Welcome to the annual Brandcameo Product Placement Awards. For more than a decade, brandchannel‘s Brandcameo feature has tracked product placement and brand appearances in every film that achieved No. 1 in Hollywood at the domestic (US) box office.
Each year on the eve of the Oscars we honor the good, the bad, the ugly and the most product placements in the year’s films. Without further ado, here are the winners and losers for the past year in cinematic product placement, brand integration and scene-stealing branding. The envelope, please…
Overall Product Placement: Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz returns to the top spot for the first time since 2013. The German automaker appeared in nine of 2015’s 31 top films (28%), ranging from short cameos to scene-stealers.
Much was made of 50 Shades of Grey’s Audi deal but the film’s heroine Anastasia Steele drove a Mercedes-Benz CLK. Aston Martin and Land Rover had official promos with Spectre but when the baddies showed up in the desert to collect Bond, they did so in a fleet of Mercedes AMGs. Djimon Hounsou and his goon squad in Furious 7 proved that it’s not just Bond baddies who prefer black Benzes. Curiously enough, a Mercedes was also the ride of choice for the bumbling villain in the spy satire Spy.
Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz’s naming rights for the New Orleans Superdome paid off in Focus. Much of the early action in this Will Smith thriller takes place in New Orleans during a fictional Miami-Chicago Super Bowl game, with Mercedes-Benz’s actual branded dome visible in many scenes.
But Mercedes’ year in product placement begins and ends with Jurassic World. Celebrating 20 years with the franchise since it first appeared in 1995’s The Lost World, Mercedes’ Jurassic tie-in, both onscreen and off, was tyrannical.
Perennial contender and last year’s winner, Apple appeared in seven (23%) of the No. 1 films. That is off considerably from the brand’s appearance rate of 34.4% in all top films for the decade 2001 to 2011. (Apple appeared in numerous other 2015 films that did not dominate the box office including Daddy’s Home, Sisters, Our Brand is Crisis, The Last Witch Hunter and The Intern.)
Next up, tied with Apple, was Sony, appearing in Chappie, San Andreas and War Room. To many moviegoers’ disappointment, it was also all over the animated Hotel Transylvania 2 (a Sony production, natch).
Achievement in Product Placement in a Single Film: Furious
Furious 7 speeds away with the award this year with 48 identifiable brands and products. Yet, it’s ironic that in a movie filled with automobile product placements, the most memorable cameo was for a brand of beer.
The billion-dollar Fast and Furious franchise has become attached to its rituals and that’s true of its product placement as well. It’s a familiarity that wraps audiences in a big blanket of comfortable entertainment. And two of Fast and Furious’ most important rituals are Dodge muscle cars and Corona beer—both of which put in strong appearances in Furious 7. The Corona vs. Belgian craft beer scene is classic, unapologetic Fast and Furious.
Just behind Furious 7 with 41 brand cameos: Focus, a film about the world of auto racing, where every car and course turn is plastered with sponsors. Indeed, to this day, the record-holder for most brands spotted in a single film (102) is Driven, the 2001 Sylvester Stallone film about F1 racing.
The next closest of 2015’s top films were: Jurassic World (35). San Andreas (27), Straight Outta Compton (26), Spy (24), Taken 3 (23), American Sniper (23) and Pitch Perfect 2 (21). Despite the fuss, Spectre featured fewer than 20 recognizable brands onscreen.
Previous winners include Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Iron Man, Ted, Pain and Gain and Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Achievement in Shameless Product Placement: Mark Wahlberg
Last year had its share of questionable product placement. Examples include Vivo in The Martian, the aforementioned Sony in Hotel Transylvania 2, McDonald’s in Kingsman: The Secret Service and Chuck E Cheese’s sideshow in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. But this year the award goes not to a single product but to an individual who is singlehandedly pushing product placement and brand integration to a new level.
In the scene in the Entourage movie in which Wahlberg (playing himself) and his “entourage” show up, Wahlberg (and his bus) are prominently covered in gear from the brands Marked and Aqua Hydrate. Marked is a line of body building supplements Wahlberg launched in conjunction with his role as a body builder in Pain and Gain. Aqua Hydrate is a bottled water brand in which Wahlberg is an investor. (Learning from the master in Entourage was star Adrian Grenier, whose co-owned beer company Churchkey also appears in the movie.)
