On Twitter: @JamesEppler
The Mandarin in "Iron Man 3" drinks Budweiser. So does Scotty in "Star Trek Into Darkness." So does Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." So does Brad Pitt in "World War Z."
Did you notice? It's not exactly subliminal. In film class, we learned about something called Mise-en-scène, a French term that translates to "put in the scene." It refers to studying the design for what you see on the screen, and the idea is nothing is done on accident.
Product placement is big business in the movies, especially for the ones during the summer that tend to run up to $200 million and more when you factor in promotional costs.
Some of it is tolerable. We live in a world where advertising is everywhere - people drink Budweiser (for some reason), and if movies are meant to imitate real life, some brand names making it onto the screen can feel natural. I wouldn't expect someone to have to drink out of a bottle that just says, "BEER" on it.
But everyone does seem to be drinking that particular beer this summer, and there are some product placement incidents that have really gotten on my nerves. They can take you out of a movie completely.
One scene in particular really bothered me just this last weekend: During a very intense sequence in "World War Z" (very minor spoiler) Pitt stops at a Pepsi machine, grabs a can, pops the top open and takes a long, refreshing drink. I think there was even an "aaaaahhhh" after. Zombies are coming to eat him, but he really wanted that Pepsi. In the context of the scene it actually works because it's showing he's not afraid of these monsters. But the cynical part of me can see the boardroom meeting between "World War Z" producers and Pepsi reps.
It went something like this:
Pepsi guy: "Look, we'll put $10 million into this thing, but we wanna see Pitt holding the can."
Movie producer: "No, it's 10 for him to bump into the machine accidentally as he's walking by. It's 20 for him to hold the can, and for five mil more, he'll take a sexy drink and throw back that long hair like Cindy Crawford in the old commercials. Geez, I can get $15 mil from Coke today, man."
Pepsi guy whispers something inaudible to Pepsi gal he brought to the meeting. Then he says, "Alright, how about this? 25 mil, Brad takes a drink, but the label isn't facing out. But THEN he hits the machine and all the cans roll out and we see the labels that way!"
Movie producer: "Got yourself a deal, Pepsi Man."
I'm not saying all product placement is bad. In fact, it may be helping keep the price of our tickets down as movie budgets skyrocket. But it can get out of hand. It's been reported "Man of Steel" has more than 100 corporate partners worth $160 million to the production. That's some serious cash. I wonder how much IHOP had to pay to let Superman lay waste to a restaurant during a fight... and not even eat some pancakes!
Then there are times when brands get unwanted attention in movies. Back to Budweiser, the company wasn't too pleased about its product placement in "Flight" with Denzel Washington. That was his character's beer of choice to fuel his raging alcoholism. Reps for Anheuser Busch wanted the image of their product obscured because they said they never condone the misuse of their product.
Well, at least in good movies, anyway.
That same year Budweiser cans were all over Adam Sandler's "That's My Boy," in which his character got drunk throughout most of the movie and caused a lot of problems.
I'm guessing Budweiser figured, "What the heck? No one's gonna see this piece of crap anyway."