The next James Bond film will reportedly receive $45 million, a third of its overall budget, from high-end on-screen product placement.
The sum is more than double the previous record for a single film (Steven Spielberg raked in $20 million for brazenly running ads for Guinness and the Gap in Minority Report’s “near future”), and threatens to lethally reduce 007’s latest adventure to little more than a big screen companion to the Sharper Image catalogue.
The Hollywood practice of funding films with advertising dollars is not only accepted, it now borders on a fiscal imperative for big budget flicks. Product placement appears in roughly 68 percent of Hollywood films today, according to several reports. The majority of these movies feature multiple products and, on average, each product is represented on screen in one way or another at least eight times.
Given the slow death of the 30-second commercial spot, ad agencies are happy to pony up huge sums, cognizant of the tweaked adage: You never get a second chance to make a million impressions.
Of course, evaluating whether product placement is classy or obscene is akin to identifying pornography; you know it when you see it. My general rule is that if the appearance of a soda can or an automobile’s insignia pulls me out of the story and leaves me clinging to narrative threads like Indiana Jones swinging from an old rope bridge, there’s a problem.
Talladega Nights, a movie branded from green flag to checkered flag, worked because the tongue-in-cheek tie-ins provided a sly swipe at the NASCAR culture it parodies. Carrie Bradshaw constantly pecking at her Apple computer is reasonable; she doesn’t seem like a Dell girl.
But when product placement clumsily works its way into dialogue – I’m thinking of Daniel Craig’s 007 informing a likely conquest that he’s wearing an Omega, not a Rolex, in Casino Royale – I’m ticked.
Television shows used to tout their sponsors openly. Viewers knew they were being pitched because the presenters made it explicit. Even Alfred Hitchcock sardonically prepped his small screen audiences, “And now a word from our sponsors.”
Product placement functions in the opposite manner: Filmmakers hope viewers won’t notice, while brands are banking on them remembering when purchasing their next meal, laptop or timepiece.
In POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock takes the old-school approach to the extreme in order to explore the increasingly complex world of product placement in movies. The documentary tracks Spurlock’s quest to underwrite the very movie we watch unspool, with fascinating and hilarious results.
I sat down with Morgan on my show, The High Bar, where we discussed his self-reflexive new film and the implications of increased product placement on screen, in our schools and even in our dreams.