Meanwhile, one of Wahlberg’s other 2015 films, Daddy’s Home, includes an extended subplot starring the Indian motorcycle brand. In promotions for the film, Wahlberg made a point to mention that “Indian plays a really crucial part in the movie.” No surprise, Wahlberg is a spokesman for the brand; Indian even sells a “Mark Wahlberg Collection” of apparel. Wahlberg also wears an Indian t-shirt in promos for 2015’s Ted 2 and you may remember Wahlberg’s Indian motorcycles hat from 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction.
It’s worth noting that both Wahlberg’s Entourage and Ted 2 were product placement orgies, with 66 onscreen brands and products in each film.
Previous winners include The Amazing Spider-Man (Bing), Green Lantern (Hot Wheels), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (IWC), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Papa John’s) and Transformers: Age of Extinction (Beats).
Product Placement Achievement in an Oscar-Nominated Film: The Martian
There is no contest this year for which Oscar nominee deserves recognition for product placement. It’s not often that best picture nominees are also product placement powerhouses. Offscreen, brands like Under Armour and Hamilton watches had extensive marketing tie-ins with Matt Damon’s lost-in-space saga.
But the most notable was Vivo, whose tablets popped up throughout the film. A Vivo smartphone also gets a cameo in the hands of NASA’s PR Director Annie Montrose (Kristien Wiig), an unlikely pairing considering Vivo is a Chinese brand.
But then The Martian includes a subplot involving China’s space program and the film was a box office winner in China. While few in the US noticed the placements—in fact, many confused the devices with Microsoft Sufaces—Vivo ran a campaign in Asia promoting its appearance in the film.
Previous winners include Argo (KFC), The Help (Crisco), The Fighter (Budweiser), Philomena (Guinness) and The Theory of Everything (Tide).
Product Placement Achievement in a Foreign Film: Piku
One of the best-reviewed Bollywood movies of 2015 was also stuffed with brands and offscreen marketing campaigns. Piku‘s product placements included PriyagoldSnakker chocolate bars, Himalayan Water and the Jaypee Greens golf resort. The heartwarming road trip movie also boasted an official brand “safety partner”—CEAT SUV Tyres—while the stars of Piku appeared in companion ads for CEAT.
Previous winners in this category include I Know a Woman’s Heart (我知女人心), Due West: Our Sexual Journey (一路向西), Dhoom 3 and 2 States.
2015 Award for Best Role as a Supporting Product Placement: Baskin-Robbins and Ant-Man
The hair on the back of your neck probably stood up when Black Widow dropped down on that Harley-Davidson Livewire in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but “Baskin-Robbins always finds out” was probably the funniest scene from any film in the Marvel superhero universe. (Yes, even funnier than Ant-Man’s Thomas the Train scene.)
Fun fact, Ant-Man’s Baskin-Robbins gig was scripted for Chipotle, but Chipotle balked at the depiction. A good thing, as it seems Chipotle doesn’t always find out.
Previous winners include Paranormal Activity (Xbox), Zookeeper (TGI Friday’s), The Other Guys (Toyota Prius), The Internship (Google) and Nightcrawler (Dodge).
Best Offscreen Supporting Product: Barbasol and Jurassic World
Offscreen product tie-ins have become as sought after as onscreen placements, with marketing partnerships helping promote a movie release in advance of its debut. And there was no shortage of contenders in 2015, including Avengers 2 (Harley-Davidson), The Martian (Under Armour), Taken 3 (LinkedIn), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Fiat Chrysler), Terminator: Genisys (Harley again), Tomorrowland (Chevy Volt), Spectre (Sony) and Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation (BMW).
But the most memorable offscreen movie tie-in marketing was 22 years in the making. Coinciding with the release of Jurassic World, shaving cream classic Barbasol launched a campaign that reminded everyone of its unforgettable role in the original Jurassic Park. Not even Mercedes’ return to the franchise was as much fun.
