UK TV viewers are currently being treated to the sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger being blackmailed by two nattily-dressed Eastern European meerkats. Tied in with the release of Terminator: Genisys, this is an advert for car and home insurance – now the T-800 has popped up in some odd places, but lending itself to a company that helps you when your water pipes burst? That’s a whole new level of terror. As the star reaches pensionable age, so the endorsements get more staid and sensible.
What with Sylvester Stallone flogging sliced bread and Jean-Claude Van Damme karate’ing his way round his own ice palace for a popular beer brand, it seems Eighties action stars are really starting to build those nest eggs. It isn’t a great surprise to see these commercially-minded butt-breakers sign up for the big bucks – after all Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Bruce Willis made a hefty mint out of the Planet Hollywood restaurant franchise. Yet when the likes of George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and even Al Pacino start appearing in your home hawking various products and services it opens a different chapter on the history of movie stars mingling with the Mad Men.
Bill Murray mildly spoofed stars who absconded to foreign territories to peddle rubbish in Lost In Translation. However these days the business of plastering your face onto a money-making exercize is viewed with less embarrassment, to the extent that Sean Penn weighed in to criticize his fellow actors for being quite so quick to open their wallets. Mind you, he’s a fine one to talk, as our list is about to demonstrate!
Here we take a moolah-strewn peek at the complex relationship between the film industry and advertising. Along the way we uncover some alarming examples of Hollywood shunting brand names front of camera, in creative or often just blatant fashion. This is the art of extracting cash from unsuspecting punters, and where better to start than our first choice, a man who earns a crust from being covert? Well, as covert as a handsome man in a tuxedo doing major stunts in capital cities can be…
JAMES BOND (1962 – present)
The 007 franchise has been a bandwagon of luxury brand names for decades. From the Aston Martin he drives, to the Walther PPK he shoots people with, right through to the tipple he enjoys after a hard shift beating up bad guys and bedding beauties (Martini, shaken not stirred) this agent has a licence to print money as well as kill.
Today’s Bond is no different, with watch manufacturers, fashion houses and even purveyors of fragrances courting Daniel Craig‘s attention. Be it deploying one of Q’s gadgets, checking the time to see whether the bar is open or tearing up the streets of an exotic location, there’s a queue of corporations as long as Richard “Jaws” Kiel‘s arm waiting to put their stamp all over the latest adventure.
There are too many examples of product placement in the Bond movies to catalogue here, but my favourite was Pierce Brosnan‘s Nineties superspy driving a remote control BMW off a roof in Tomorrow Never Dies… landing it perfectly in the window of a Hertz rental shop!
CARRY ON UP THE JUNGLE (1970)
The Carry Ons epitomized the idea of a long-running film series way before the blockbuster entries of Hollywood. Featuring liberal helpings of irreverence and outright sauce, their approach was also characterized by the product placement on offer. It’s perhaps appropriate that iconic star Sid James became the arch exponent of this.
Known to be partial to a drop of Scotch whiskey, he took his interest to new extremes for studio-bound tropical romp Carry On Up The Jungle. In an infamous sequence he opened a cabinet, where an obscene amount of Johnny Walker Red Label was seen inside!
Ranking as one of the booziest movie scenes since Richard Harris and Richard Burton sat down for a chat and a vat of spirits in The Wild Geese, the unexpected and, more importantly, distilled addition to the shoot ensured both the actor’s representatives and his thirst were satisfied.
BLADE RUNNER (1982)
Director Ridley Scott‘s visionary sci-fi epic impressed audiences in many respects, bringing them a neon-soaked urban landscape the likes of which they’d never seen before. One of the factors which rang true was the generous helping of brand names lit large amongst the giant geisha faces and the pollution.
Everyone recognized Coca-Cola, but the film also highlighted other logos that reflected the Eighties as much as a futuristic vibe. Atari and Pan-Am were two of the major entities on the list that either changed and vanished into the smog in ensuing years.
Interestingly, there is a “curse” associated with the machine-hunting masterpiece. A noticeable number of companies who got displayed prominently wound up going the way of the replicants! I wonder who’ll be queueing up to have their wares splashed all over the upcoming sequel like a robot’s brains…?
Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis‘s lucrative comedy spawned a lot of merchandise, and these two savvy humour-mongers may have had their gameplan worked out to perfection – the ectoplasmic quartet were branded with a distinctive logo, Ray Parker Jr.‘s catchphrase-heavy title track became the anthem for a generation and the “ugly little spud” Slimer was a toymaker’s dream come true.
Yet the writers also cannily included everyday products in their concept, some of which must base part of their revenue on the basis of ‘Buster involvement. American sweet treat the Twinkie got a name check in a legendary piece of dialogue from Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz. And then there was the small matter of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
A massive dude made of marshmallows dressed in a sailor outfit may have been fairly low on the list of global threats up to that point, but you can be sure the citizens of New York found him pretty damned horrifying after he tried to wreck the city in a fondant-fuelled rampage! How the incident affected Stay Puft’s profits has yet to be revealed.
When you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, in a dustbowl hotter than Ricky Martin’s jockstrap, you’re going to get thirsty, right? That was exactly the type of hard-boiled nightmare experienced by Sean Penn in Oliver Stone‘s vicious thriller U Turn.
While Penn’s character Bobby found numerous distractions in the remote community of Superior, most notably Jennifer Lopez‘s femme fatale Grace, it was the prominent appearance of a lower level brand name that gave viewers the impression they were suddenly watching the world’s harshest soft drinks commercial.
Usually a vending machine in an American movie is full of the all-powerful elixir that is Coke. However, when Bobby really needed to drench his parched throat after a battering Stone opted for the lesser-known Dr Pepper as the town’s speediest source of refreshment. Penn may well look back on this scene and shudder, bearing in mind he took A-Listers to task recently for their flagrant ties to advertising!
As long as the film business earns money, the big beasts of commerce will always be looking to make a deal. But it’s an interdependent thing between art and acquisition, that shows no sign of either party wanting to kick the other out of bed.
This feature appeared on The Hollywood News