These days, you’ll see corporations fork over millions of dollars to film studios to have their brands and logos being used in major motion pictures. It makes sense why studios would be willing to accept these advertising deals, as it helps to either increase the film’s overall budget or to make back a lot of money before the film is even released. It seems more blatant in recent cinema, but product placement is something that’s been around for a long time.
Product brands were being used as early as the 1920s, though it wasn’t by contract at first, it just happened to be the right product for the scene. Later in the decade, though, Hershey’s had a contract with the makers of “Wings”, a hit film that had an advertisement for their chocolate. Because of the film’s success and the boost in Hershey’s interest, more filmmakers started to use product placement, though it was still only rarely.
The late 1970s and early 1980s marked the rise of product placement in just about every film, as budgets grew larger and audiences were more broad. Companies like FedEx have spent millions upon millions for some of the most notable films including “E.T.” and “Cast Away”. Some films have even been pointed out as just being one long advertisement as a way of making money for studios (like “Mac and Me”), especially when there are a lot of close-up shots of the product (though it’s more blatant in music videos).
Product placement is something that won’t be going away anytime soon, especially as there are a lot of tie-ins with major corporations. You’ll see characters like James Bond have an official car, beer or watch, with contracts that are worth tens of millions. Then, there are the tongue in cheek references to product placement in movies like “Talladega Nights” or “Wayne’s World” where the characters break the fourth wall to shill for companies like Pepsi. Mike Myers did this once again in the “Austin Powers” series.
One director that’s become the master of product placement is Michael Bay. Movies like the ones in the “Transformers” series and “The Island” feature dozens of companies in each film. Studios aren’t just willing to fork over $300 million for just any movie, and directors like him have been able to secure these large budgets thanks to the promise of advertising being able to cut down a lot of that cost. It might make you roll your eyes when you see an obvious advertisement in a movie like “Iron Man” or “Star Trek”, but these movies wouldn’t have gotten the greenlight without them.