In 1983, Tom Cruise’s Risky Business propelled Ray Ban’s wayfarers into pop culture, a trend that continues onto today. A rewarding return on Ray Ban’s product placement in the movie considering they were going to pull the product off the air. Product placement in movies isn’t a new trend corporates are catching on today. We’ve seen its advent in the 19th century until today. From the famous Mini Cooper car chase in the 2003 heist film The Italian Job to the jar Hulk eats the ice cream off in Avengers: Endgame, product placements are frankly everywhere. So, let’s understand what they are and some of the most popular instances of product placement in film history.
What is product placement?
Product placement is a marketing technique where a specific brand is referenced or a product is incorporated into a film or a TV show in order to promote the company. Product placements tend to be extremely effective since they integrate seamlessly within a show and market to consumers in less direct ways. They enable consumers to build a stronger emotional connection with a specific brand.
While the brand gets ad space to be able to market their products better, the production companies may be paid money upfront to finance their projects or the brand may come up with a special line of products to promote the film.
Let’s consider the case of Elf to understand product placement better. At Santa’s workshop, all kinds of classic toys right from Bob the Builder to Barbie can be seen. Since Elf was shot in the middle of New York City as opposed to a closed set within a production, the creators had a lot more room to play with. A plethora of advertisements are seen plastered across the city. Cars are seen passing by with the FedEx logo and mall signs seem to be advertising Chanel and Kodak. These product placements are influential because they fit into the ideas and themes of the film.
History of product placement in movies
Product placements were a common feature of many cinematic attractions from the early years of cinema history. Given that a feature film was going to be viewed in thousands, brands have always looked at movies as an alternate channel to promote their products. As early as 1927, a silent film called Wings contained a plug for Hershey’s chocolates. By the 1960s, Bond films had garnered a significant amount of popularity. It was put to good use by featuring the Toyota 2000GT. Similarly,
Coca-Cola and Cheerios had product placements in Superman: The Movie.
During the 21st century, product placements have grown exponentially to combat the wider usage of digital video recorders that could skip the conventional commercial breaks. Companies today avoid showing the label or logo, instead featuring the product’s distinct color palette or packaging. Digital editing technology is being used heavily to tailor product placements to better target specific demographics. It’s also being utilized to update existing placements or to add placements in frames that did not originally feature embedded advertising.
Examples of product placement in movies
Successful or not, these are some of the most memorable product placements in film history.
1. Multiple Brands – James Bond
Since the release of Dr. No way back in 1962, the James Bond franchise has been associated with a number of brands. The early films feature tie-ins with popular companies like Pan-Am Airlines and Smith and Wesson firearms. Lark Cigarettes paid as much as $350,000 to feature their brand of cigarettes in License to Kill. Some of the other popular brands to be associated with the franchise are Microsoft, Gillette, Playboy, Toblerone, 7Up, and KFC.
Aston Martin, the luxury car brand jumped at an opportunity to be associated with the British spy. Starting from Goldfinger in 1964, this partnership has endured the test of time and the brand is now eponymous with the franchise. Some of the cars that have featured are the Aston Martin DB5, V8, DBS Superleggera, and the Valhalla electric supercar. While Aston Martin has been featured heavily over the years, other brands like BMW, Jaguar, Bentley, Lotus, and Ford have made fleeting appearances. Most of these models saw a spike in consumer interest and consequently in sales after the film’s release.
While Bond likes his martini shaken, not stirred, Skyfall decided to mix things up by introducing Heineken beer. The Dutch brewing company shelled out $45 million to be associated with the franchise. As a part of the promotional efforts, Heineken got to use the suave operative in all their commercials and are allowed to sell branded merchandise. James Bond is truly the unheralded king of product placements.
2. BMW Mini Cooper – The Italian Job
Staying on the subject of cars in movies, BMW heavily benefited from being featured in both the 1969 and the 2003 versions of The Italian Job. Used as a getaway car, the BMW Mini Cooper is integral to the plot of the movie. In fact, the producers of the 2003 film specifically requested the German carmaker to produce an updated model of the car used in the original. BMW agreed and supplied the team with 30 such brand-new cars. Instead of the conventional combustion engines, these cars were fitted with electric motors to be allowed to shoot in subway tunnels. Some of them had to be modified to fit the cameras inside the vehicle. Director F. Gary Gray remarked that the cars were almost a part of the cast. This little stunt paid off as MINI USA saw a spurt in sales by almost 20%.
