Saturday’s Six: Epic Product Placement

1. E.T.

Between dressing in drag, getting underage kids drunk, ruining a perfectly good Speak & Spell and pretending to be Jesus, E.T. was best-known for his fetishistic fixation on fattening Reese’s Pieces candies.  I guess his planet doesn’t have snack food corporations, but man, the little dude was addicted to them.  I bet the government didn’t even need to kidnap him — they could’ve hired him on indefinitely by promising him a lifetime supply of sugar.  In any case, this will go down as not only one of the most famous examples of product placement in movies, but the single stupidest thing the Mars company ever did (when they denied the use of M&Ms in the film).

2. The Wizard

While not a particularly good road trip kids movie, The Wizard became instantly famous as a two-hour commercial for Nintendo.  The film existed in a universe that never heard of Sega and where everyone was addicted to the NES (come to think of it, that’s pretty much our universe in 1989).  Long before the movie got to the huge video game competition — this was back before smack-talking Halo jocks would’ve made this an R-rated extravaganza — The Wizard stunned us all with a demonstration of one of the most over-hyped NES attachments: the Power Glove.  And yes, it really is bad, and we really do love it.

3. Return of the Killer Tomatoes

While even George Clooney’s presence in this late-80’s cult flick never helped it hit big, Return of the Killer Tomatoes didn’t skimp on the funny — and that included sharp jabs at the overuse of product placement in movies.  In a meta twist, the movie runs out of funds part of the way through, and the cast — sitting around dejected — decides to shill whatever they can to finish the rest.  That paved the way for spontaneous and not-too-subtle products being thrown our way every 30 seconds or so, right up to the final chase scene.

4. Demolition Man

If you’re going to throw in some glaring product placement, then you might as well crow about how your product is superior to all the others, right?  Well, in Demolition Man, Sylvester Stallone discovers that the only fast food restaurant left is Taco Bell, which won the so-called “Franchise Wars” in the future (in other countries, the Taco Bell mention got replaced with Pizza Hut instead).  That’s all well and good for Taco Bell’s profile, but wouldn’t people get a little sick of non-stop Tex-Mex with no alternatives?  As a footnote to this mention, Taco Bell liked the futuristic logo so much that it prompted them to change from their old logo to the modified pink-and-purple version we see today.

5. Josie and the Pussycats

I’ve asked Kyle to fill in on this one: “This is an interesting situation, as the film takes product placement to a bizarrely overstuffed extreme as a comment on the increasingly corporate nature of music and of the consumerism-soaked progression of modern pop culture. However, since audiences weren’t too inclined to do a heavy unpacking of subtext and symbolism while watching a film called Josie & the Pussycats, this film’s epic product placement has to be deemed a failure. And yet . . . I am a big believer that this is one of those overlooked gems waiting to be rediscovered by an appreciative audience. But barring that, it exists as an excellent example of how insidious the infiltration of advertising into modern culture can be. Especially when it comes to the younger generations: seeing how corrupting the so-called ‘selling of cool’ can be to the development of social sensibilities, let alone any kind of personality worth interacting with, just kind of makes you sad.”

6. Wayne’s World

One of humor’s virtues is to point and laugh at something we take for granted without thinking too much about.  Such as, say, product placement in movies.  Thankfully, Wayne’s World took time out of its busy plot to throw in a two-minute segment about how selling out is bad, all while pitching real-life products to the audience (with outdated slogans).  Like Josie and Killer Tomatoes, it was oh-so-cleverly meta, making us laugh at how movies like this sell us products while they sold us the products under the guise of mocking the selling of the products while the characters were asked to sell out just like movies sell out by mentioning products.


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