One-eyed Willy’s rich stuff: brands as movie heroes
I have just spent an entire day on a plane. I can’t sleep on flights, even after heavy sedation. So I watched seven films, back to back. Most of the new ones were truly awful and I couldn’t finish them. So I watched an old favourite, The Goonies. I have probably watched this film more than 200 times since I was a kid. But this time, with work in the back of my mind, one thing stuck out – how much brands were the stars of the film.
There’s geeky fun to be had spotting brands in movies and the role they play. In The Goonies, the bond between Chunk and Sloth is formed while they share a bar of Baby Ruth. This scene manages to give the brand a sort of reverential glow – even though Chunk, the caricature of a fat American kid, had amused and repulsed the viewer with the ‘truffle shuffle’ just a few scenes earlier. I’m not sure that, if the film was made now, the marketers at Baby Ruth would be quite so comfortable with the associations with chubby children.
Domino’s Pizza and Pepsi are also featured in The Goonies. But they are not central to the story – they are extras, not heroes. By contrast the Jeep Cherokee in the opening scene not only helps the Fratellis make their getaway, it also enters an SUV race by accident, leaving the rest for dead. Click on this picture to watch the scene.
Below is a bunch of others that stand out for me. Brands that are simply plonked in films with no reason other than to be used as props don’t make the cut. So that rules out the product placement scene in Wayne’s World.
FedEx in Castaway doesn’t make it either because the film struck me as a 143-minute commercial for FedEx – even though the film is based on a FedEx plane that crashes into the sea. FedEx didn’t pay a cent towards production according to Wikipedia (which after watching it, they probably did not regret), although the company’s CEO did feature as himself.
Here are a few examples of brands that, over years of watching the same films obsessively many times over, have stuck in mind for helping to make the film great.
Bladerunner, Coca-Cola. The neon billboards that glow red in the gloom tell us that no matter how bleak the world may have become by 2021, Coke will still be around.
Regarding Henry, Ritz – the crackers and the hotel chain. The first thing Henry can think of after coming out of a coma is the word Ritz. His therapist thinks he means Ritz crackers – “Get this man some Ritz crackers!” – but as is later revealed, he means the Ritz Hotel. Both brands win. Tobasco is also a hero for getting Henry to talk.
True Romance, Chesterfield cigarettes. Dennis Hopper’s character in True Romance, having accepted that he is about to die a horrible death at the hands of the Sicilian mafia, finally accepts one last pleasure – a Chesterfield cigarette.
Sexy Beast, Spain. You could argue that any film set on location is a good or bad ad for that location. The Beach is a good ad for Thailand. Wolf Creek is, on balance, a bad ad for Australia. Particularly as it is based on a true story – you’ll see some beautiful scenery while backpacking in the outback, but the country folk you saw in Crocodile Dundee aren’t really all that friendly.
The thing with Sexy Beast is that Spain is not only central to the story: the warm, safe place the main character, Gal Dove, goes to escape his gangster past. Spain is also Gal’s good conscience. His bad conscience is, of course, dark, rainy old England, and it’s safe to say English tourism won’t have thanked Scottish screenplay writer Louis Mellis for the bit where Gal says:
“People say, “Don’t you miss it, Gal?” I say, “What? England? Nah, fuckin’ place. It’s a dump. Don’t make me laugh. Grey, grimy, sooty. What a shithole. What a toilet. Every cunt with a long face, shufflin’ about, moanin’ or worried. No thanks, not for me.” Can’t find that clip, but here’s the trailer.
The Straight Story, John Deere. If you’re going to drive a lawn mover across America, then it’d better be made by John Deere – one of the more practical lessons to be learned from the first David Lynch film that wasn’t incomprehensibly weird.
Pulp Fiction, McDonald’s. One of the best movie dialogues of the 1990s, possibly ever, is punctuated with the dead-pan snub, “I dunno, I didn’t go into Burger King.”
This is Spinal Tap, Marshall Amps. The Marshall logo gets 7 seconds of screen love and Nigel Tufnel does the rest. ”If we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?”
And of course there’s also a plug (sorry) of sorts for Dolby Stereo, where lead singer David’s interfering girlfriend gets the brand’s name painfully wrong. “You don’t, you don’t do heavy metal in Dobly, you know, I mean…it’s,” she says. The more than a little sexist (not sexy) implication that here is a woman who doesn’t get music, still seems to work in the brand’s favour.
BWM ECD Rob Belgiovane made some noise about putting more of his clients in films having seen the Morgan Spurlock film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, in August. With the likes of A Few Best Men, Storm Surfers 3D and and Drift among the Australian made films to be released this year, it will be interesting to see which brands – if any – help the director tell their story.