Product Placement in 2010 Oscar-Nominated Films, from Barbie to Budweiser

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It’s anathema to many film fans and purists that a movie loaded with product placement can also be good, let alone one of the best films of any year. But proof that this sentiment is wrong is provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences itself.

Of the ten best picture nominees, three are loaded with product placement and two more feature a good number of brands. One even has a product placement “easter egg.” In fact, three of the ten films nominated for best picture list credits for product placement coordinators: Black Swan, The Fighter and The Kids are All Right.

Below, a closer look at the products that costarred in the 2010 films nominated as best of the best, from Inception‘s “gun porn” to Black Swan‘s impact on Swan Lake to Sony’s sly Social Network Apple bashing to why the King of Beers is the favorite for the down and out in Beantown.[more]

Winter’s Bone / The King’s Speech

While these two films could not be more different in plot and tone, their one shared characteristic is a dearth of identifiable products. Of course, this is for different reasons. Like many period films, The King’s Speech provides few opportunities for product placement. Winter’s Bone, meanwhile, takes place in the poverty-stricken Ozarks amongst local gangsters and drug addicts. The only products to find a place include automobiles such as Ford trucks (and not the new models).



Toy Story 3

The products in Toy Story 3 are — surprise! — toy-related, including FAO Schwartz, Fisher-Price and Monopoly. Online garage sale eBay gets a scene as does Sharpie. As with many Pixar films, Apple computers gets a sly little cameo. But the product that benefitted most from the film was Barbie.

In 2006, Mattel’s stock took a hit after it announced that US sales of Barbie had nosedived by 30%. (Analysts blamed the Bratz dolls.) Jump to 2010, following Toy Story 3 in which Barbie and Ken played a huge role, Mattel reported a 6% uptick in Barbie sales (compared to a 2% increase for Mattel overall). A Toy Story 3 tie-in of a Barbie-Ken gift set is rated five of five stars by over 20 customer reviewers on Amazon. Two sample reviews:

“My 10 year old daughter is receiving this gift for Christmas. She has wanted them since the Toy Story 3 moving came out. I know she will have a lot of fun with them.”

“My 5 year old Grandaughter loves her Barbie and Ken dolls from the Toy Story 3 movie that she received for her birthday. She plays with her dolls quite often”

To further capitalize, Mattel has remade Ken (who now “coincidentally” looks awfully like Justin Beiber) and engineered a Valentine’s Day promotion wherein Ken will give Barbie cupcakes from New York City’s Magnolia bakery. The limited edition Valentine’s Barbie and Ken is specially priced at just $5 to reintroduce the classic characters to a new generation — all thanks to the wild success of Toy Story 3.

The Social Network

Our product placement tracker, Brandcameo, covered this film six months ago, noting the long film history of Harvard as well as how the film nails its collegiate setting and era period with heavy Gap placement. The story of Facebook’s birth also sees product placements from The North Face to the stereotypical computer-nerd brand, Mountain Dew. All in all, we spotted 50 identifiable products or brands in the film, one of the highest counts of any movie last year.

But the most interesting placement in The Social Network is the subtle message Sony may be sending. Finding Sony products, especially Vaio computers, in Sony Studio films has become completely commonplace. Sony-produced films from 2010 that were stuffed with Sony computers include Easy A, Eat Pray Love, How Do You Know and The Other Guys. It’s convenient for Sony that the book upon which The Social Network is based, Accidental Billionaires, mentions a “little Sony laptop.” In of the most common promotional photos for the film (above), a Vaio notebook is front and center as if to say, Zuckerberg and Sony created Facebook.

The intriguing part of the film though is that it begins and ends with Mark Zuckerberg using a Sony laptop. The only time he is seen using a Macbook? When he betrays and double-crosses his partner Eduardo, who, enraged at being cut out of the company, snatches up Zuck’s Apple laptop and smashes it to pieces. Snap!

