Upon seeing a clear and deliberate product placement in a movie, show or alternate form of media, the typical observer commits one of three actions. In some instances they immediately catch on to the blatant advertising and dismiss it as a shameful move on the part of the director of the project, whereas in others, they immediately set out to obtain the product in the subconscious pursuit of public acceptance. However, under very specific circumstances, the observer can take notice of a particular instance of product placement and realize it is symbolic of something larger than itself, and as a result, the observer makes the connection that the inclusion of the product stands for more than an advertisement. Although product placement can unarguably be extremely hazardous to the sincerity and general quality of any form of media, an individual who immediately condemns its use as a selfish and negative use has jumped to a conclusion they have not fully analyzed.
The summer big-budget blockbusters Transformers and Transformers 2 fit perfectly under the perfect and stereotypical example of negative product placement for the purpose of advertising. The warrior-robot Autobots woo male car-junkies with the inclusion of their ability to transform into various sporty and new vehicles, such as the Autobot “Bumblebee’s” ability to transform into a flawless yellow camaro, (Transformers, Bay) or “Mudflap’s” ability to mutate into an apple green Chevrolet Trax (Transformers 2, Bay) . Despite the initial irony that the Autobots manage to triumph over their Decepticon foe utilizing their ability to transform into sports vehicles (unlike their Decepticon foe, who have the common sense to transform into tanks, as opposed to Lamborghinis, in the heat of battle) the most ridiculous aspect of the choice of their alternate forms is the amount of coverage the Autobots receive in the form of the most desirable cars GM and Chevrolet have to offer. In the intense final battle of Transformers, the action is halted for an elongated scene featuring a procession of every expensive car a young adult could ever hope to drive through the middle of a conveniently placed dessert. (Transformers, Bay) As the camera begins to take different angles on all of the vehicles, capturing the yellow camaro from the bottom of the front bender and every other angle a car can be captured from, the non-car savvy user begins to lose interest in what would otherwise be a brilliantly choreographed smack down enough to make any fan of action movies stare in awe.
Despite the obvious truth that product placement frequently damages the positive aspect of any example of media it is utilized in, with the right intention, it can be used as an example that a culturally fluent audience may be able to relate to, and as a result, can be used to understand the theme or purpose of the selected media to a better extent. Although the loose interpretation of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot was frequently bombarded by critics for its blatant use of product placement by directly alluding to the quality of Converse sneakers, from a different perspective, what may seem like blatant advertising can be used to further develop the theme of the over-complication of technology and the value in simpler things. When Will Smith utters the initially cringe-worthy line “Converse All-Stars, Vintage 2004” as Detective Spooner when questioned by his mother as to the nature of his foot apparel, the audience is immediately presented with a disturbing contrast. (I, Robot, Proyas) The sneaker that was considered extremely socially compatible at the time could be less culturally relevant in the future than a resident of 2004 might consider their grandmother’s snowshoes. Upon further interpretation, the pointlessness of attempting to keep up with the ever-changing tides of the waves of social integration is highlighted through Detective Spooner’s refusal to conform, and his choice to wear the out-dated Converse sneakers simply because it is his choice to do so (despite the fact that the monetary contributions of converse’s makers most likely affected the inclusion of the product as well).
The intricate nature of product placement spans to such a deep extent that even by parodying itself, it can still serve the purpose of advertising, and the purpose of making it quite clear how corrupt of an advertising technique it is. In The Lonely Island’s parody of the typical American Hip Hop song “Dreamgirl, the institution of product placement is primarily torn to shreds through the use of product placement. The song begins with a monotone voice saying “This song was brought to you by the makers of Chex Mix” in an obviously satirical way, and ends with an alternate version of the final chorus saying “Chex Mix number one food snack in the land, It's the cereal taste that you eat with your hand. Chex Mix at your local grocer buy a box. Your family will all say, Chex Mix rocks!” (“Dreamgirl”, The Lonely Island) The initial reaction of the listener nearly brings them to tears with laughter at the expense of product placement, and at the blatant and obvious manner at which it is used to fool simple-minded Americans. Yet, from the opposite perspective, through the simple guise of parody, “Dreamgirl” manages to repeat the word “Chex Mix” a total of nine times throughout the song and advertises the product completely free from accusations of product placement on the basis that it is allegedly parodying it, a strategy that is arguably more effective than traditional product placement in advertising.
Critics throughout the entire spectrum of the world of media blast product placement from every angle they can, accusing it of providing an unrealistic spin on the world and ruining the credibility of movies and television shows. Yet, what these critics of product placement fail to realize is that the real world that surrounds us is filled with product placement- censoring all forms of it from the media results in a fictional world inside of a narrative story that bears as little resemblance to the world we live in as much as a world where product placement was continuous and blatantly spread through all of its inhabitants. As no true regulation can accurately capture the placement of products in the existing world, the only solution to creating a work of literature or film that does not censor itself by purposely excluding brand name products, yet at the same time does not indulge itself by throwing products at the viewer left and right, is to show real products exactly as they would be used in real life.
I, Robot. Dir. Alex Proyas. Perf. Will Smith, Bridget Monyahon. 2004.
Transformers 2. Dir. Micheal Bay. Perf. Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Peter Cullen. DreamWorks Pictures, 2009. Film.
Transformers. Dir. Micheal Bay. Perf. Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Peter Cullen. DreamWorks Pictures, 2007.
"YouTube - Lonely Island Ft. Norah Jones - Dreamgirl." YouTube. Web. 14 Oct. 2009. .