3. Chevrolet Camaro – Transformers
This is yet another instance of a product being seamlessly integrated into a film. Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer of Global Chevrolet teamed up with Michael Bay to cast the newer and improved Camaro as Bumblebee in the Transformers films. Tim Mahoney says he’s extremely happy with the partnership and said that he loved the idea of Chevrolet vehicles getting to play the heroes. This partnership proved to be fruitful as Chevrolet Camaro emerged as the leader in its price segment.
For Transformers: Age of Extinction, the car had to be stripped down and redesigned to look more aggressive and muscular. Using a vehicle specifically designed for the movie, the sides are bulked up to create the signature look of Bumblebee. The movie also makes extensive use of the General Motors facility as the setting of the film. Some scenes were shot in and around the GM Design Center in Warren and the Delta Township Assembly Plant in Michigan.
4. Reese’s Pieces – ET: the Extra-Terrestrial
One of the most popular food placements of all time came in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The scene in question was the use of candy to lure out the mysterious alien out of the woods. Legend has it that the spot was originally offered to M&M’s but they passed on the offer. Second, on the list was Reece’s Pieces who seized the opportunity to advertise their new peanut butter candy. Hershey’s spent close to $1 million to acquire the rights to use ET in their marketing campaigns. The payoff was huge. The U.S. chocolate maker saw at least a 65% markup in sales just two weeks into the release of the film.
5. Ray-Ban sunglasses – Risky Business and Top Gun
The Ray-Ban Aviators debuted in 1937 and were popular among US Army pilots, before finding a niche among the general public. But, Ray-Bans were going through a rough patch as newer sunglasses had taken over the market. In 1982, they were considering shutting shop having only sold 18,000 pairs. All of that changed when action star Tom Cruise was seen sporting the Wayfarers in Risky Business. He would then be seen in Top Gun wearing a pair of the now-iconic Aviators. Sales quickly spiked and by 1988, Bausch + Lomb was selling close to 4 million pairs. The Ray-Bans may have fallen out of fashion now, but it’s hard to overlook the impact an individual actor could wield on a global brand.
6. Manolo Blahnik – Sex and the City
The luxury apparel company became a household name thanks to Carrie’s obsession with their designer shoes. On the show, Carrie famously held onto them while being held at gunpoint and from time to time delivered an emphatic speech about the non-monetary value of her heels. The shoes were mentioned and shown a mammoth 16 times across 94 episodes. When Sex and the City hit its peak in 2000, about 30,000 pairs of Manolos were being sold every year. The bespoke pair was even featured in the Sex and the City movie. The Manolos were used as an integral prop when Carrie’s boyfriend proposed to her. The actress Sarah Jessica Parker loved these designer shoes so much that she decided to hold on to a pair. She recently decided to share pictures of the iconic turquoise-brown stilettos on her Instagram page.
7. Nike – Back to the Future
The second installment of the insanely popular Back to the Future series featured a pair of self-lacing Nike shoes. The footwear and sporting goods manufacturer was instrumental in setting up the future scenes with Marty McFly. These one-of-a-kind shoes were shown to have their laces done up completely at the push of a button. It became one of the most iconic pieces of memorabilia in movie history.
In 2011, Nike produced a series of replicas called the MAG. These premium ranges of sneakers were released along with a promotional video featuring Michael J Fox. Each of the 1500 pairs was auctioned off for charity with proceeds going to the Micheal J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Nike raised a record $5 million.
