Last month I purchased a 4 Disc limited edition Back to the Future box set ; primarily to introduce my younger brother to the joys of the trilogy that thrilled me in the mid nineties; and also selfishly to jog my marketing brain and get ahead with my thesis. It is easily one of the most explicit films in terms of product placement that I have ever watched. Nike, Mattel, Tabasco, Pepsi, Texaco, AT&T logos run amok. Personally I found the trilogy an ode to one of my favorite authors Jules Verne. According to the bonus features disc apparently there was some editorial control of the product placement, relying upon only specific brands and logos to make the film more realistic. Zemeckis commented that “….In terms of creating the image of the past, one of the ways you create the past is through brand names. We made a conscious effort to find products that had a different logo……” e.g Producers choosing Texaco and Pepsi over Shell and Coke respectively as the former two having had the same logos in 1955 as in 1985 ; when the second movie was set.
Namedropping of Nike and video-games and Michael Jackson dance moves and songs are a constant in each of the three movies, although they are set in three different eras. This year it celebrates 25 years since the first movie. Probably its sheer scale and lavish special effects required serious funding; but I am certain Zemeckis and Spielberg probably never meant it to be so blatant.. Today when a movie like Robin Hood with a rumoured budget of 230 million dollars is to be made, with its visual effects and million-dollar paychecks, and with no scope of product placement, it is such a huge gamble. But thankfully for the studio Robin Hood took in a cool 74 million overseas; the releasing weekend itself.It is set to make more in the coming weeks and through a lifetime of Blu-ray and DVD sales. How do so many mega-budget movies(Date Night, Clash of the Titans, Iron Man 2, Alice in Wonderland,How to Train your Dragon are still running in cinemas) succeed, all at the same time? With an average ticket in the UK selling for 8 pounds, are we really that rich a country to bear(happily) the entire “weight’ of all these films? Or are we plain bored and hence entertainment hungry?
And with both leads Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett in their 40s and both Australian actors, does it mean that ageism and not being an American doesn’t matter in Hollywood anymore. It is quite a unique film in that sense. With another mega-movie Prince of Persia with no product placement set to release, is product placement becoming an archaic marketing tool? You can argue that they are historical epics or fantasy flicks. But how do the producers still make movies with such gargantuan( always wanted to use that word) budgets? At such a time! What are their safety nets?
New Line Cinema and Sarah Jessica Parker-produced Sex and the City 2 also out in a few weeks is really big on product placement and openly admits it. Has Carrie already recouped her budget and more? At least for me, till I finish my thesis, then Hollywood has come to exist in two separate worlds- the one with and the one without.