Why Sony, what are you trying to say? And from Harvard to the Wild West…

True Grit

As with The King’s Speech, this period piece doesn’t offer much for contemporary brand marketers looking for product placement opportunities. Of course, every Western is contractually obligated to mention Colt, but that’s about it. Except that this remake did allow for the spotlight to be put on the Sharps Rifle company, its facinating, robust place in Amercia’s history, and how it continues making guns today — even though Texas Ranger LeBoeuf wouldn’t recognize today’s Sharps.

Black Swan

Even though Black Swan has a credited product placement coordinator, there isn’t much in the film to coordinate. Though it takes place in modern day Manhattan, the film appears scrubbed of identifiable brands. But there is one “product” that has benefited greatly as a result of the Oscar-nominated picture: Swan Lake itself.

We asked Brett Batterson, executive director of the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago where Swan Lake will play in February, if he had seen an increased interest in the classic ballet due to the film? “Absolutely,” he said.

Batterson told us that Swan Lake is always the second best-selling ballet after The Nutcracker, but that this run is seeing “exceptional sales” and incredibly swelled interest. The best part, noted Batterson, is that much of the uptick in interest is from “a lot of first-time ballet-goers.” Batterson added that the timing of his production, just as the film is peaking from Oscar-nomination interest, is completely coincident. But the theatre is making the best of the great coincidence, promoting Swan Lake on its Facebook page as “Black Swan without the crazy.”

Swan Lake will also be at the David H. Koch Theater from Feb. 13 to 26. Ticket reseller StubHub currently offers the cheapest orchestra seat around $270.

Notably, the actual dancers in Swan Lake have been too busy dancing to even see the film. Igor Levin, the managing director of the State Ballet Theatre of Russia tour that will play at the Auditorium in Chicago and later in Minnesota and Ohio, told us he and his dancers have had no time to see the film. The one principal dancer troop that had seen it, Ivan Alexeev, told us through a translator that he found it “too much mystic and fantasy.”

Inception

To many viewers, Inception was a highly stylized, brainy heist film in which the dearth of brand products perfectly framed the sets of layered subconscious. No Dr. Pepper cans. No billboard in the background for Carl’s Jr. Nobody swilling Budweiser. Those opposed to product placement can hold up Inception as an example of great filmmaking without commercialism.

Except, the film placed all kinds of products in one category, and the consumers of those products paid attention.

“Gun porn” is how gun (and coffee) aficionado blogger Guns & Coffee described the film, commenting on the “great gunfights.” On the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association message board, one user wrote “When this comes out on Blu-Ray I’ll have to analyze all the guns and gunplay, but I thought that it was an awesome movie with some great gun scenes!” He added, “I wish I could have dreams like that..!” Many cited Leonardo Dicaprio’s use of the Beretta Px4 Storm.

Indeed, the range of firearms used in the film were obsessively itemized by many gun fans, showing that it had a little something for everyone, including the consumer brands Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, Beretta, Walther, Glock, Heckler & Koch and Browning. And just as with sports cars, Inception featured the exotic models as well, including Vektor, Norinco and Blaser.

The Kids Are All Right

Products are all over in this best film award-nominee but it doesn’t feel like it. Indeed, no major reviews of the film even mention the iPhone, the Volvo, the Prius, the BMW, or the Vuarnet sunglasses. None note the film’s early shout-out to Fiddlehead wine. Natural spring water brand Re-Source lands a perfect brand-appropriate scene, placed front and center (above) on the table during during a locally-grown organic supper. Re-Source even called attention to its role on its Facebook page.

Curiously, the product placement in the Oscar-nominated All Right has something in common with the never-to-be-nominated recent hit No Strings Attached. In both, a free-willed, quirky and creative sexy California dude chooses as his conveyance a vintage, oozing-with-style BMW while a hard working, cranky, clinically unemotional physician drives a European-made wagon (Volvo in All Right; Audi in No Strings).

The Fighter

We’ve already noted how this 1990s-set drama is, typical of boxing movies, stuffed with Everlast placement. But one other brand that’s all over the film is, similarly, no accident: Budweiser. From advertising on the boxing rings to neon signs within and outside the bars, to the overwhelmingly preferred drink of the down and out Ward and Eklund families (despite riding in a limo, Dickie sips a Bud tall boy), Budweiser brings its familiar red and white branding to scene after scene.