They decided to take things up a notch with an improved version of the famous Back to the Future shoe. The shoe company claims that their advanced Adaptive Fit technology senses the wearer’s motion and can loosen or tighten laces accordingly. Only 89 units were produced this time around, but Nike was successful in raising over $6.75 million for the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
8. Converse – I, Robot
In this 2004 sci-fi film, Will Smith plays a homicide detective who despises the idea of robots after a traumatic incident. He might dislike technology, but he sure does have a penchant for all things vintage and classic. Will Smith is seen sporting a pair of Converse All-Stars multiple times in the movie. One particular scene depicts him pulling a brand new black leather high tops from a box. In the latter half of 2004, Converse decided to make the vintage Chuck Taylor shoes from the movie available to the public. The marketing ploy worked for the sneaker brand as their latest became a runaway hit.
9. Reebok – Jerry Maguire
This one’s a classical case of product placement gone wrong. Jerry Maguire featured a certain Rod Tidwell who held a grudge against Reebok throughout the entire film. He was annoyed that the sporting goods company never considered using him in their commercials. Meanwhile, Reebok agreed to provide more than $1.5 million worth of merchandise and promotional material. The idea was to have Ron be a part of a fake commercial for Reebok. Playing during the end credits, the ad was supposed to have Reebok saying, “Rod Tidwell. We ignored him for years. We were wrong. We’re sorry”. But, the creators decided to famously cut the commercial from the movie. This prompted Reebok to file a case against the production company, TriStar Pictures. The matter was solved discreetly with the studio deciding to pay an undisclosed amount to Reebok. Clearly, not all partnerships have a happy ending.
10. Multi Brands – Marvel Movies
Over the course of 28 films, Marvel has been associated with a number of brands. Some of the most popular ones among them are:
- Audi – The German car company has been linked with Marvel since the release of Iron Man all the way back in 2008. Some of the cars that have been featured are Audi R8, Audi S7 Sportback, Audi S5 Coupe, Audi TTS, and the Audi A8. A large number of their memorable ad campaigns have featured Marvel characters. To promote the Audi S8, a unique video was made with Stan Lee as a teacher in a driving school.
- Burger King – In Iron Man, the first thing that Tony Stark does when he lands on US soil is to drive to a Burger King and feast on a sumptuous cheeseburger. This was seen as a subtle nod to the fast-food chain helping Robert Downey Jr kick his drug addiction.
- Coca-Cola – The beverage company decided to partner up with Marvel for the 2016 Super Bowl. Multiple characters from the MCU like the Hulk and Ant-Man were featured in commercials. Marvel even unveiled a new line of Coca-Cola-sponsored fireplaces. The five themed fireplaces featured Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Ms. Marvel, and the Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Dairy Queen – Director James Gunn specifically chose to feature Dairy Queen in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. The American restaurant chain was more than happy to oblige and released a limited-edition flavor to promote the film.
- Hyundai – In Ant-Man and the Wasp, several cars from Hyundai were promoted and used in stunts. The most notable among them was a heavily modified Hyundai Veloster. The car was painted purple and fitted with drag car wheels to mimic the look of a Hot Wheels car.
- iPhone – In Ant-Man, Scott Lang and Darren Cross activate the iPhone 6’s Siri app while fighting inside a briefcase.
11. Nokia – The Matrix
The release of The Matrix coincided with the unveiling of Nokia’s 8110 phones. The high-end slide-out phone was one of the first phones to sport a graphic monochrome LCD screen and a curved headset. In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves’ character Neo is seen using a Nokia 8110 phone as a portal to the digital world of The Matrix. The makers of the film approached the Finnish brand because they thought that the idea of liking two alternate universes would be in line with Nokia’s vision of connecting people. Nokia agreed to the offer and revamped its launch strategy to coincide with the release of the film. Nokia’s willingness to take a risk paid off as 8110 became an instant hit and the sales shot up. It was so popular that Nokia decided to relaunch the same model with modern features in 2018. The rehashed phone came with 4G connectivity, 512 MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, and a 1,500 mAh battery.
All in all, it’s a wonderful example of a product being seamlessly integrated into the film to the point where it’s indivisible and remembered by the audience as a key part of the movie.
12. Apple iPhone – Knives Out
Rian Johnson’s murder mystery was well received by critics and audiences alike. Knives Out ended its box-office run with over $300 million. But, the movie made headlines for a statement from the director about a certain product placement in the movie. We’re of course referring to the infamous Apple iPhone. Multiple characters are seen carrying the premium phone throughout the film. But, the interesting tidbit is that while Apple does allow its products to be featured in movies, it’s got a very strict rule about antagonists using their products on camera. So, the next time you watch a whodunit, look for the phone that a character is using. Who knows? It might give you a clue or two about the identity of the mysterious killer.
