The Social Network ‘Likes’ Product Placement


For the second week in a row, the number one film in America is a boardroom drama about the financial back-stabbing surrounding the American money machine. Also for the second week, it’s a film claims to define the decade. But there is one other way Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and The Social Network are similar.

Earlier this week we looked at a history of companies and brands that have been skewered by Hollywood. We also looked at why the one brand really made to look bad by The Social Network is not Facebook. It is the Harvard University brand that emerges from the fray, bruised.[more]

As we’ve noted, Harvard has been a popular background for Hollywood for decades, its depiction fitting into one of three classic paradigms. Yet The Social Network may represent the most damaging product placement for the University in its history.

While it is clearly a depository for genius, the Harvard of The Social Network is home to almost no redeemable characters. The clubs are elitist. The students are self-absorbed and ambitious to a fault. Even the Harvard administration comes across as elitist, conceited and snide. The one student who gains the audience’s sympathy goes to Boston University.

Hollywood has portrayed Harvard as home to pretentious boors before. But in all notable cases, this onscreen Harvard was one in dramatic fiction (Good Will Hunting) or farce (Legally Blonde). The Social Network is more than just based on a true story, it’s populated with real people many Americans know, from Harvard students Mark Zuckerberg and the preposterous but real Winklevoss twins, to then-Harvard President Larry Summers. Just as audiences take this as the “real” story of Facebook, they perceive this as the “real” Harvard.

Another, less obvious, way in which The Social Network and Wall Street 2 are similar in defining their times: product placement. Just as the Wall Street sequel was packed with products, so is The Social Network. From The North face, to Sony Vaio to Mountain Dew. What was once an exotic practice in the 1990s is now just the way movies are made now. What a difference a decade makes. Just as Heineken “helped” Oliver Stone with Wall Street 2, it similarily “helped” the horror film Case 39 (below), which could not best the Facebook backstory at the box office this weekend.

When it comes to the heavy Sony Vaio placement in The Social Network, it may be tempting to take the cynic’s view and assume that Sony Studio’s involvement in the film was the reason. The actual frequency may have been Sony’s influence but, conveniently enough, there is a mention of Zuckerberg’s “little Sony laptop” in Accidental Billionaires, the book on which the film is based.

Finally, the Sony Studios-Sony Vaio isn’t the only product placement Easter egg in The Social Network. One of Winklevoss twins wears a New England Patriots shirt, despite the brothers having been born in New York and raised in Connecticut in real life.

Go to Brandcameo to see the full list of products in The Social Network.