Hype is starting to build already around what is likely to be one of next year’s biggest summer blockbusters, The Transformers. The movie will be a live action film based on the popular cartoon series.

One of the interesting rumours I’ve heard about the movie is that an Xbox 360, an iPod and a plasma TV will feature as characters. This would set a new precedent in product placement as the closest to in-your-face advertising we’ve seen is the likes of the iPod being featured in the last Blade movie – one of the main characters would create playlists on her PowerBook and plug in the famous white earphones before slaying vampires. I would have cringed except the movie was so bad that the placement didn’t seem out of place.

If the rumours are true, it would be interesting to gauge audience feedback because this would be the most blatant example of product placement in a movie due to the fact that brands would feature as characters.

Product placement is great because it helps position products in the minds of consumers. It can be hit and miss though. Recent product placement initiatives such as getting contestants on The Apprentice to devise a marketing campaign for a new Crest product worked well because it fit into the natural flow of the program.

However there is an increasing number of incidents where television shows almost pause to linger on products. For example, I was watching the first series of Ultimate Fighter, another reality TV show, when the show almost stopped to watch a contestant put on deodorant and then focussed in on the brand name. As a consumer this annoys me because it impedes on my viewing pleasure.

If the product placement rumours in the Transformers movie are to be believed, I rate its chances of success as 50:50. Watching James Bond pull stunts in an Aston Martin is cool and makes the car aspirational because the brand suits the character and there isn’t a heavy emphasis on the car insignia.

I’m not sure if I want to be cheering on an iPod or an Xbox 360 in the movie though. It’s one thing to see characters using these products in movies because they are everyday life products. It’s altogether different for the products to suddenly become the heroes in the movie.

Watch out Optimus Prime, iPodimus Kicksomeassbot is here to steal some of your action. What next, the Big Mac to win best actor at next year’s Oscars? Hey, stranger things have happened! Titanic won Best Picture after all.

Here’s teaser clip for next year’s movie for anyone who is interested.

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4 Responses to “The ultimate in product placement – the Transformers movie?”  

  1. 1 Stephen Davies

    If it is true but the film turns out to be a flop then it could do more harm than good to the brands in question. We could be saying: “Remember that terrible film with the iPod and Xbox 360 etc etc”

    I doubt it will (be a flop) but it’s still a risk.

  2. 2 Adam

    Firstly, heavy product placement in Transformers would not surprise me; Michael Bay’s last heap of garbage (The Island) was head to toe in placements; The subjects played virtual video games smothered in Xbox logos, the two characters wore Puma runners (close up!), tried to contact people at a phone booth sporting MSN Search, Scarlet Johansen’s real-life version was… get this… doing Calvin Kline ads (just like the real Johansen??!), they used iMacs, iPods passed by Reebok posters and drank Aquafine (a US drink made by Pepsi, I think)… had the film stood any chance of being good that was it gone.

    Secondly, I would die laughing if this rumour became true; if I recall Transformers correctly the autobots ‘normal’ form would be some kind of vehicle… a car, truck, plane or something?? So what, these guys fight the Decepticons, go back to base and tell MSBOT to become a 360 because they want to chill out with some frag action?!!! Jesus…

    I think this will fail, or at least be panned… you may as well make a film about an iPod or 360 that has magical powers, it really is dumb.

    I’m all for realistic adverts; like the Bond and Apprentice examples you presented, and I know Ofcom in the UK are looking into relaxing their rules on product placement on TV too (which, if done right would make sense, rather than people going into the Queen Vic and asking for a beer they would ask for actual brands and make it more normal), but US standards are idiotic… I saw the UFC/Sure for Men thing you spoke about too…

    Finally, what I don’t get is the greed in this whole thing. Transformers is a marketers wet dream; the film is about giant robots that fight an intergallactic battle and can transform into regular cars, and what’s great about it is that they can actually make the toys do it too… surely this is going to be one of the most product-laden movie releases since the LOTR or even Star Wars? Is that not enough?

  3. 3 adam

    Yes, but if it wasn’t for The Island, awful as it was, how many of us would have the Wallypower 118 to drool about for the rest of our lives…?

