Product Placement in Movies
Being someone that has directed countless music videos, the idea of product placement is a simple business transaction. The product gets shown in a music video of a popular artist guaranteeing exposure, and in return they cover the hefty expenses of the music video itself!. But I have seen many comments on YouTube where people mention usually in a negative way the product placement that was in the music video that I directed. More towards the "sell out" factor or how it compromises the artistic integrity of the body of work.
I understand their frustration and the accusations of being "un-artistic" but let me start by saying they are absolutely wrong! Let's dive into the world and history of product placement so as to understand a bit more about it.
Creating any form of art is time consuming and expensive, and the people creating it need to pay their bills while creating that art. So the idea that someone would pay those bills in exchange for their product or service to be mentioned in the artwork being created is the general idea of what we now call product placement.
Here's the kicker though, this idea long predated films and music videos by almost 100 years and perhaps more if you widen your interpretation of what is product placement.
For example classical composers such as Mozart, Haydn Bach and many more all had "Patrons". It was considered a bragging right for royalty back then to fund a classical composition which in turn when presented to the world would be dedicated to the Patron. Technically it isn't product placement but a business agreement had been struck, and this could be interpreted as one of the first idea of a "sponsor" where the patron would cover all living expenses of the artist in return for that dedication. It also helped the artist to focus on nothing else but his music! For example here's Overture The Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart who's patron for that work was Baron Gottfried van Swieten
Even in paintings such as Un bar aux Folies Bergère created in 1882 one could clearly see real beer brands within the painting. It's not clear whether Edouard Manet was paid for it or not. But the idea of bringing in real life objects into a work of art had already been established. If he was paid this would easily qualify as product placement!
In 1872 Jules Verne was already a globally famous writer when he released another on of his timeless classics "Around the world in 80 days" where the shipping companies mentioned in the novel are real. It is not clear whether it was his idea or if he was approached by the shipping companies themselves or even whether he was paid for this. Never the less, this is also perhaps on of the first examples of embedding references to products or brands within another work. Essentially product placement in the form that we know today.
Coming into the movies one of the first product placements was in the in the 1927 movie "Wings" that had an extended shot of a Hershey's chocolate bar...and it won best picture at the academy awards!
By the late 1930's MGM was receiving hundreds of requests by products to be featured in their films! And by the 1950's this escalated to a standard practice mediated through companies developed just to facilitate the process. In fact they would take it as far as the actual product writing the way their product would be featured in the TV show.
Of course this escalated to a science where it was part of if not all, most movies as it was the best way for the producers to get the necessary funding. Perhaps Back to the Future was one of the first movies to embed a product in the storyline to make it more seamless, thus opening the door to a new way of presenting the product placements. After all who could forget the futuristic Pepsi bottle made just for the movie, or the DMC DeLorean
And with that there were many great product placements...
...and terrible ones as well!
The result is of course the sales of the product escalating with varying success, such as the Nokia phone in the Matrix, or the countless Beats By Dre headphones in countless music videos or even Apple products in movies. Let's not forget the Aston Martin which by now is synonymous to the James Bond franchise.
So as one can realize, product placement isn't so much a necessary "dent" on the artistic integrity, but more of a symbiotic relationship. Now its a way of business in movies, since behind every item used in every scene of a film whether it was necessary for the plot or not, there has been a business deal behind it. And that's ok because it helps get the movie made to begin with. Obviously there is the stigma or perception of "Art selling out" through the use of product placements, but like I mentioned before Art is expensive and funds are not that readily available. So rather than demonizing the process which existed long before any of us was born, just embrace it as a necessary process that helped create many of the timeless classic movies we all saw and loved!