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In the generically minded film world of a generation ago, an on-screen soda bottle was simply labeled "root beer" and a tennis shoe was -- well, any old shoe. Nowadays, the movie and TV industries are molding products, logos, and slogans into the very building blocks of popular culture -- often without audiences realizing it.

Enterprise Online now presents an informal product-placement Hall of Fame, 10 transcendent instances in which movies or TV shows changed the fate of real-life products, services, or brands. Sprinkled throughout are real-life placement lessons that, if adapted successfully, could help your product land in the spotlight, too.

Hey, this is for real! Reese's Pieces, ET (1982):
The decision to feature Reese's Pieces in ET catapulted the product-placement craft into the Hollywood mainstream. Reese's Pieces leapt onto kids' mental menus and sales shot up 65%; Mars, the maker of M&Ms, had passed on the opportunity.

Pitch your weakness, not your strength: Budget Rent-a-Truck, Home Alone (1990).

Budget was a major player in car rentals, but its truck-rental business was being obscured by household names like U-Haul and Ryder. Budget struck gold when it put polkameister John Candy and his merry band -- along with Jan Hooks, playing Macaulay Culkin's mom -- in a Budget moving van making the long haul back to Chicago.

Selling high: Red Stripe beer, The Firm (1993).
Placement can enhance brand value at strategic times. When Tom Cruise visits Gene Hackman in the Cayman Islands, Hackman suggests that he "grab a Red Stripe," so Cruise opens the fridge for a bottle of the Jamaican-brewed beer. Within a month of the film's release, Red Stripe sales in the U.S. had increased by more than 50%, and just a few weeks later, company owners sold a majority stake in their brewery for $62 million to Guinnesss Brewing Worldwide.

Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself: Junior Mints, Seinfeld (1990s)

Warner-Lambert Co.'s Junior Mints brand was just one beneficiary of the Seinfeld product-placement bonanza. But unlike most placements, which try to paint a product in the most positive light, Junior Mints willingly became comic fodder. "Some companies didn't want to see their candy falling into the cavity of a patient: They overanalyzed it and lost the humor in it," recalls Patricia Ganguzza, owner of AIM Promotions, the New York City-based agency that placed the candies on TV. "Now everybody knows that episode as the 'Junior Mints episode.'"

Look, we're placing products! Pizza Hut pizza and Nuprin pain relievers, Wayne's World (1992)

When Michael Myers and Dana Carvey did a scene that highlighted a Pizza Hut box, and the movie cut to a black-and-white backdrop for yellow Nuprin pills, product placement went self-referential. It was another sign that the practice had arrived.

If you can, get it in writing: Reebok, Jerry Maguire (1996)

Reebok sued Sony TriStar Pictures for $10 million, claiming it violated a placement agreement when it yanked a mock Reebok commercial slated to run during the end credits. Reebok got a settlement, but only after suffering another indignity: The company was only mentioned once, when it was bad-mouthed by the pro footballer played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Face time is fat city: Ray-Ban sunglasses, Risky Business (1983), Men in Black (1997)

Because they adorn the on-screen faces of the stars, sunglasses have come to occupy a prime role in product placement. This summer, the Swiss Army brand will place its logo on a pair of plot-critical remote-control specs used in the asteroid thriller Armageddon.

Too much is enough, 007: Visa card, Avis car rentals, BMW cars and motorcycles, Smirnoff vodka, Heineken beer, Omega watches, Ericsson cell phones, L'Oreal makeup, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Purists could stomach the discrete promotion of James Bond's hot cars over the years, from Aston Martins to the new Z-3 Goldeneye (1995), which helped BMW turn the roadster's launch into one of the most successful new-car introductions ever. But critics flailed at Tomorrow because it seemed to be one long-running commercial. "The world's top-secret agent has lent his name to more gadgets than Tiger Woods. In so doing he has strayed recklessly from Ian Fleming's legendary blueprint," sniffed the New York Times.

The last stronghold has been violated: Chanel perfume, Anastasia (1997)

Tie-ins between animated flicks and brand marketers have proliferated, but commercial products hadn't appeared in an animated picture until a Chanel shop showed up in this Fox feature. It turns out that Chanel didn't pay for the visibility, but cartoon placements can't be far behind.

Oh, yes, there's a plot too: Hasbro action toys, Small Soldiers (1998)

Back-end promotions now drive most huge movie placements, but this soon-to-be-released (July 10) Toy Story knockoff takes the trend to new extremes. The movie is about a battle between peace-loving toys called Gorgonites and the martial Commando Elite -- all made by Hasbro Inc., which of course is filling retail pipelines even now with "real- life" versions of the toys. Director Joe Dante has said that Hasbro's role was a "serious" part of why the movie got made at all.

By Dale Buss in Rochester Hills, Mich.

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Updated June 11, 1998 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1998, Bloomberg L.P.
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