The Most Egregious Product Placements in Movie & TV History - Rolling Stone
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The Most Egregious Product Placements in Movie & TV History

10 obvious attempts at brand integration, from ‘E.T.’ to ‘The Internship’

Phil Bray/Twentieth Century Fox

Product placement in Hollywood dates back to the silent film era. But it wasn't until E.T. craved those colorful little candies that brand marketing really took off. Now, 31 years later, it's so pervasive we hardly even notice it – a Pepsi can here, an iPhone there. We use both in real life, so why shouldn't they appear on the big screen? Then came The Internship, the movie about two over-the-hill Google interns (Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson), which raises the question: How much is too much? Here, a look at ten of the most in-your-face placements in recent history.

By Katy Kroll

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Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

White Castle didn't pay to be part of this 2004 movie, in which two stoners experience a string of comical misadventures while searching for a fast food burger joint. But it was quite a coup for the relatively small, mostly regional chain, which maintains 420 restaurants compared to 32,000 for McDonald's. (The also-niche Krispy Kreme was reportedly approached first, but turned down the offer.) Since then, the White Castle franchise has grown to include a frozen line of its popular square mini-burgers sold in stores nationwide. Now all stoners have to worry about is getting to the kitchen.

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If product placement really annoys you, this 2007 movie (and the entire Michael Bay-directed franchise) will seem like one long car ad. See, those nice folks at GM "donated" a million dollars' worth of vehicles to the production of the film, changing the beloved 1980s version of Bumblebee from a Volkswagen Beetle to a Chevrolet Camaro. The GM-owned Pontiac, GMC and Hummer namesakes also recieved ample roles. At the time, a GM exec went as far as calling the cars the "heroes" and real "stars" of the blockbuster summer flick. More than meets the eye, indeed.

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File under: Worst. TV show. Ever. OK, maybe not ever, but pretty damn close. Based on the popular Geico insurance ads that began in 2004, this short-lived ABC series – created by the same person who wrote the commercials – caught a lot of flak before being canceled midway through its first season in 2007. While not necessarily associated with the company, Geico received a royalty payment for use of their trademarked character.

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"Believe it or not, Twinkies have an expiration date." Perhaps Woody Harrelson's badass zombie-killing character was an eerie oracle sent to warn us about the future – a post-apocalyptic future in which we'd all be searching for the elusive last box of Twinkies on Earth. (The real horror: Parent company Hostess went bankrupt in late 2012.) Depending on your sense of humor, a case could be made for the 2009 zom-com having the funniest integrated marketing in years. Fun fact: The "spongy, yellow log of cream" that Harrelson finally gets his hands on is actually a raw, vegan replica of the tasty treat.

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The Internship

Summer 2013 welcomed the latest entry into the Most Egregious Hall of Fame, as Google basically got its own movie. In it, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play 40-something interns at the Internet behemoth. While Google didn't fund the film, the company did allow it to be shot on its campus and helped build an exact replica of its headquarters. Real employees were used as extras, and executives worked closely with director Shawn Levy to ensure all details were accurate. In the end, everything from Google search to Google goods (like futuristic glasses) are prominently featured. Key words: free advertising.

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