With subscription-based services and online viewing at an all-time high, networks have had to get more and more creative with how they bring in revenue from advertisers. No one has the patience for commercials anymore, and so product placement in entertainment has become more prevalent than ever before. And when done correctly, visuals or mentions of brand names within a TV show or movie can improve — or at least, not ruin — the viewer’s experience.
There are many examples of obnoxious product placement in entertainment over the years. (That recent Adam Sandler compilation proves at least one big name has been capitalizing on it far too much, dating back to the ’90s.) You would think that over time, the industry would have become smarter about these things. While this is basically true, there are still times when ads are so obvious or so intrusive that the audience is completely taken out of the experience, or that are so misplaced that it’s hard to know what the writers were thinking.
Let’s take a look at the 15 Most Annoying Examples Of Product Placement In 2016, thus far.
15. Mercedes-Benz – American Horror Story: Roanoke
Because he is the ultimate troll, Ryan Murphy decided to make us speculate, wait, and speculate some more about the theme for the sixth season of American Horror Story. And because he feels the need to insert himself however possible into his projects, he actually appeared on screen personally to announce the season premiere last week. No, seriously — he went all Alfred Hitchcock on us, and told the audience that all will soon be revealed… while standing in front of a black Mercedes.
The promo itself feels kind of out of place at first, but once you realize that this season of AHS is going to have a documentary style, it makes some sense. And the car would seem completely out-of-place — if it wasn’t an actual announcement for a content run in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz. But seeing as this is the guy who has brought us the campiest, most meta shows to have ever existed, a sort-of product placement for an auto brand is pretty tame.
14. Marriott Hotels – Sully
Tom Hanks continues to show his love of biopics with this month’s Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood. Based on the 2009 event deemed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Clint Eastwood directed the (fairly disappointing) story of U.S. Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed a commercial aircraft on the Hudson River after both engines failed almost immediately after takeoff from LaGuardia airport. Following this, Sully and his crew were met with media attention, as well as the consideration that they may not have made the right call, despite the fact that there were no casualties and few injuries.
The flick has done well both critically and at the box office, with Hanks’ pitch-perfect (as always) performance specifically cited. One thing many critics couldn’t ignore, though, was the overwhelming presence of Marriott hotels. No less than five scenes open with shots of various Marriott brands, making it almost impossible not to notice. It’s one thing to show an exterior of the same building a couple of times, but when various properties of the same brand show up repeatedly and in-your-face, it’s kind of overkill.
13. TechCrunch – Silicon Valley
As a TV show about a fictional startup in the actual startup world capital, Silicon Valley alludes to many of the biggest players in the game. For example, Hooli, a tech giant that remains prominent throughout the show, sounds like a weird hybrid of Google and Hulu, with many allusions to the former. Pied Piper, the little-engine-that-could upon which the series is centered, exemplifies the growing pains of many a struggling young company, and we see big and small players in the industry who bear a resemblance to Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and other tech minds.
One real name shows up often: TechCrunch, an industry publication, has appeared in numerous episodes throughout all three seasons. For example, Pied Piper attends TechCrunch Disrupt, the brand’s conference, in order to pitch their product and receive funding. The incessant logos were a bit much, but it fit with the plot.
But TechCrunch has continued to show up, sometimes integrated into the plot, and sometimes… not. In one episode, coders Gilfoyle and Dinesh remark about the empty chair and desk after their CEO is fired, and the computer in the shot has TechCrunch’s website up. Toward the end of the season, in order to cover up his mistakes, Erlich makes a deal with a writer for the site, and ends up purchasing it. The lines are blurred in real life as well, as creator Mike Judge showed up at the real TechCrunch Disrupt this month to show deleted scenes from season three to the audience.
12. Coca-Cola – Stranger Things
Netflix has put out hit after hit over the last few years, securing the subscription service’s reign over the digital entertainment world. This summer, they delivered a sleeper hit with Stranger Things. The show is an homage to 1980s sci-fi films, created by the Duffer Brothers and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, whose films were much of the inspiration behind it. The internet erupted, and while it may or may not be the most popular original series for Netflix, season two is unarguably anticipated.