  4. 4 Rick Korbeck

    This is one of my favorite non-issues.

    Walk down a city street, one you are used to walking along. Now take special care to LOOK for product brand names and logos. If you don’t see any, then one of two things is happening … either (1) some movie company with lawyers (themselves rabid about placements) has taken over the place temporarily to film a scene or two, or (2) Scientologist aliens from the Clear Dimension of the Golden Hubbard have taken over the planet, substituting those baby-blue labels (with the contents named in a practically generic Times-Roman font) for the names, labels and artwork we are used to seeing.

    But, if you DO see a visual cacophony of brand names, logos and labels (with an accompaniment of jingles of the sort that reassure you that the future glimpsed in ‘Demolition Man” is really a window on Hell) … well, then you can be assured that all is normal, if not right with the world.

    Face it, our competitively capitalistic society is just one long and never-ending series of product placements. To change that aspect of our daily lives would be to court mass suicides by ad-men, from Fleet Street to Madison Avenue. Although that could create a massive, yet temporary, need for bulldozers, payloaders, dump trucks and other heavy equipment with which to clean the streets of the remains of those who succeeded. Capitalists unite!

    Massive intrusions by product presences and their advertisers are simply taken as a integral part of our everyday lives. What makes them stand out so vibrantly in the movies is the abnormal atmosphere created by suppressing ALL advertising displays, jingles, billboards, logos, print ads … even the labels on soda cans and bottles of ketchup! Why? Because those who are busy hawking their various wares worry that we might somehow think that the brands on the garbage we see shoveled into a “Mr. Fusion” are the ones we NEED to buy.

    Or that a chihuahua should influence our choices for fast food.

    Or that the sight of a “Terminator” striding past a Pepsi machine is supposed to make sure that we pick up a “cube” or two on the way home.

    Or that the sight of a “Mountain Dew”-labeled drink machine, brought to life and attacking whoever’s close, will be a positive sales inducement. Come to think of it, the TV commercial of another Transformer posing as a toaster and changing into an evil-looking robot, haranguing the occupant of the house … somehow that doesn’t influence me to “Do The Dew”.

    It also fails to turn me away.

    Advertising has pretty much only the power which we give to it. Flashing our crucifixes at the spectre of “product placements” just brings them (the products) more into the spotlight than they might ever have accomplished on their own. We end up handing over the Holy Quail of the industry … FREE advertising.

    NOT what you intended? No? Well then, here, IMHO, is a simpler strategy. Take the reins off where placements are concerned … allow the studios to make their films look like the Las Vegas Strip (or Fremont Street in the same city), or downtown Tokyo, or Times Square, or any other of hundreds of places where greed and glitz have run over even the CONCEPT of good taste.
    For awhile, that might have results similar to buying a tagger a couple of dozen boxes of spray paint (in both black and various day-glo flourescent shades) and pointing him toward the city, saying, “Son, behold your canvas!” But soon, it will find it’s “natural” level … and then, YOUR work begins!

    Go to the movies, but keep something handy for notes. Then, when you get home after the show, take every product that you remember from that onslaught to your senses, and write one of two letters.

    The first letter is for those companies whose placements were tasteful and unobtrusive, and let them know that you are seeing them in a more positive light than before. And even if the product is one you might not use, let them know that you’d be happy to pass a good word along to your friends.

    The OTHER letter is to the manufacturer of a product that was placed with all of the subtlety and taste of someone driving a railroad spike through your eye sockets. Inform them that you cannot support a company which condones and even encourages such assaults on our senses, and explaining that you would be happy to reconsider if the ever change their tactics.

    THEN, take action in keeping with your stand. Buy the products from companies which take your wishes into account, and boycott the ones which don’t.

    Finally, each time you buy a product whose company has received one of your letters, send them another letter, so that they KNOW how their advertising has affected their sales, whether positively or adversely.

    The bottom line … is that the bottom line has a powerful voice. It is about time that the buying public uses that voice intelligently, removing the place of “product placement” from every venue but that of a footnote in the history books.

    Thanks for your time … NOW, make it a worthwhile expenditure and discover your “voice”!!!

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Piaras Kelly
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