We spoke with Adam and Cat Stone, credited product placement coordinators on the film, about how Bud came to set the tone for The Fighter. “Budweiser was the clear choice for The Fighter because it was, in fact, the biggest name in North American boxing in the heyday of Mickey Ward and his family. [It] was a matter of historical accuracy,” said Adam. Stone added that Anheuser-Busch was brought to the table as “really the only choice that made sense in the film.”

Adam and Cat Stone would know, having placed products in 60 films in the last half decade, including last year’s Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker and 2010 nominee The Kids Are All Right.

The Fighter isn’t the only 2010 Massachusetts-set movie about hard-knock locals to heavily feature Budweiser. Bottles and cans of Bud are also all over gritty Boston-bank-robbery film The Town. Notably, it’s The Town‘s best supporting actor nominee Jeremy Renner’s dead-end, violent character James who’s most often seen with a Bud. What exactly are filmmakers saying about the “King of Beers?”

127 Hours

By far the most dynamic and frustrating product placement film of 2010’s ten Oscar nominees is 127 Hours. The film has gone to extreme pains to include the brands in the real-life account on which it is based, the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston.

For example, while the Gatorade scenes in the film may seem extreme and draw questions of how money changed hands, the brand is mentioned often in Ralston’s book. Suffering from thirst, Ralston writes, “I think about the two one-liter bottles of Gatorade I bought… They’re spread across the floor of the passenger seat.”

Other brands like Nalgene and CamelBak appear in the book. And the Sony digital camcorder? In the book, Ralston says he out his Sony camera through harsh treatment and it just kept going. In an aside, he writes, “Well done, Sony.” In fact, the Sony camcorder used in the film is the exact same one Ralston used during his ordeal in the canyon. Promoting the film, Ralston even said, “The movie is so factually accurate, it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama.”

The overflow of products and brands names in the film would seem to challenge that. Not only because, as message board comments have pointed out, the 2003-set film features a SomeEcards.com t-shirt (not founded until 2007) and post-2003 Mountain Dew and Utah Jazz logos, but because so many of the products and brands never appear in Ralson’s written account.

Then there is the dream sequence in which Ralson (Franco), delirious from thirst, fantasizes about beverage commercials, including Sunkist, Coke, and Perrier. But in the book, Ralson writes, “Every thought is preceded and followed by a thought about a beverage of some kind — drinks that my memory produces in vivid projection when I close my eyes, floating in a spot two feet in front of me and about six inches above eye level.” Of all the various libations he dreams about — daiquiri, margarita, malted milk shake, grapefruit ice — the only ones he names by brand are Slurpee, 7-Up and “a cold bottle of Budweiser.” (He mentions Budweiser later in the book and the brand appears in a dream sequence in the film.)

A number of other brands appear in the film that were never mentioned in the book, including Canon, Coors, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Wendy’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Dunkin’, Starbucks. And it’s notable that, of these, Pepsi and Mountain Dew are found in Ralson’s fridge early in the film alongside the Gatorade (not mentioned in the book), all products of PepsiCo.

Meanwhile, there are two brands that make enormous appearances in the film, yet are never mentioned in the book.

The first is Capital One. In a scene where Ralson takes inventory of his backpack, he’s seen to slide out, fullscreen, a Capital One bank card. Not only is Capital One never noted in the book, but also Ralson’s written account of the inventory never mentions any kind of card at all.

Second, and more prominent and surprising, is the film’s sequences involving a Victorinox Swiss Army knife. Ralson (Franco) even lectures directly to the audience (via his video diary) and warns about buying a cheap multi-tool, punctuated by flashbacks to the high quality Swiss Army knife he left at home.

Not once in Ralson’s book is the term “Swiss Army” (or, for that matter, “Swiss”) to be found.

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On February 22, Brandchannel will announce its annual Brandcameo Product Placement Awards covering all the films not nominated for an Academy Award. We’d love to get your thoughts on product placement in the films you watched last year — please participate in the reader survey portion of the awards.

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