Wednesday, December 05, 2018

EP101: Product Placement or how Coca Cola almost destroyed our movie career.

Ken explores the various forms of product placement in films and TV. And how a scene he and his partner wrote involving Coca Cola caused a huge stink.

Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!


Jeff Boice said...

The worst product placement I saw in a movie (actually the trailer) was "Leonard Part 6" which had a scene where the Bill Cosby character held a bottle of Coca-Cola. What made it so bad was that Cosby was holding the bottle front and center, and I swear it looked like the bottle was filmed with a 3-D effect. When that clip appeared, the audience let out a large groan. And "Leonard Part 6" was released by Columbia when Coca-Cola owned it.

I have to ask about Radar and his fondness for Nehi soda-pop. Did you ever hear from the makers of Nehi?

Roger Owen Green said...

The Subway ad was before Feb 2012, and the show started in 2010 HERE IT IS

Roger Owen Green said...

Ah, Jan 18, 2012, so season 2 - STORY

YEKIMI said...

Unless it's soccer I rarely watch sports on TV. But here's something I recently heard that networks are doing during sportscasts that's even more insidious. You see those damn electronic advertising signs that wrap around the edge of the field just below the seats....apparently what they are now doing is digitally inserting ads over the ads that are really there. So if you're in the stadium you might see an ad for "Adam's Inflatable Companions" whereas if you're watching it on TV you'll see an ad for "The New Trojans-Ribbed on the inside for YOUR pleasure!"

Mike Bloodworth said...

I haven't listened to the podcast yet, but I'm guessing you are alluding to the "Lawrence's" scene in VOLUNTEERS.
I'm torn about product placement in films and T.V. When I was a little kid I would always notice when someone was drinking a "fake" soda or beer, etc. They would have labels that looked similar to the real thing, but I could always tell they weren't. The same thing with stage money. I would always say, "That's not real money!" It was always distracting and would often take me out of the moment. On the flip side, real products have more authenticity, yet some P.P.'s are so blatant that they look more like commercials than merely props in a scene. In other words, the real products can be just as distracting as the simulations.
I wasn't a big fan of the WAYNE'S WORLD movie, but they handled P.P. quite cleverly.

Andy Rose said...

This even predates television. On Jack Benny's radio program, every show would have a scene somewhere in the middle that would transition seamlessly into a commercial for Lucky Strikes or whatever. Back when Jell-O was his sponsor, Jack began every program with the greeting "J'ello everybody!" When the sponsor changed to Grape Nuts, some listeners were upset that it ended that tradition.

I used to work for a basketball radio network where a major sponsor was Whitaker Bank. They had a deal where every time a player made a successful bank shot off the backboard, it would be referred to by the play-by-play announcer as a "Whitaker Bank shot." Every year, we had at least one caller on the pregame show asking for an explanation of what a whitaker bank shot was, because they couldn't find it in the rule book.

Dave said...

Here's a clip of the Subway product placement

Frank Beans said...

Do you still get residual kickbacks from The Hungry Heifer or Field's Beer?

Tommy Raiko said...

Some of the in-show product placements I tend to remember are car-related ones from a few years back. I recall ALIAS did something where Jennifer Garner was in a parking lot and had to break into a car to follow the bad guys. "Take the F150!" she points out to her companion, and they break into a Ford F-150 truck, hotwire it, and start the chase. At the time, it was looked at as a particularly egregious product placement, but now years later almost looks quaint and natural.

I seem to remember another cop show--might have been MAJOR CRIMES--that had a lot of loving shots of car dashboards that seemed to be product-placements. I also vaguely remember some dialog where the characters were following someone in the car and one worries that the suspect will hear them coming and the other says something to the effect of "[This brand] is a hybrid electric. It runs silent!"

Janet said...

You can still see a lot of what Ken's talking about if you watch the old b&w game shows like TO TELL THE TRUTH on the Buzzr Network, which leaves in all the old commercials, etc.

Janet said...


Great podcast, but you left out what is possibly the worst cinematic product placement screw-up of all time.

Steven Spielberg had included M&Ms as the candy in his movie E.T., but Mars Inc. objected. He switched to Reese's Pieces, which was then a fairly new product.

