The emotional strings evoked in the film's title may not be attached. But there are certainly a lot of products attached to No Strings Attached. Booze. Cars. And of course, Apple. Bushels of Apple.
No Strings Attached is filled with products — nearly 30 by our count. It shouldn't come as a surprise.
Kutcher, as much a producer as an actor these days, is a product placement machine and very comfortable with the practice.
He's leveraged his own Twitter account to turn his Nikon spokesmanship into a 360-degree endorsement deal. The animated web series he produced, Blah Girls, locked up sponsorship from Vitaminwater. He produced product placement TV series heavyweights True Beauty and Beauty and the Geek, the latter of which made Nielsen Product Placement Service's top ten for total number of placement occurrences in 2007 (with 1,718).
And when he took a liking to, and an ownership stake in, the snack Popchips, the brand began showing up a lot on his Twitter.
Many of the brands we tracked in No Strings are background placements (USA Today, Under Armor), while others are worked into the dialogue (Pamprin, Patron, 7Up). Others, however, are featured and central to the plot. We'll start where the film does, and address the University of Michigan.
No Strings Attached used the tried and true strategy of reinforcing existing stereotypes about universities as shorthand for character development. When we first meet Ashton Kutcher's character, he's getting bombed at a frat party with all his fellow University of Michigan students. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman's character merely says, "I go to MIT."
To establish the jock meets geek plot, Kutcher is shown as a state university party animal and not that bright. (Notably, in real life, Kutcher attended Michigan Big Ten rival University of Iowa.) Portman, in contrast, is a super-serious, super-smart (albeit super-cute) hardworking student.
Later in No Strings, a third character says that he "rowed at Harvard" as a way of establishing his superiority. Harvard is a (lazy) favorite of screenwriters for shorthand character development, from Sex and the City (Miranda, the brainy one, went there) to Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor) to M*A*S*H (highfalutin stick in the mud Major Charles Winchester was a Harvard grad).
No Strings Attached uses its car product placements exactly the same way. The film features Audi, Dodge, Toyota, Mercedes and BMW, and they all perform a character-building function, except one.
Kutcher's rich, self-absorbed former actor father naturally drives a bright red Mercedes coupe. Portman, a clinically-emotionless, unable to feel, medical resident is perfectly matched with a new, no-nonsense silver 2011 Audi Q5.
The pretentious, calculating medical resident who tries to steal the girl drives a Toyota Prius. Of course, this character turns out to be gay. As has become standard for Hollywood, no Prius can appear in a fim without a punchline. No Strings Attached's quip: "The thing about f**king in a Prius is that you don't have to feel guilty afterward."
Kutcher's character, a quirky, hopeless romantic, drives what's quickly becoming the quirky, hopeless romantic's car of choice: A 1986 BMW. His character has a lot in common with another recent BMW driver, "Tom" from 2009's 500 Days of Summer. Like Kutcher's character, Tom is underemployed and wasting his talents. Like Tom, Kutcher's No Strings character is attracted to a woman who does not believe in relationships or true love. (Notably, the quirky hunk of 2010's Golden Globe-winning The Kids are Alright rode an old BMW motorcycle.)
Why is the late 1980's BMW a perfect fit of this character? For starters, prep is in, and there's nothing more preppy than a late 1980s BMW 325 or 320. This model conveys classic styling onto its driver. Its advanced age says the character appreciates the classics. It's the Vampire Weekend of automobiles.
The one automobile brand that doesn't make any sense, and was clearly shoehorned into No Strings: a convertible Dodge Challenger, which seems completely mismatched with the film's fast-talking Los Angeles bro-dude sidekick character. But it's another huge placement for Chrysler, which is bum rushing Hollywood at the moment.
Like last year's Valentine's Day, No Strings Attached takes place in Los Angeles and makes a point to include some local brands to establish its City of Angels cred. Both feature a shot of the unmistakeable, Frank Gehry- designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. Where Valentine's Day used LA's The BLVD hotel, No Strings Attached uses The W.
Valentine's Day used The Hollywood Forever Cemetery for a romantic scene; No Strings sets its romance amongst a line-up of so-hot-right-now, L.A. food trucks, including the Calbi Korean BBQ truck. Finally, just as Ashton Kutcher's Siena Bouquet & Cafe flower show was a fictional L.A. entity for Valentine's Day, so is Natalie Portman's Westwood Teaching Hospital in No Strings.
One other local Los Angeles brand that makes the film is Paramount. No Strings Attached, as you might guess, is a Paramount Studios production.
What is there to say about the iPod references, and the iPhones and the Macbooks, littered throughout No Strings? Every three minutes one character is texting (a booty call) to the other on the iPhone.
Finally, what goes better with youthful promiscuity than booze? Apparently, nothing. No Strings Attached features Budweiser, Patron, Tuborg, and Stolichnaya. But one other beer brand stands out.
The early scenes of No Strings play like a straight-up ad for Stella Artois. Kutcher guzzles bottle after bottle. Now we can see why the film's producers were so embarrassed they needed to blur the brand in its trailers.
Stella Artois is a change for Kutcher, who is most commonly seen on screen with a Budweiser. A few examples from What Happens in Vegas, A Lot Like Love, and My Boss's Daughter:
Beer product placement and two friends testing their relationship by having sex is such a good pairing we will see it again in a Mila Kunis-Justin Timberlake film coming out later this year. But their version is called Friends With Benefits; their beer, Shiner Bock.
For a complete list of the brands and products in No Strings Attached, visit our Brandcameo product placement movie tracker.