I’m going to assume that you’ve watched the latest, too-long instalment in the never-ending money-printing franchise called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, I’m talking about Avengers: Endgame. If you haven’t seen it — this article will contain a minor spoiler for the film, so proceed on your own risk. Still reading on? Good. Full disclosure: I watched it twice, even though it was 3 hours per shot and I didn’t exactly enjoy it. That’s probably told you everything you need to know about my life, as is what I’m going to tell you next — I loved the scene where Tony Stark zooms up to the Avengers building in an Audi. It’s not high cinema by any means. Although it’s played for laughs, it’s laboriously filmed. The focus is on the loud and brash car, not on either Tony or Captain America. Millions of people in the world have been forced to watch it. In other words, it’s an extremely effective ad.
Product Placement in Films
Product placement in the Marvel films is hardly new. Audi’s been in a few Marvel films now, and there was a period where they lost the sponsorship to Lexus. It’s hard to be that excited about a Lexus ad, even if Black Panther is involved:
Lexus went one step further, commissioning an 8-page comic called ‘Black Panther: Soul of a Machine’ that followed the film and had its car featured on the cover. Integration with the film was key to Lexus’ strategy for the LC500:
[T]he Marvel partnership was built into Lexus’ promotional strategy for the LC 500 from the ground up as the initial discussions about it took place the year before it went on sale.
The Black Panther production team was shown the only prototype in the United States at the time and MaryJane Kroll, media manager at Lexus marketing, says that Coogler climbed onto its roof to mimic the iconic pose that the hero takes during the car chase. It convinced Lexus that the car would be a crucial sidekick and Kroll explained to Forbes that it is all part of a plan to drive interest with a relevant audience.
Association with a franchise as big as a Marvel film can do wonders for the image of a product. In 2007, a Wall Street Journal article mentioned the consumer perception of a Lexus car as “kind of expensive, always respectable — and a little boring.” Many years later, it still lags behind German brands in sales. Now that the car’s been front and centre before millions of eyeballs, having a central role in a film that’s one of the most successful Marvel films of all time, it’s managed to shed some of its past perception.
Further, via Autoblog:
Packaged Facts’ research revealed that product placement in movies and television shows resonates with African-American consumers. For example, black consumers are more likely to remember the brand name product characters use in a movie and try products they have never tried before that they have seen in a movie. Seeing a product used in a movie is also more likely to reassure black consumers that the product is a good one. Furthermore, when African-American consumers are online or in a store and see a brand name product they recognize from a movie, they are more likely to buy it than its competitor.
In the end it proved to be a shrewd strategy for Lexus. AutoNews.com reveals that there was “an explosion” of ad impressions across TV, social media, and in theater due to the film and the product tie-in. Further, in the week following Black Panther’s domestic premiere on February 16, online searches for Lexus at shopping site Autotrader were up 15% from the previous week. Likewise, Autotrader revealed that online traffic for the LC 500 specifically was up 10%.
Product placement works — even if it’s gratuitous. Just check out Lexus’ latest dip into the product placement game: MiB International:
You can’t talk brand placement in films without bringing up one of the most product-placement-heavy film franchises of them all: James Bond.
Product placement is ubiquitous in James Bond films, and lucrative too. Via the BBC:
There are a few moments in the Bond films which even the most forgiving 007 fans can’t recall without wincing. There’s Pierce Brosnan’s hang-gliding off a glacier in Die Another Day. There’s Roger Moore’s Tarzan impression in Octopussy. And, up there with the worst of them, there’s the Casino Royale scene in which Eva Green asks Daniel Craig if his watch is a Rolex. “Omega,” he replies. “Beautiful,” purrs Green. “Eurgghh,” groans everyone in the cinema.
Daniel Craig said as much when he was making Skyfall in 2012. “The simple fact is that, without [product placement], we couldn’t do it,” he commented. “It’s unfortunate but that’s how it is.” And yet Skyfall went onto rake in $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office, against a budget of under $200 million. Surely such a staggeringly lucrative film shouldn’t have to advertise beer and watches to make ends meet.
How much money these brands are paying is rarely confirmed, but astronomical sums are bandied about: $45 million has been cited in relation to Bond’s swig of Heineken in Skyfall. The brewery, you might think, is going to have to sell a lot of beers to recoup that outlay.
$45 million? Ouch. Given how popular the James Bond films are — disclosure: I’ve watched most of them, and all of the recent ones — surely they don’t have to resort to the many brand partners listed on their official website to pay their actors. As an advertiser marketing towards a particular audience though, the money might be well-spent. You know that James’ watch is an Omega, even though it’s a Rolex in the books. You look at an Aston Martin and think about secret panels and hidden missiles. You look at a martini and think “shaken, not stirred”, even though that’s the wrong way to drink a martini. Product placements in films like this can often work better than traditional ads because the audience is already predisposed to admire and like the character pushing the product. I can relate. I tried to buy the coat that James wore at the end of Skyfall myself, but couldn’t. It had already sold out within hours.
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