“The Road”: Post-Apocalyptic Product Placement


Audiences are eagerly awaiting the release of the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road, opening November 25. And fans want adherence to the bleak, original Cormac McCarthy novel.

But not really.

Reports from early screenings are surfacing that scenes including “product placements” in the film, especially one with a can of Coca-Cola, are drawing groans. But as the film’s director John Hilcoat explains, he was just being loyal to the source:

There’s some people who don’t know the book and have picked up on this in the film and say, Why did they go for such a blatant product placement?[more]

Hilcoat is referring to this passage from McCarthy’s novel:

He withdrew his hand slowly and sat looking at a Coca Cola.

What is it, Papa?

It’s a treat. For you.

He’d hooked up a small gas heater and they drank Coca Cola out of plastic mugs and after a while he went back to the house and wrung water out of the jeans and brought them back…

Novelist McCarthy explained his choice of Coke:

Well, it just struck me. It’s the iconic American product. The one thing that everybody knows about America, the one thing above cowboys and Indians, above everything else that you can think of, is Coca-Cola. You can’t go to a village of 18 people in the remotest part of Africa that they don’t know about Coca-Cola.

Coke is also a product placement icon, appearing in films that vary in age and quality from Die Hard, Boyz ‘N the Hood, and The Parent Trap to Ghostbusters, Juno, and From Here to Eternity.

Placing products in a film such as The Road is tricky. As a moody, heavy drama audiences will demand “reality,” and generic or fake-branded products would undermine that perception. But real, recognizable brands would detract from the film and make it “commercial.”

Yet, seriously, what is more real than people surviving in a post-apocalyptic world by foraging for food such as Cheetos and Coke?

The Road also features products not in the book, such as Spam, Vitaminwater and aforementioned Cheetos. The Road isn’t the only spooky film with noteworthy snack product placements this year. Twinkies played a prominent role in Zombieland.

In contrast, the zombie film Dawn of the Dead, which takes place in a mall, could not get Starbucks to sign off on a huge role in the film. But brands are increasingly willing to appear in such bleak material. Some are even partnering up to campaign for roles in such films, as BMW did a couple years ago in Resident Evil: Extinction – a film based on a video game series.

Apparently, book readers are much harder to please.