Article – Films, an Exercise in Selling you Stuff.

TL;DR – While films are here to entertain, they also have an increased chance of selling you all sorts of things

CAT in Skyfall. Image Credit: MGM.


Today one of the biggest films in recent memory Avengers: Endgame has launched and with it comes reviews, calls for no spoilers, marketing and PR, but also a similar trend we see with every major movie release recently and that is comments about product placement. This is something that is not new for the movie universe, indeed it was being lampooned all the way back in 1992 in Wayne’s World. However, it does feel like it is becoming more of an issue these days, or at the very least it is more in your face.

So why is this important? Well, for many reasons, the first being that companies are using films to pepper you with ads when your subconscious has lowered its usual defences that it uses to ignore advertisements. Sometimes these are very obvious like when on Chuck they would stop to explain the Subway sandwich they are having, or on Cougar Town when they would stop to explain the Subway sandwich they are having, or on Community when they … okay look Subway does this a lot. Fun fact, when writing this article I double checked I was right about the Subway integration and lo and behold before the YouTube videos of the shows was a new ad for Subway. While this is all a bit silly, it is also important because advertisers pay a lot of money to do it. PQ Media found a 14% increase in spending on product placement in 2017 alone.

Product Placement in Wayne's World. Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Product Placement is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

It is not just businesses trying to sell you something, the US Department of Defence has an entire office devoted to Hollywood. Now a lot of this is quite benign, like giving access to military locations, and expertise for filming. However, this all comes at a cost, up to and including script control. You could see how the military having script control over films/TV portraying the military could be a huge conflict of interest, especially when this is created with an attempt to frame the military in the best possible light. Indeed in the past when this has worked especially well there has been a direct correlation with increased applications as David Robb explores in Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies. As Sally-Ann Totman details in How Hollywood Projects Foreign Policy, these have included films like Independence Day, Top Gun, and Air Force One.

Well, we have explored that it is happening, that companies are spending a lot of money on it, and that they feel it is very important, as shown by the US Militaries involvement. However, how does this actually pan out in the cinemas? For that, we need a case study, and in an attempt to avoid spoilers we will use Skyfall from 2012. This is because it is a film that is big enough that people clearly used product placement in it, as well as that, it is recent enough to be a good case study, while not being so new as exploring it might involve spoilers. It is also a great example, because as one of the James Bond films, it is positioned as a film all about the cool, and because the cinematography comes from Roger Deakins, you know it is going to look its best.  

In this analysis, we will explore Skyfall’s cold open, which is everything that happens in the 13 minutes before the opening titles appear. We will be breaking down the appearance of branding in the film into four levels. 1) Unmissable Branding: This is incorporating the brands into dialogue, 2) Prominent Branding: This is when the logo or product is displayed prominently and incorporated into the film, 3) Clear Branding: This when a Logo is clearly displayed on screen for the consumer to see, and 4) Passive Branding: This is when the consumer might not see a clear logo or label, but the product is in full display.

Train fight in Skyfall. Image Credit: MGM.
“VW Beatles … I think.” Image Credit: MGM.

Unmissable Branding: In the first thirteen minutes of Skyfall, there are two very clear cases of Unmissable Branding. This first comes two and a half minutes into the film when Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) turns to Bond (Daniel Craig) to let him know that “He’s in the Black Audi”, the ‘he’ is the person they are chasing. This is clearly a case of product placement because, there are no other black cars around, so there is no need to specify the brand, as well as this, the car is right in front of them, making the delineation of the brand even more out of place in the film. The second case comes eight minutes into the film where Moneypenny explains to Q (Judi Dench) that the crashing sound that she heard was “VW Beatles … I think”, they were. This once again feels out of place, because that response giving the clear name of the brand in no way helps explain what is actually happening to her superior, but at least in this case, it fits the tone of the film a little better as this series is known for quippy one-liners.

Prominent Branding: In the first thirteen minutes we once again have two straight forward examples of Prominent Branding. The first is for Land Rover, the vehicle that Moneypenny and Bond use to chase down the suspect. Here the brand is not spoken on screen, but the logo is visible on multiple occasions, and as well as this, as the car is being featured in a car chase, with the sequence is used to demonstrate the abilities of the car and by association the brand. The second case comes at the climax of the sequence when the car, then motorcycle chase ends up on a mixed freight/passenger train. Here as part of the sequence, Bond climes into a CAT branded excavator and demonstrates how it works and its apparent resilience under gunfire.

Clear Branding: As well as clear insertions into the film, there were also at least fourteen cases where a logo or brand was clearly displayed. The first three being of course from the production/distribution companies being MGM and Columbia/Sony Pictures. From here we also get multiple shots of the VAIO logo on the back of the MI6 computer monitors. VAIO was at the time Sony’s main laptop/PC brand, the same Sony that was the distributor of the film, a textbook case of Vertical Integration. From here we have the car chase where we see a number of logos, some more prominent than others, however, there are still clear logos or products demonstrated form Hyundai, VW, Iveco, Renault, Ford, and Honda. Indeed, Honda even did a behind the scenes featurette on how their motorcycles were used in the sequence. As well as this, we see logos for Heineken beer (which would have an ever larger prominence later in the film), Belstaff clothing, and TCDD the Turkish State Railway. Finally, while the logo is not clearly shown, the film goes out of its way to zoom in and focus on his Omega Seamaster watch.

Passive Branding: Finally we have Passive Branding, those items that don’t show any logos but are clearly integrated into the film with the attention of showing them off. The first and one of the most iconic features of James Bond is his suit which in this scene is a black and white pick-and-pick suit from Tom Ford. The next iconic part of the Bond look which is on display here is the firearms in which we see three clear examples of in the first sequence with a Walther PPK, a Glock 18, and an Olympic Arms K23B Tactical. We also have prominently displayed on M’s desk and interacted with through the sequence a JBL On Tour XTB speaker with a Sony ECM-Z60 microphone, another case of Vertical Integration. Finally, another part of the Bond film’s iconic look is also on display in this section and that is Turkey, specifically Istanbul. Location are just as much brands as anything else and a film like this can do wonders for tourism. There is a very successful use of imagery to invoke a sense of longing to visit as we pan out across the Istanbul skyline to the Bazaars and the Minarets in the distance, as I said Roger Deakins knows his stuff.

Train fight in Skyfall. Image Credit: MGM.
We are just going to linger here on this watch for just a little bit longer than we need to. Image Credit: MGM.

In summary, in the first thirteen minutes of the film, the viewer is subjected to 2 Unmissable Branding moments, 2 instances of Prominent Branding, 14 examples of Clear Branding, and at least 7 examples of Passive Branding. So what does this all mean, well as a consumer it is getting harder and harder to see if something is just window dressing, or if we are being advertised too when we are not realising it. Branding now encompasses ever part of the film from in-your-face mentions all the way to subtitle manipulations, and that is before we get into the more serious questions of government agencies acting in similar ways. Because if more than anything else films are really, really, really good at selling you stuff. This is especially true of films that gross over a billion dollars at the box office and picked up two Academy Awards (I mean it should have been three, but somehow they went with Life of Pi).                      

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

What blatant product placement have you seen in Movies?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.

Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Skyfall & Wayne’s World


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