Previous winners include Anchorman 2 (Dodge Durango) and Godzilla (Snickers).
Product Placement Impact: Caffé Bene and Secret Garden (시크릿 가든)
This recognizes a product placement with outstanding ROI.
Korean dramas are product placement powerhouses. And the drama Secret Garden, which sets many scenes in Korea’s Caffé Bene locations, is credited with driving explosive growth for the franchise in China, where Korean dramas are hugely popular. In just a year, on the power of highlighting its connection to Korean celebrity, Caffé Bene has seen profits grow in China by 54%.
Product placement is in the business model DNA of Caffé Bene. In 2009, a year after its founding, Caffé Bene made a deal with Korean entertainment producer iHQ to give the agency 3% of all the coffee chain’s profits in return for iHQ using its cafes as locations in its productions. Thanks to the deal, Caffé Bene became the largest coffeehouse in South Korea in less than a decade.
Previous winners include The Macallan (Skyfall), Mane n’ Tail (POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), the American Museum of Natural History (Night at the Museum), Norway’s tourist board (Frozen), LEGO brand (The Lego Movie) and Savoir beds (Gone Girl).
Lifetime Achievement Award for Product Placement: Pepsi
One, Two, Three—Billy Wilder ‘s 1961 Cold War slapstick—stars James Cagney as a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin trying to crack open the Iron Curtain. The final image of the film, a big punchline, features Cagney’s nonplussed Coke exec stuck holding a bottle of Pepsi. Legend has it that the scene was made possible after Joan Crawford, widow of PepsiCo Chairman Alfred Steele, made a personal call to Wilder to use her late husband’s brand, where she also served on the board of directors.
The next 50 years would see Pepsi in numerous roles, both big and small. Just a few movies that include Pepsi: Twilight, Moneyball, Domino, Final Destination, Step Brothers, 127 Hours, Just Married, Fight Club, Get Me to the Greek, Garfield, The A-Team, Internal Affairs, EDtv, Gone in 60 Seconds, Just Go With It, Never Back Down, Spies Like Us, The Replacement Killers, Tron, Salt, The Spice Girls Movie, Swing Vote, Ted 2, Steve Jobs, Dodgeball, Take Me Home Tonight, Basic Instinct, The Ugly Truth, Top 5, Election, American Gangster, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Snakes on a Plane, The Blindside, Twilight, Universal Soldier, Twister, The Thomas Crowne Affair, World War Z and Home Alone. In Big, Tom Hank’s man-child installs a Pepsi machine in his apartment. The memorable animated opening credit sequence for Grease features a Pepsi billboard.
In between those films was Enemy Mine, in which a stranded space traveler discovers a gourd-like Pepsi can (above) from the future. (In the original novel, it was a Coca-Cola can.)
Characters in movies from The Odd Couple to *batteries not included to World War Z have quaffed a Pepsi. And who could forget that dancing Pepsi can in The Golden Child?
Pepsi appeared in five No. 1 films in 2015: Tomorrowland, San Andreas, Ant-Man, Jurassic World and The Perfect Guy. In a showdown of terminators in last year’s Terminator: Genisys, a Pepsi Max vending machine takes a beating. It’s an homage to the Pepsi vending machine appearance in the showdown scene from 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Finally, Pepsi achieved, in our opinion, the best product placement of 2015 with its role as foil to Joe Manganiello’s unforgettable “Cheetos and water” gas station stripper routine in Magic Mike XXL.
Pepsi is also the star of two of the most memorable meta product placements of all time, scenes in which a film breaks the fourth wall to directly address the audience about being a product placement. The better known of these is in Wayne’s World. But four years earlier, a then unknown George Clooney used Pepsi to pull the exact same gag in Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
Former winners include Budweiser, Apple, Gatorade, Everlast, USA Today, Glock, Under Armor and Triumph.
Product Placement Adaptation: American Sniper and Copenhagen
“These days, Copenhagen is my brand of choice.” wrote the late Chris Kyle in his 2012 bestseller “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” Kyle wrote further about how during training, he was caught chewing and forced to ingest the tobacco while doing push-ups: “Every time I came down from a push-up, I had to take a big bite of Copenhagen and swallow it.”
