Oscar-winning product placement (from BrandChannel)

Unable to keep my eyes open until 4am on Monday morning, I watched this year’s Oscars in highlight format the following day online, so unfortunately missed out on the network advertising that filled the commercial gaps. I would have been expecting big things though, as according to that endless source of brand information brandchannel.com, brands paid around the $1m-per-slot mark to gain a slice of the limelight. Not quite Super Bowl figures, but still a considerable investment.

While BrandChannel offers a great summary of these (and most importantly which ones were worth the spend), I always have a greater interest in those brands that gained from their presence in the movies themselves – outside of the commercial breaks and embeded within the film production process. Fortunately, BrandChannel covers these as well.

It’s always quite amusing to survey friends and colleagues on their recollection of product placement on screen – the latter especially given that they work within marketing and are arguably more watchful of brand presence within entertainment platforms. BrandChannel’s Brand Cameo database is the most exhaustive resource I have found of brand presence in movies of the last decade. As part of this, the clever folks have taken the brands present in this year’s Oscar contenders for Best Picture and plotted them on a matrix, plotting memorable versus instantly forgettable, against those that provided significant profit versus those that did not.

Hopefully, they won’t mind me reproducing it in full here:

(c) BrandChannel.com 2010

It should be noted that Günther’s in District 9 and RDA that featured in Cameron’s epic Avatar were actually fictional brands. Now that is an interesting area in itself. Having written previously on how events, rights-holders and entertainment platforms are increasingly feeling the need to get a ‘brand stamp of approval’ on their project (even if they have to make one up), I am further convinced that we all now require a brand presence within our entertainment to validate its grounding in reality.

Though in the case of both District 9 and Avatar, paradoxically the branding was exercised to validate their grounding in un-reality.  I guess given their sci-fi nature, it seems to make more sense to create a fictional unknown brand, thereby emphasizing the futuristic setting. But nonetheless, Günther’s and RDA still fall firmly on the ‘memorable’ side of scale – despite their non-existence in our reality. Was this a missed opportunity for ‘real’ brands? Would South African-born Nando’s or thoroughly American N.A.S.A. have offered anything more? Would the producers have allowed it? Would the brand managers have wanted to association? And would the brand messages have been more – or less – memorable as a result?

I would love to know what goes in to thinking up these fictional companies. Do production execs or screenwriters work in a name that states a subtle (or not-so-subtle) socio-political message to fit with the film’s thematic development? As one District 9 viewer pointed out in a fan forum, sometimes the conotations have more meaning than at first it might appear:

‘Why were the South Africans patrons of a restaurant named Günther’s? Günther is the name of a king of Burgundy and means “warrior” or “soldier.” In effect, the South African blacks had a white warrior to thank for their sustenance.’

Either which way, we are entering an era where commerciality of movies – on and off screen – may fast become the life-blood of the industry; if, in fact we are not there already. How many years before an esteemed member of the Hollywood glitterati stands before the Academy audience and announces, ‘And the Academy Award for Best Product Placement goes to….‘?

If this year’s Oscar-winning animated short film Logorama is anything to go by, it won’t be long. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of this little piece, the entire premise is the over-branded commercialisation of modern-day America on film. Watch the trailer here. Utter genius.

(c) Logorama 2010
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