Copyright 2001

[ June 30th 2001 ]

Product placement has become big business with major motion picture studios continually enrolling the help of corporations eager to associate their products with blockbuster movies in the hope of magnifying their sales revenue. The Guardian looks at this $1b a year industry by focusing primarily on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

Product placement is an industry worth $1bn annually, the corporate plug as inevitable a part of any mainstream movie as the happy ending. However, a subtle shift is occurring in the nature of their deployment. Tomb Raider, quite aside from raising the bar by being, essentially, one gigantic advertisement for the video game of the same name, places its products in what might be described as a postmodern manner, accompanying each plug with an implicit or explicit smirk. It is as if the film's producers are hoping that if they acknowledge their sponsors in a sufficiently wry fashion, they will pre-empt the audience's recognition that they are being subjected to a fairly crass series of commercials. In Tomb Raider, Ericsson's big moment comes when Lara Croft's phone won't work because it is wet, Sony's logo is most prominent when the laptop crashes, and the cars generally get one loving, slightly over-long shot each before being spectacularly pulverized.

Whatever the effect it may have on the movies we watch, product placement is not going to go away - it works. BMW paid $3m to get James Bond to drive their Z3 convertible in GoldenEye, and took $240m in advance sales. Sales of Ray-Ban sunglasses were dramatically filliped by Men In Black, as they had previously been by Risky Business. Red Stripe's sales jumped 53% after Tom Cruise drank the beer in The Firm. Toy Story put the manufacturers of Slinky stair-climbing toys back in business. Indeed, with a billion dollars' worth of economic clout annually, what is far more likely is that the phenomenon will spread to other media. The day will surely come when, if a character on television is wearing a jacket that appeals to us, we need only click on it with our remote control mouse to have our credit card charged and the goods delivered to our door. And there is little doubt that an ever-wider array of auteurs will be willing to spangle their work with brand names in the hope of a free sample or a few bob up front.

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