A lot of brands appear in the 2015 film version that did not appear in Kyle’s book, but Copenhagen is one brand that made the journey from page to projector.
Previous winners include Silver Linings Playbook (Raisin Bran), Warm Bodies (BMW) and Wild (REI; Snapple).
Product Placement Impossibility: San Andreas and Ray’s Outdoors
A period-incorrect Blockbuster logo in Donnie Darko. A not-yet released Sony Vaio in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Joy Mangano’s TOMS Navigator 201 sunglasses in Joy. Welcome to a new category in this year Brandcameo Awards, for achievement in impossible product placements.
One of the most reality-bending placements of all time came in 2015’s San Andreas. Midway through the film, our California earthquake-dodging hero happens upon Ray’s Outdoors, an Australian superstore with no locations outside Australia. Ray’s Outdoors even built a promotion around the role for its Aussie customers and says it did the placement because it “knew that our customers would do a double-take seeing us on-screen.” No doubt, mate.
The Forrest Gump Award for Achievement in Reverse Product Placement: Pepsi Perfect from Back to the Future 2
The popularity of the film Forrest Gump brought a fictional brand to real life: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant chain. This award recognizes a film’s achievement in creating a product for market (defictionalization) instead of marketing an existing product.
Nods to Tom Ford for letting you dress like Bond and to Toyota for bringing to life Marty McFly’s dream truck. But it was Pepsi’s celebration of Back to the Future Day (Oct. 21, 2015) that wins this award and it took 26 years for the crew at Davie Brown Entertainment to make Pepsi Perfect a reality.
“The time was right,” says Tom Meyer, President of Davie Brown, reflecting on making the limited-edition Pepsi Perfect bottles a reality. Indeed, it was the same Davie Brown—now part of Omnicom-owned The Marketing Arm—that successfully placed the futuristic Pepsi Perfect in the 1989 film.
Previous winners include Twilight: Eclipse (Bella engagement ring), Ted (Ted The Foul-Mouthed Teddy Bear), Anchorman 2 (Ridged Ghost condoms) and Chef (El Jefe).
Coca-Cola Kid Award for Title Product Placement: Kidnapping Mr. Heineken
The 1985 film The Coca-Cola Kid celebrated one man’s struggle with a Coca-Cola franchise. This award celebrates achievement not only in a branded film title but also in fully incorporating the title brand product in the plot. The 2015 crime-thriller Kidnapping Mr. Heineken retells the true story of the 1983 abduction of the Alfred “Freddy” Heineken, the grandson of the beer giant’s founder.
Previous winners include Ferrari Ki Sawaari, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, The Devil Wears Prada, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Lincoln lawyer, 午夜微博 (Wǔyè wēibó) “Midnight Weibo” and Yves Saint Laurent.
Wayne’s World Award for Product Placement Product Placement: Jurassic World
Wayne’s World openly skewered product placement. This award recognizes achievements in winking at the whole exercise.
It takes brontosaurus-size cajones to make quips about the “Verizon Wireless Presents The Indominus Rex” and a “Pepsi-saurus” seconds before and after delivering a screenful of product placement, including for Coca-Cola and Samsung. Bravo, Jurassic World.
Former winners include That’s My Boy (Ford Mustang), Jack and Jill (Al Pacino’s Dunkin’ Donuts “Dunk Acino”), The Joneses (everything), Anchorman 2 (Jockey) and 22 Jump Street.
Award for Unwanted Product Placement: The Program and Nike (and USPS and Crédit Lyonnais and every other brand associated with Lance Armstrong)
Nobody came out of The Big Short looking good and Verizon could not have enjoyed the Jurassic World dig. But The Program biopic about US cyclist Lance Armstrong and one of the greatest falls in sports history did not attract a lot of attention and all the real-life Armstrong sponsors are very thankful for that.
Previous winners include Budweiser (Flight), Gap (Crazy, Sexy, Love), BP (Anchorman 2) and Pangu Plaza (Transformers: Age of Extinction).
