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The best product placements in cinema history

And how the practice has evolved through the decades

The best product placements in cinema history And how the practice has evolved through the decades

Product placement is a form of indirect advertising that appears in non-advertising spaces. It involves integrating a brand, product, or service into the narrative-expressive context of an audiovisual work. Discussing product placement in certain contexts unexpectedly becomes thorny, as if the entry of that obscure thing called advertising tarnishes the purity of artistic intent. Not only is this reflection overly naive but also historically inaccurate. Today, product placement is part of an industry parallel to the film industry, a result of decreased receptivity to traditional advertising. As reported in a 2022 New York Times article, product placement generates $23 billion, with a 14% increase since 2020. However, it's not a modern invention. Product placement has always been present in cinema. Jean-Marc Lehu, a renowned marketing expert, suggested in a 2007 study that the first product placement case could date back to "Laveuses," a 1896 film by the Lumière brothers featuring Sunlight soap prominently. Over the decades, the practice has evolved, becoming a budget source for films, saving on props, or characterizing roles.

Today, there are three distinct types of product placement: screen placement, where the product is placed in the scenic context in the foreground or background; script placement, where characters mention the product within the narrative context; plot placement, where the product is part of the storyline. Due to this constant development, we present a ranking of the best product placements in the history of cinema, considering historical significance, clever integration, placement type, and iconicity within the work.

The first true product placement: Standard Oil in The Garage

As mentioned earlier, product placement in cinema has always existed. Regarding the Lumière brothers' film, there is no confirmation, but it differs in the case of The Garage. This 1919 short comedy, starring Buster Keaton and Roscoe Arbuckle, features scenes in a garage, prominently displaying the "Zerolene" oil sign, a product of the Standard Oil Company, and the Red Crown Gasoline logo, a 1900s gas station. This can be considered a screen placement, a choice criticized by Harisson's Report at the time.

Hershey's Chocolate and the first Oscar-winning film

Even more peculiar is the appearance of a Hershey's chocolate bar in Wings, a 1927 film by William A. Wellman, renowned for winning the first Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929. The film includes a blatant product placement where actors interact with a Hershey's chocolate bar within the narrative context. This represents a primitive form of plot placement, showcasing the product's type, appearance, and brand prominently. The camera deliberately focuses on the product, emphasizing its significance.

Reese's Pieces in E.T.

Taking a leap forward, we recognize Steven Spielberg as a transformative filmmaker. During the production of E.T., Spielberg wanted the alien to be drawn to a specific type of candy. Initially considering M&M's, but Mars declined. Spielberg then chose Reese's Pieces, and Hershey (same as the previous case in Wings) accepted. E.T. became the highest-grossing film of all time, boosting Reese's Pieces sales by almost 70% within three weeks of the film's release. Notably, Stranger Things replicated this product placement dynamic with Eleven and Eggo Waffles.

Ray-Ban and Tom Cruise: Risky Business and Top Gun

In the early '80s, Ray-Ban faced a decline, with the Wayfarer model selling only 18,000 units in 1981. Hiring the Unique agency in 1982 to handle product placement, Ray-Ban aimed to feature its models in over 60 films and TV shows over the next five years. Success arrived within a year. In 1983, Risky Business, a film marking Tom Cruise's rise, featured the Wayfarer prominently, leading to a 40% increase in sales. The Ray-Ban - Tom Cruise duo repeated this success in 1986 with Top Gun, boosting Aviator model sales.

Nike in Back to the Future and Forrest Gump

@madeinthe80 2015 was the future #backtothefuture #selflace #mcfly #bttf #nike #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #fypシ #parati #pourtoi sonido original - Made in the 80s

Moving to 1985, one of the most significant cases in product placement history is Back to the Future. Nike features prominently, thanks to the work of screenwriter Bob Gale, a close collaborator of director Robert Zemeckis. Nike was not initially planned, but due to actor Michael J. Fox replacing Eric Stoltz, the character Marty McFly wore Nike Bruin sneakers. The film's success led to the creation of the iconic Nike Air Mag for the 2015 sequel. The Nike - Zemeckis collaboration continued in Forrest Gump, showcasing Cortez shoes in another iconic cinematic moment.

Wilson in Cast Away

@paramountplusuk Wilson is a true ride or die. #Castaway #ParamountPlusUK #ParamountPlus #Wilson #TomHanks Somewhere Only We Know X Everything - FUJI AN

In 2000, Zemeckis and Tom Hanks collaborated again for Cast Away, creating one of the most unique product placement cases. The Wilson volleyball becomes an actor, despite the paradox of a film about survival on a deserted island. Tom Hanks interacts with the ball, creating empathy and emotion for an inanimate object. The brand "Wilson" is mentioned 34 times, and the inanimate co-star has over 11 minutes of screen time. This film, seen by over 100 million people, is a prime example of intelligent product placement.

James Bond and Product Placement

@bosshuntingofficial Big money to pay to be the official beer of James Bond. #bosshunting #jamesbond #jamesbond007 #jamesbondskyfall #skyfall #movie #danielcraig #bond #foryou #fyp #4u #trending #viral original sound - Boss Hunting Official

Until now, we've discussed historically significant cases tied to specific contexts. However, with the James Bond saga, there are no boundaries. This iconic Western film series, consisting of 25 films, turns everything into plot placement. Every object is integral to character development: cars (the iconic Aston Martin with occasional appearances by BMW), signature clothing (recently designed by Tom Ford), watches (from Rolex to Seiko, and finally Omega), and high-tech cashmere clothing (by N Peal). Brands compete, offering substantial sums to feature in Bond films. The Bond fan base eagerly purchases branded products, creating special editions for each new film. Product placement significantly contributes to the production budget, exemplified by Heineken reportedly paying around $45 million for a tie-in with Skyfall in 2012.

Tarantino's Fake Placements

As we've seen, product placement in cinema has always existed and evolved over decades. In Tarantino's world, numerous brands appear, almost all of them fictional and created by the American director. The most famous ones, frequently featured, are the Big Kahuna Burger fast-food chain and the Red Apple tobacco brand. The latter is present in nearly all Tarantino films, with a special commercial included in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A curious and amusing case of fake placement.

Barbie and Property Cinema

@intensocreativo Barbie Girl - Aqua Realizado con After Effects #barbie #barbiegirl #barbiepelicula #barbiemovie #barbiemovies #liveaction #barbie2023 #aqua #lyrics #letrasdecanciones #letrasdecanciones #tiktok #fyp #artist #art #pink #ken #barbieyken #follow #aftereffects # #trailer #like #margotrobbie #film #barbieedit #barbieedits #margotrobbieedit #barbieliveaction Barbie Girl - Lady Aqua

The latest evolutionary stage of product placement is the emerging world of property cinema. This refers to films increasingly based on objects or brands, representing a new path for the film industry. The most striking example is Barbie, where Mattel and Warner Bros., collaborating with indie filmmaker Greta Gerwig, created a nearly $1.5 billion box office success. This case study represents a likely first step in a new direction for the entire film industry.