13. Samsung – Suicide Squad
The Korean smartphone brand continued its association with the DC Extended Universe with the 2016 film Suicide Squad. Its mobile phones and tablets were seen to be used by a variety of characters including Deadshot, Amanda Waller, and The Joker. They also served as the official partner for the US premiere of Suicide Squad and helped created interactive experiences for eager audiences to enjoy. Some lucky Galaxy device owners were granted exclusive red-carpet access and got to see the film first. This collaboration proved to be extremely fruitful for Samsung. The brand enjoyed an enviable $700k worth of global exposure during Suicide Squad’s opening weekend.
14. Wilson – Cast Away
It’s hard to think of another piece of sports equipment that is as beloved as the Wilson volleyball from the Tom Hanks-starrer Cast Away. In the movie, the lovable ball gave Tom Hanks company when he was left stranded on a desolate island. The bloody-hand printed ball became an instant celebrity upon the release of the film. It won the 2001 Critics Choice Award for Best Inanimate Object and even has its own dedicated IMDb page. The original prop from the film was auctioned off for $18,500. Wilson decided to capitalize on the newfound popularity and produced a special edition volleyball that looks just like the one from the movie.
15. Etch-a-Sketch – Toy Story 2
The magic screen art pad made by the Ohio Art Company was first featured in Toy Story as one of Andy’s toys. But, it’s in the sequel that Etch-a-Sketch was promoted to the status of a supporting character. It’s featured in multiple scenes, whether the toys are writing messages or drawing portraits, or even semi-complicated maps. Etch only briefly appeared in Toy Story 3 in a home video. Andy reveals that Etch had been sold over the time span between the second and third films.
The short 12-second duel with Woody in Toy Story was enough to give a significant sales boost, requiring the production line to work overtime to be able to meet demands. But, by the spring of 1999, the company was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy having defaulted on loan payments. They received yet another lifeline in the form of Toy Story 2. Etch-a-Sketch was seen drawing sketches to help with the investigation of Woody’s disappearance. The scene clocked in at 45 seconds which was much longer than the scene from the original. Sales went up and the company was back on track again with the stock prices rising by almost 20%.
As of 2016, the Ohio Art company sold the design patent of Etch-a-Sketch to its rival brand, Doodle Sketch. They’ve recently stopped producing toys and shifted focus to metal lithography instead.
16. Multiple brands – Hallmark movies
The cheesy flicks are big business and make Hallmark the top cable network among most women. They embrace the traditional ideas of family, bringing together everyone for a movie night. Hallmark’s two networks have made a total of 37 original Christmas movies. They’re not just a well-oiled machine that churns out movies year after year but also a major economic channel. They produce movies throughout the year to have a roster of movies to work with during the holiday season. The strategy is to cast recognizable actors who haven’t done much non-Hallmark work in recent years. The Hallmark Channel keeps the production cost to a minimum by working with production companies that know how to make movies within a short span of time. The money comes in through advertisements and subtle product placement.
Folger makes an appearance whenever coffee is being served. Ford Explorer and Toyota are seen to be driven around the major characters. They signed a deal with Mediascope Associates to help with integrating advertises’ messages into programming content. This partnership proved to be highly successful as Mediascope had added 11 new brands including Motzart, Perfetti, and Fiat among others. This aggressive business model has worked wonders for the multimedia company so far.
17. Pizza Hut, Reebok, Pepsi, Doritos, Nuprin – Wayne’s World
This is easily one of the most ridiculous instances of product placements in film history. We’re obviously talking about that fun scene from Wayne’s World. The scenes aim to make fun of product placements, while simultaneously promoting a multitude of brands like Pizza Hut, Doritos, Reebok, Nuprin, and Pepsi. At one point in the scene, Garth dressed head-to-toe in Reebok gear, looks at the camera, and begrudgingly says, “It’s like, people only do things because they get paid, and that’s just really sad.” It’s a hilarious takedown of promotional sponsorship that many viewers cite as their favorite moment from the movie.
