Fun fact of the day: The first feature film to be produced entirely by corporate sponsorship was the 1949 Marx Brothers flop Love Happy. Sixty-some years later, in his documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock explores the use of product placement in film by—you guessed it—producing a film funded by corporate sponsors. Most films nowadays include product placement, some so subtly that you don’t even notice it. Other films make the product placement so obvious that it becomes laughable (think E.T.’s beloved Reese’s Pieces). With The Greatest Movie Ever Sold coming out on April 22nd, we here at MM think it’s a good time to take a look at the best films to skewer the idea of product placement.
Wayne’s World (1992)
directed by Penelope Spheeris
Funnymen Mike Myers and Dana Carvey mock product placement in their comedy about Wayne and Garth, two small-town slackers who hit it big after an ad man sees their late-night public access show. Wayne and Garth are offered corporate sponsorship by Noah Vanderhoff, owner of a local chain of video arcades. When Wayne is told that Mr. Vanderhoff will appear on the show to promote his company, Wayne refuses, saying “I will not bow to any sponsor” as he mugs for the camera with a Pizza Hut box, followed by a line about not selling out as he holds up a bag of Doritos. The camera then pans over to Garth, who seconds Wayne’s objections as he sits dressed head to toe in Reebok.
The Truman Show (1998)
directed by Peter Weir
Hidden cameras on the largest soundstage ever built have captured Truman Burbank’s every move without his knowledge, all for a popular reality TV show of which Truman (Jim Carrey) is the subject. In a rare interview, Christof (Ed Harris), the director of “The Truman Show,” explains that the show’s 24-hour commercial-free programming is funded by product placement, and everything seen on the show can be purchased through the Truman Catalog. Product placement for Kaiser Free Range Chicken pops up throughout the film, Truman’s “best friend” is always seen with a Pennypavers beer in hand, while Truman’s “wife” plays to the camera as she advertises dishwasher safe kitchen utensils and all natural Mococoa.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
directed by Adam McKay
Talladega Nights, which follows the rise and fall of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell), contains countless forms of product placement. NASCAR is, after all, well-known for its dependence on corporate sponsorships. Within the first 15 minutes alone Ricky Bobby, sponsored by Wonder Bread, stars in “commercials” for a variety of real and fake products like Big Red chewing gum and Asian prune candy. At a family dinner he thanks “Baby Jesus” for his feast of Dominos, KFC, Taco Bell and PowerAde, which he is contractually obligated to mention at each grace. And the product placement doesn’t stop there: Brand names like Ford, Old Spice, Perrier, Budweiser and Kodak, to name a few, can be found on the characters’ clothing and (not-so-subtly) in the background of most of the scenes.
The Joneses (2009)
directed by Derrick Borte
The Joneses is a clever commentary on consumerism that takes a look at a world where product placement occurs in everyday life. A group of actors are hired by an advertising company to pose as a family in an upper middle class suburb where they flaunt the latest must-have products in front of their neighbors; the higher the sales for their promoted products, the more perks they receive. However, the charade starts to fall apart when tensions erupt within the “family” as the characters witness the desperate lengths people go to in order to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Share your thoughts on product placement and the mocking thereof in the comments below.