The Most Egregious Product Placements in Movie & TV History
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
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
This 1982 summer blockbuster blazed the modern-day trail for product placement, effectively putting Hershey's Reese's Pieces on the map. It was on-screen love at first sight between the film's namesake character and the little round candies – and movie-goers ate it up. Director Steven Spielberg actually courted the brand in exchange for promotion of his film, though his first choice was Mars' M&Ms, who turned down the offer. Despite the misstep, M&Ms were somehow able to soldier on – and movies would never be product placement-free again.
This Saturday Night Live skit turned-big screen hit offered a spot-on, before-its-time parody of product placements way back in '92. Just a decade after E.T., it was already commonplace for brands like Pizza Hut, Doritos and Reebok to be littered throughout movies. But these long-haired rockers refused to sell out by bowing down to corporate sponsors. . . or did they? Party on, dudes.
It doesn't get more egregious than this: Adam Sandler eating a Subway sandwich, dressed in a Subway T-shirt, portraying a Subway spokesperson. It's unclear whether the chain paid to be a part of this 1996 sports comedy. But either way, Subway walked away a winner.
You’ve Got Mail
Remember when AOL was the Google of its day? Those who do recall how exciting it was to hear "you've got mail!" chirping from your computer when you logged on. Yes, AOL's copyrighted catchphrase was so pervasive in 1998 that acclaimed writer Nora Ephron and stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan barely batted an eye at making this now-dated rom-com about two people falling for each other via email. While no money directly changed hands, AOL is said to have helped shape the film, which was peppered with brand references.
FedEx initially recoiled at the thought of one of its planes being the catalyst for Tom Hanks' character getting stranded on a deserted island, where he tears into customers' packages in search of makeshift survival tools. But the company quickly came around, with part of the 2000 film being shot on location at FedEx headquarters. The other memorable product placement was Hanks' lone companion on the island, Wilson – a personified volleyball from Wilson Sporting Goods. We still miss ya, buddy.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.