Branding in Films: A Response

Casino Royale made sure that we saw those brands; what about Skyfall?

The original article can be found here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/a-star-is-born-as-product-placement-hits-the-screen-8165632.html

It’s unsurprising that this article opens by mentioning the new James Bond film. As someone whose first Bond was not Connery but Brosnan, I’ve gotten used to a certain degree of product placement in the franchise.

James Bond movies are especially obsessed with gadgets, making it easier to extol the virtues of a certain product than it would be in other movies. In fact, this obsession doesn’t seem as outlandish as it once did. We haven’t yet developed an invisible car, but we do live in the time of Siri, Google Goggles, smartphone apps, and most importantly, competition between the companies that create these types of technologies, who then have to develop even more complex technologies to keep up.

It is notable, though, that most of the movies mentioned – e.g. Skyfall, The Expendables 2, Top Gun, and the hilariously named All You Need is Kill – are straightforward action movies, and therefore exist in a genre that often openly prioritises visual spectacle over substance. While product placement might not add anything to the quality of these films, the concept and approach behind much of said product placement (visual, direct, appealing to the desire to be superior to other consumers) at least fits the films’ style and tone (in-your-face visuals; focusing on protagonists’ struggles to be physically and/or mentally superior to their antagonists).

In non-action movies, it seems that the products being promoted tend to be more ubiquitous. For example, the article describes an instance of product placement for the US shipping company FedEx in the romantic comedy Runaway Bride as follows:

As Julia Roberts’ character runs away from her wedding, she hops into a Federal Express truck as one character ponders where she’s going. Another replies: “I don’t know, but she’ll be there by 10.30 tomorrow morning.”

“It’s funny and it doesn’t feel like FedEx has been forced down the audience’s throat,” says Ms Rickards.

However, FedEx is one of very few shipping options in the US; the others, off the top of my head, are UPS, DHL and of course the US Postal Service. Although it’s a privately owned company, its name is often used interchangeably with the verb “to ship”, as in “I’ll FedEx you the package” (no one ever says “I’ll DHL you the package”).

A contemporary British parallel would be along the lines of a movie character saying that she loves Marmite on her toast; Marmite is a privately owned company, but anyone talking about yeast-based spread in real life is more likely to use the brand name “Marmite” than any other brand name.

Whether the product placement in Skyfall will be as blatant as previous Bond films (I seem to recall a character in Casino Royale asking James Bond about his top-of-the-line Omega watch) remains to be seen. I’ll be watching through my Ray-Bans – sent via FedEx – with a Coke in my hand.

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