E.T. skyrocketed to become a classic, thus pushing those Reese's Pieces to popularity and likely that Mars Inc. exec had to find new employment.

I never saw that HAWAII-5-0 episode you mentioned (although, yes, that sounds painful) but the series is still doing product placements. All the vehicles are Chevy, and when characters pull up to a crime scene or what-have-you, the camera clearly lingers on the Chevy badge on the grill a little longer than one might expect. Also, laptops, tablets and whatnot are all Microsoft. When one character passes a tablet to another to share evidence or whatever, the Windows icon is always prominent.

But I actually have a product placement question that's bothered me for a while watching NCIS. Instead of CNN, they invented a news channel called "ZNN," which comes up in a number of episodes. However, in an episode in which they took care to refer to this fictional ZNN, a character mentioned by name they found a suspect at Starbucks. By name. So what gives?

Janet said...

My favorite encounter with swag was many years ago, I wrote for a now-long-defunct business publication which covered the business of the video game industry.

We were constantly deluged by game freebies which was not only fun personally but came in really handy for holiday giving.

Tommy Raiko said...

With regard to NCIS inventing a fictional news network rather than using the real "CNN", it may have something to do with the fact that NCIS is a CBS show and CNN is ultimately owned by Time-Warner. NCIS/CBS might not want to promote a competitor's network in their own show, leading them to create a fictional equivalent.

Also, I seem to recall that years back, CNN began discouraging its newspeople from appearing as themselves in movies and TV shows, out of concern of blurring the lines between reality and fiction. (All this years before "fake news" became a term so commonly bandied about...) That may have more to do with their on-air talent, but if CNN still has concerns about diluting CNN's real-world credibility by presence in fictional stories, you can sorta understand why CNN might not support including its brand in other media.

Neither of those factors really apply to Starbucks, so maybe mention of that real-world brand would be permitted on the show for verisimilitude's sake (and even then, an offhand mention is different from more involved usage of their logos and trademarks; I dont' think even NCIS's legendary coffee-loving team is generally shown drinking from exact Starbucks-branded cups...)

Andy Rose said...

Janet Ybarra: It’s generally okay to mention a brand name in passing as long as it doesn’t imply something specifically disparaging about the company (I.e. “We always find bad guys in Starbucks... that place is a haven for organized crime.”) But appropriating actual trademarks is almost never okay. In that episode, they don’t show the scene in an actual Starbucks because they would have to show the Starbucks logo. Similarly, they couldn’t show a fictional CNN broadcast without showing the logo and graphic design, which would require permission. On the other hand, if a character said in dialogue “I just saw on CNN that...” there would be no problem.

Mike Doran said...

I don't know if this counts, but here's a true story:

Once there was a very good mystery writer named William L. D'Andrea (who passed on far too young, but that's another story …).

One day, Bill was writing a story in which one of his characters hurt himself, and had to put on a Band-Aid.
Because he was yet a young writer, to be on the safe side Bill called the company to ascertain the correct spelling of Band-Aid.
The Company Person told Bill:
"BAND-AID Brand Adhesive Bandage." (all caps where indicated; that little r-in-a-circle symbol may have been included)
There was some back-and-forth on the phone, and finally Bill D'Andrea hung up (with, in his words, an UP-YOURS Brand Frustrated Response), and simply wrote Band-Aid.
No repercussions (commercial or political) resulted.

As I said, I don't know if this counts exactly, but it is a good story (I think so, anyway).

Mike Doran said...

One of my favorite writers, and I screwed up his name:


Check out his stuff at Amazon (especially the Matt Cobb series); you won't be sorry.

Mike Doran said...

Re-listening - and noting that you never used the word payola.
That was the common term for this long-standing practice, going back to radio days.

From Jack Benny's radio show, around the turn of the '50s:

Jack: "Rochester, could you go upstairs and get my General Electric blanket?"

Rochester: "Boss, we don't have a General Electric blanket."

Jack: "We do now …"

(Per Milt Josefsberg's memoir.)

The point being that even back then - people knew.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Madame Smock said...

The Hawaii 50 'Subway Sandwich' episode is S-2 E-14 Title: Pu'olo. Original airdate 1/16/2012. You can view it on YouTube.