Winners at Product Placement

Product Placements are on Target in *Josie and the Pussycats*

With Sunday’s Academy Awards marking the end of the award season, Brandcameo announced its 2014 Product Placement Awards.

I used to find product placements tasteless, but my thinking has evolved. Years ago I read an interview with a respected TV writer and producer[1] who said that if done properly product placements can add to the character and setting of the story. If memory serves, he said something like “if there’s a character who drinks whiskey, and Bushmill will pay us for placement, let’s monetize that.”

There’s a nuanced difference between a Johnny Walker drinker (someone who tries too hard) and a Bulleit rye drinker (a straight-shooter). That changed my thinking. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of bean counters in media studies for whom each time a logo or product appears on screen, creativity has died by one point.

Free as in beer signs.
Free as in beer signs.

Winning and placing in this year’s Brandcameo Awards are Budweiser and Apple, respectively. I’ve always hated when a character ask for a generic “beer” on television or in a movie so I guess it’s a little more realistic that someone asks for a “Bud.” It’s the same number of syllables as “beer,” and the set designer will probably get a neon sign or painted mirror to hang in the bar set.

As for computers, according to worlds of films and TV shows I watch, seemingly everyone uses a Mac or an iPhone. Apparently, Apple products also appear on movies or TV shows I don’t watch:

Between 2001 and 2011, 129 of the 374 No. 1 films (34.4 percent) had Apple product placement. But Apple is still a product placement power, with 2013 films like Drinking Buddies and We’re the Millers both featuring the brand, as did China’s Midnight Weibo. Then there is TV, where Apple has upped its presence in hit series like House of Cards and Ray Donovan and overseas in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and China’s knock-off of The Apprentice.

Speaking of House of Cards, the product placement of computers and smartphones in that series is pretty systematic. The government apparatchiks use Blackberry phones, presumably for their rock solid security, and a unremarkable brand of desktop computers. But everyone’s personal phone is an iPhone. Men usually carry a black phone, and women sport a white one. The rich and powerful Frank and Claire Underwood both carry gleamingly new iPhones, in the new iPhone 5/5S form factor. By contrast, Zoe Barnes, a symbol of youthful enthusiasm and early–20s poverty, is still using a stumpy iPhone 4/4S. I’m surprised it doesn’t have a cracked screen.

Zoe Barnes has apparently not finished her contract and is still stuck with an iPhone 4 in 2013
Zoe Barnes has apparently not finished her contract and is still stuck with an iPhone 4 in 2013

And speaking of personal computing, does anyone take a computer, that is not a MacBook Pro or Air, to bed?

It’s hard not to get caught up in the Apple vs. Google debate, and the Brandcameo Awards also fall prey to this polemic. They point to a film that is entirely about Google:

More than one movie plot this year was knitted together with a brand name…. The Internship is the clear winner in the category with nearly the entire film’s shenanigans set inside the search engine behemoth’s campus and revolving around Google.

*The Internship* searches for a product placement contract.

The Internship had its moments, but I really preferred House of Cards.


  1. I’m pretty certain that it was David Simon, the creative force behind Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, but I didn’t bookmark the article nor did I find it through a bunch of web searches. Maybe it was Matthew Weiner.  ↩

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