18. White Castle – Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle
What better way to promote your brand than having it as the actual title of the film? The entire plot of this cult classic revolves around the characters trying to get to White Castle to feast on some delicious burgers. The filmmakers received due permission from the fast-food chain to use their name in the film. White Castle monitored the development of the project closely. Concerned that their brand image may take a hit, they requested the creators to delete one scene that showed a White Castle is closed. A specific arrangement was worked out to enable White Castle to manufacture limited-edition collectibles and special menu items linked to the film.
19. Twinkie – Zombieland
The 2009 zombie film went to the lengths of using Twinkies as a MacGuffin. Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee is seen searching for the snack bar throughout the film. He does find them towards the end only to realize that they’ve been ruined by Columbus shooting through them thinking there was a zombie behind it. Tallahassee finally gets his hands on one of those ‘spongy yellow bastards’ when Little Rock throws one at him.
Interestingly, Woody Harrelson being strictly vegan did not end up eating any genuine Twinkies in Zombieland. The one that we see him eating on screen was a mock-up version made out of cornmeal.
20. Krispy Kreme – Power Rangers
The 2017 Power Rangers heavily plugged Krispy Kreme to the point that the ‘Zeo Crystal’ was buried under the Angel Grove location of the popular doughnut and coffee shop chain. Rita Repsula even stops to bite into a delicious doughnut in the middle of a high-stakes battle.
As part of the tie-in, Krispy Kreme came up with a new series of Power Ranger-themed donuts. They even organized a sweepstakes event with the winner receiving an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco, $500, and a gift card for a year’s worth of free doughnuts. Runners-up, meanwhile, won free movie tickets and branded merchandise.
21. McDonald’s – Mac and Me
A blatant instance of product placement, Mac and Me featured the one and only Ronald McDonald himself. Ronald appears at a little girl’s birthday party and entertains the guests with magic tricks. He’s seen again when the kids start dancing and even puts his hand on the little boy’s shoulders. If that wasn’t clear enough of a message, just take another look at the title. The makers claim that Mac is an acronym and that it stands for a Mysterious Alien Creature. Coincidence much?
The movie was panned for its similarity of plot and characters to ET: The Extra-Terrestrial. The glaring promotional sponsorship led audiences to believe that Mac and Me was more of a TV commercial than an actual movie.
22. Olive Garden, TransAmerica, Amazon – Sonic
Ahead of the release, Paramount released a teaser trailer that received a lot of flak for the design of the main character. The uproar from fans forced the studio to delay the release and changing the design of Sonic. This decision cost Paramount a whopping $5 million as animators were forced to rework the entire film.
Finally, when the movie did end up releasing, it was accused of being a cash grab thanks to the not-so-subtly done product placements. The characters are seen to be mentioning Olive Garden by name and in another scene, a couple is given a gift card to the restaurant chain. Amazon gets mentioned when talking about drones. The emergency portal rings are placed on top of the TransAmerica building in San Francisco. Can things get any more obvious?
23. Multiple brands – The Emoji Movie
The Emoji Movie is notorious for being a giant advertisement, dressed up as family-friendly entertainment. When Sony decided to release a movie set in the world of smartphones and emojis, the animation studio realized that it was a great opportunity to rake in the product placement. A large number of apps are shoved into the script including WeChat, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Dropbox. There are sequences in the movie that do not advance the plot in any way but are solely designed to plug in King and Ubisoft, the makers of apps like Candy Crush and Just Dance respectively.
So, that concludes our list of some of the most memorable instances of product placement in movies. Product placements continue to grow at a rapid pace and have emerged as a novel tactic to market products. This trend may be an indicator that we’re entering an era of alternative advertising and marketing. Over 75% of all broadcast network shows feature product placements of some kind. Video games and pop music are other popular industries for brand placements.
How many brand placements from those mentioned on the list could you remember? Let us know in the comments!
A self-proclaimed movie buff who swears he's funnier on the Internet than he is in real life. He also constantly makes sitcom references to make sense of a life that is slowly succumbing to entropy.