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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Product Placements in Transformers and Other Summer Movies: Overkill or Necessary Evil?

Sitting through the Dreamworks SKG/ Paramount Pictures “Transformers”, there was an ongoing theme other than cars turning into robots. As the film begins in the headquarters of the Department of Defense, you cannot help but notice that everyone in the room was using HP computers ( And when the computer analyst decides to steal secret data, there was a very tight shot on her slipping a mini-Panasonic SD memory card ( into her compact to take home with her. Who could miss the film’s hero – the yellow Chevy Camaro which turns into the autobot “Bumble Bee.” Ah yes, the summer blockbusters are in full swing and so are the product placements.

Of course, product placements are not new or groundbreaking. In fact, the history of television shows that many of the great television programs of yesteryear were “presented by” major consumer product manufacturers and often included LIVE commercials touting the sponsoring company’s products. So in essence, it seems consumer product companies and their advertising executives are bringing back the old to promote the new. And the reason for this shift? The fact is that we now have options! We do not have to sit through an ad any longer. So now advertisers are embedding their ads into our programming.

In June, NBC’S The Tonight Show ( aired its first live commercial in 20 or so years. Right before a commercial break, Jay Leno tossed to what most thought was a segment. It actually was toss to the show’s announcer, John Melendez, doing a LIVE commercial for Garmin GPS systems ( Complete with a set and actors, this was indeed a commercial and much harder to identify on a TIVO as a commercial. And that was the point. Live commercials embedded into our programming make it much harder to skip pass.

At the movies, it is also getting way harder to identify commercials. I saw “Transformers” at an AMC Theater. We arrived about 15 minutes before the previews. My ticket said “theater 9” but when I got there what seemed like a movie was playing. I said, “Oh this can’t be it, a movie is already playing.” I actually turned around to leave and then I noticed the lights were still on. I said – “this has to be it.” And indeed it was. What was playing on the screen was a long form commercial complete with a dramatic script and film quality. Unfortunately for the advertiser, I cannot tell you what the commercial was for because I spent most of the time it was playing trying to figure out if we were in the right place. But nevertheless, this is what advertisers are doing to engage consumers.

Is it overkill? Perhaps it was in Transformers. After a while, all I was doing was noticing one product placement after another. However, would a geeky teenager be inspired to buy a Camaro after seeing the film’s HUMAN hero win the girl in that car? Well that is what Chevy is hoping for. Let’s face it, you don’t see very many Camaro’s speeding down the highway, but with this type of hype, teenagers could be lining up at the dealerships around the country to snag their very own Chevy muscle car. Perhaps even teenagers in foreign countries would like to snag a Camaro. Increased interest from foreign consumers would be well-worth the price General Motors paid to have its vehicles in “Transformers”.

I just hope that the product placements industry doesn’t get too gung ho. As it is, I am noticing these placements more and more. If it starts seeming too contrived, they will not achieve the results that advertisers are hoping for in the long run.

Here are some of the product placements I noticed in the movie, “Transformers” and the way they were placed:

Apple iPod and Computer (visual – character transform[iPod])
Chevrolet Camaro (visual – main character)
Chevrolet Truck (visual)
Cisco VOIP phone system (visual)
Citicorp (visual)
Dance Dance Revolution (visual – indirect scripted mention)
Deloitte & Touche (visual)
Drakes Ring Dings (visual and scripted)
EBAY (scripted and visual)
Ernst & Young (visual)
Furby (visual)
Hawaiian Tourism (visual)
HP (visual)
KPMG (visual)
Microsoft – XBOX (visual – character transform)
Nokia (scripted and visual)
Panasonic (visual)
Pontiac Soltice (visual)
U.S. Air Force (visual)
U.S. Army (visual and scripted)

Did I miss any? Please add to the list.

Shakira Brown, PR and Branding Expert

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