing that floods the theatre, please let us know in advance. When I go out to the movies, I expect to see a movie; not people cramming McDonalds down their throats while playing Angry Birds on their iPods inside a Toyota Prius with a camera around their neck like an annoying tourist.