Product Placement Watch: Getting a Hall Pass to Gnomeo & Juliet (and Unknown)


This week’s top film, Gnomeo and Juliet, marks nearly two years of children’s animated films making #1 at the US box office — and featuring virtually no products. From May 2009’s Up to this week’s new #1 movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, animated films have averaged just 2.8 products placements or brand mentions per film (compared to an average for all #1 films near 20 per film).

Meanwhile, this week’s second place film, Hall Pass, featured a way above-average 36 products and brand mentions.[more]

A product of gross-out comedy masters, the Farrelly Brothers (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber), it’s no surprise that much of the comedy in Hall Pass is, well, gross. 

But a considerable number of the jokes in Hall Pass are brand-based, and make the film a far more interesting product placement study than Gnomeo. So we’re giving you a Hall Pass to play hooky on Gnomeo.

From top- Viking ovens to Splenda to Harvard University to Dove, small jokes built on brand recognition infect Hall Pass. But then there are also big jokes. In this tale of buddies who get a “week off” from their relationships, Applebee’s is played off against Olive Garden as a place not to meet women but for old fuddyduddies — until one friend frustratedly says, “We need to go where the action is…. Chili’s.”

Then there are the cars. A running joke about how much one of the main characters loves his Honda Odyssey ends with a dig against the Chrysler Sebring. Continuing a trend we noted in our new Product Placement Awards, a Toyota Prius appearance comes replete with a “We’re going green!” punchline.

The Farrelly brothers are from Rhode Island, and New England infects their films, from Me, Myself and Irene to Fever Pitch. This local spirit might explain the abundance of product placement for the Rhode Island-based brewer Narragansett Beer Co. Throughout Hall Pass, characters main and secondary take slugs from bottles of Narragansett, the distinct red and while label sticking out in scene after scene.

We spoke with Narragansett Beer Co. president Mark Hellendrung about the beer’s big role in the film. First, as Hellendrung pointed out, this is not Narragansett’s first starring role. The beer eas in Jaws as well as The Family Guy.

Hellendrung said Hall Pass is also not the first time Narragansett has appeared in a Farrelly movie, noting that the beer was also onscreen in their New England coming-of-age film Outside Providence. Asked if the placement might impact sales, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a little pop in sales from the movie, which will be a great opportunity for people to taste our award-winning brews.”

Maybe the most interesting revelation about Narragansett in the film is Hellendrung’s response about the beer’s involvement during production. While Narragansett did not pay to be in the film, the brand did have to coordinate “getting the ‘Gansett down to Georgia.”

See, while Hall Pass is set in Rhode Island, much of it was filmed in Atlanta. But in order the stay true to the location, the Farrellys flooded the screen with a local brand. This is just one example of how product placement can be used in a film to establish setting and characters.

Complementing what Hellendrung said about sending Rhode Island’s best-known brew to Georgia is a scene about midway through the film in which our antiheroes strike out to score with the ladies at Johnny’s Hideaway. The bar and dance hall is a legend of the nightlife scene… in Atlanta.

Johnny’s isn’t the only Atlanta institution grabbing lots of screen time in Hall Pass. Atlanta beverage brand Whynatte (a coffee and energy drink latte), scored a major scene early in the film when its cans are strewn across poker table. Star Owen Wilson even wears a Whynatte t-shirt.

One Atlanta-based beverage brand that gets top billing in Hall Pass? No surprise: Coca-Cola. The “real thing” appears throughout the film. One of its boldly branded delivery trucks even ends up conveniently parked outside a hospital emergency room entry at 4 am.

Now, back to this week’s #1 movie, Gnomeo & Juliet. While the brand and product count on Gnomeo is only three, there is an additional brand that is implied through a sight gag.

In one scene a laptop appears on-screen with a growing fruit logo, a banana. It isn’t technically an Apple placement, but knowledge of the brand is required to get the joke.

Last week’s #1 movie, Unknown, slips to #3 this week — just as Mercedes-Benz releases a behind-the-scenes look at its product placement in the film, which is called Unknown Identity in Europe. The clip includes a ringing endorsement from star Liam Neeson, who says he drives a Benz and feels safe in one, especially a 4WD:

For more, visit our Brandcameo channel for all the brands in Gnomeo and Juliet and for the rest of our decade-long product placement database.