2015 Cleo McDowell “My Buns Have No Seeds” Award: Gaspaway and Fedsexx
The 1988 film Coming to America featured a plot point pitting McDonald’s Golden Arches and Big Mac against McDowell’s Golden Arcs and Big Mick. This award recognizes achievement in almost real brands in film.
Technology empires were at the heart of very different 2015 films in Ex Machina (Bluebook) and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (and its “Lougle” search engine). And don’t forget Freaks of Nature’s vampire dating site, Vharmony.
But this year’s award goes to Gaspaway (SFW), the X-rated spoof of Castaway with its fictional global delivery brand Fedsexx.
Previous winners include SouthJet (Flight), Frienderz (The Roommate), Vericom (The Town), ViewThisTube and Zwoogle (Movie 43) and Ken Conference (Dumb and Dumber To).
2015 Award for Product Placement Production: Jumbo Wild and Patagonia
This award recognizes a film that would not have been made without a brand partnership.
The Canadian documentary Jumbo Wild, about the fight to save British Columbia’s wondrous Jumbo Valley in the face of increasing development, might not have happened without financing from US outdoor apparel brand Patagonia.
Previous winners include Looper and Smurfs 2.
2015 Awards for Original Short: SilencerCo and Maxim Vice; Panerai and The Watch & the War (tie)
No other category of the Product Placement Awards has seen such an increase in competition in recent years as this category for branded shorts, with incredible short films from Prada (The Postman Dreams series) and Buscemi (Foil). Some of these branded shorts are bringing the star power, too, like Johnny Walker (Jude Law) and Macau Studio City (Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese). But this year, two very different short films for two very differently-positioned brands were compelling, creative, memorable—and most importantly, on-brand.
First is SilencerCo’s intentionally campy Miami Vice send-up, Maxim Vice. The short successfully highlights the features of the brand’s new internally-suppressed Maxim 9 handgun. Because it’s so fringe, many probably don’t think of the billion-dollar gun industry in terms of entertainment marketing but for the past year or so, SilencerCo has been putting together branded content on par with anything blue chip brands are making.
The century-and-a-half-old Panerai brand has had its share of roles in Hollywood productions (Self-less, Expendables and Entourage). But last year, it became the plot of The Watch & the War, a documentary about an American intelligence officer during WWII and the mystery behind his rare Panerai wristwatch. While a curious film, it also reinforces Panerai’s rich heritage brand position.
Previous winners include Kikkoman’s Make Haste Slowly, Sriracha! The Movie and Illy’s A Small Section of the World.
How We Do What We Do
A total of 31 films were No. 1 at the US box office in 2015. In those top films, 430 identifiable brands or products were spotted. This works out to an average of 13.9 product placements per film. Oddly enough, this average is identical (after rounding) to last year’s average of 13.9 per film. This continues a trend toward fewer total brands per film compared with a decade ago.
As always, it’s worth keeping in mind that this average may be offset by films set in time periods during which placements would be few or impossible such as 2015’s Cinderella, The Hobbit and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Furthermore, 10, or 28%, of all of 2015’s top films featured one product or less. These include The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, Inside Out, Minions and Home. Average identifiable products per film since 2001:
- 2015: 13.9 products per No. 1 film
- 2014: 13.9 PPF
- 2013: 7.5 PPF
- 2012: 10.9 PPF
- 2011: 17.8 PPF
- 2010: 17.9 PPF
- 2009: 17.5 PPF
- 2008: 19.6 PPF
- 2007: 20.7 PPF
- 2006: 21.5 PPF
- 2005: 22.1 PPF
- 2004: 13.4 PPF
- 2003: 18.1 PPF
- 2002: 17.8 PPF
- 2001: 22.2 PPF
And it bears noting that no two brand appearances in a film are equal. The prominent Corona placement in Furious 7, for instance, does not have the same impact as the passing Jameson logo in the background in American Sniper. Precise metrics for measuring a product placement and its impact continue to be a major challenge.
Take a look back at recent Brandcameo award-winners, ping our product placement guru Abe Sauer on Twitter and share your thoughts on this year’s winners in the comments below:
(At top, Steve Jobs and Trainwreck.)