The pitch meeting for “Transformers: Age of Extinction” must have been an easy one in the realm of studio politics. All you have to do is utter “Transformers” mixed with robot dinosaurs and there were probably dollar signs in the eyes of the studio suits. Along with this pitch, there was probably the utterance of new sports cars as the next selling meme. It probably included car industry executives who gave permission to use their cars in the movie if the producers allowed the Transformers to be robotic versions of these vehicles.
While we all know car placement in the “Transformers” movies have been common for a number of years, just how blatant is product placement becoming in movies? Does a “Transformers” movie actually help give a subliminal message to go out and buy a 2014 Chevrolet Corvette, or does it actually repel people from buying anything based on the blatancy of it all?
It used to be that product placement in movies was much more subtle than it has been over the last decade. In the best uses of product placement, we see a product being used to help drive a plot forward, particularly with technological products. Those cases are quite common in action movies nowadays without even mentioning the name of the product in the plot. Sometimes the brand name is visible, especially when it’s a device getting dozens of close-ups.
Product placement, though, has gone to surprising places and in ways that are more than obvious to astute observers. I’ll never forget a scene in the excellent movie “The Help” a few years ago that showed Octavia Spencer’s Minny Jackson strategically holding a can of Coke in her hand as an obvious advertisement for Coca-Cola. Mind you, it was an early 1960s version of Coke, though the brand was more than obvious. In such a prestigious film, you wouldn’t expect blatant product placement. It’s also hard to imagine people don’t notice it, even if it seems that producers think people won’t.
What’s the real psychology behind product placement now, and will there be more of an uproar over it with “Transformers” being so open on pushing the latest sports cars?
The Over-the-Top Americana of Michael Bay’s Movies
We shouldn’t expect anything less than complete blatancy in a Michael Bay movie. His style of moviemaking is almost straight out of the 1980s when everything was bombastic in the celebration of America’s freedoms. This included relentless action and every marketing opportunity to make the most money. It’s obvious the car industry has had a long-term relationship with the “Transformers” franchise. In “Age of Extinction”, Chevrolet gets a huge promotion in some of the Autobot characters, as well as the Hummer. Even if the cars aren’t named outright, Chevrolet no doubt wants individuals in the market for a car to consider their new Camaro or Corvette C7 Stingray.
The film also pitches slightly older cars from last year, including a Bugatti Veyron and a Lamborghini Aventador. Plus, they traditionally use a few vintage cars to appeal to the ever-popular classic car market. Considering the latter industry is just as big as the new sports car market, they may have also pushed a meme forward to create new interest in late 1960s Camaros.
Will the public call out this kind of blatant product placement we see so often in movies? Or will it wane there and end up going to cable where the new movie theater is?
Product Placements in Cable Series/Events
So far, we haven’t heard about product placement in all of the popular cable miniseries and shows bringing movie quality to TV. Other than “Mad Men” using products like Hersheys to help drive an emotional plot point home, it’s a matter of time before shows on HBO and other cable networks start being blatant in product placement to capture the huge audiences tuning in.
Considering some of the most popular shows aren’t set in reality (“Games of Thrones”), it’s going to be interesting to see how product placement goes there if it ever happens. Most of that would have to come in stylized fashion or perhaps food products. When there’s a will to advertise, there’s a way, even if certain products have to be tangentially referenced from the past or in a different fictional universe.