Though many may specifically recall the focus on Eleven’s love for Eggo waffles, another big brand made its way into the story a few times: Coca-Cola. In the third episode, Eleven is at Mike’s house, watching TV, when she sees a commercial for the soda brand. This triggers a flashback to her in a lab, hooked up to machines, as Dr. Brenner watches on. There’s an era-specific can of Coke in front of her, and she proceeds to crush it with her telekinetic powers. While the scene is awesomely 80s and likely one of the most iconic of the season, the dwelling focus on the label and the sheer screen time of the product make it a bit much. Another time, Steve Harrington (potential father of Jean-Ralphio) awkwardly places a Coke can on his bruised eye– with the logo facing the camera, of course.
11. Ikea – Deadpool
A caveat: Very little, if anything, is obnoxious about Deadpool by accident. The script is far too smart for anything to truly misfire, especially when there are so many jokes that hit various tones. There is also a surprisingly large amount of product placement in the flick — some of it obvious, some not. That this wasn’t pointed out in many reviews is a testament to how entertaining the movie actually is.
One of the most talked about incidents of product placement is the Ikea scene: We meet Wade’s roommate, Blind Al, and she’s attempting to put together an Ikea dresser. The scene speaks to everyone’s feeling about the Swedish furniture company — the products are cheap, yet impossible to put together. But what’s more interesting is that our hero drops the names of at least four items actually sold by the brand. It turns out this isn’t actually paid product placement, which makes sense, considering the dresser falls apart immediately. This wasn’t a problem for the manufacturer, who only cared that the name-dropping was done correctly.
10. Audi – Captain America: Civil War
While we’re focused on Marvel properties, here’s another one that rubbed some audiences the wrong way. Prior to the release of Captain America: Civil War, a promo of the film that was actually an Audi commercial was released on the Marvel YouTube page. In it, a family driving through the tunnel at the same time as Cap and Black Panther are chasing Bucky are oblivious to what’s really going on around them, simply noting the rude drivers and choosing to take an alternate route. So essentially it’s a commercial spliced with clips from the film.
It should be noted that Marvel and Audi have a long history, but even so, the commercial is corny, and has no place in the MCU. Of course, we don’t actually see this family in the movie, but if you saw the promo before the movie (and it would have been hard not have), it’s hard to watch the real scene without recalling it every time you see an Audi symbol — which is, of course, exactly what the brand was trying to achieve.
9. Robinhood (app) – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
What’s strange about this product placement is that it’s for a brand no one has really heard of. On a season 11 episode of the long-running FX property, the character Mac is wearing a turquoise tank top with a feather logo on it. No, this is not a crossover with the aforementioned Silicon Valley‘s Pied Piper (though that’s an episode I’d watch — the Philly gang travels to Cali to pitch a startup). It’s actually an ad for a company called Robinhood.
Apparently, Rob McElhenney, creator of the show and portrayer of Mac, is a new investor in the free stock-trading app aimed at Millennials. Though this certainly isn’t the first time the show has utilized product placement, it’s definitely one of the most unique, and fans on Twitter had a lot to say about it. Despite its lack of pertinence, it’s hard to imagine that any press at all would be negative press for such an unknown company, so Robinhood is likely fairly grateful for the visibility.
8. Jeep – Independence Day: Resurgence
It took 20 years for Independence Day to get its sequel, so when Resurgence finally premiered this summer, it had a lot to live up to. The original was a huge box office smash, and came out at a time when big budget sci-fi action films were just picking up speed. It’s no surprise then that most critical reception was lukewarm, despite the presence of some of the original, beloved characters.
Another thing about the movie that shouldn’t shock anyone? Jeep, specifically their Grand Cherokee model, had a product placement deal. The connection goes beyond just the car appearing in the film — there was a tied-in advertising campaign, and the company even sponsored the Hollywood premiere of the flick on June 20.
So here’s the surprising — and very unfortunate — part of the deal: the 2015 models were quietly recalled months earlier because of an issue with the gear shift, and the day before the premiere, actor Anton Yelchin was killed when his own 2015 Grand Cherokee crushed him against a wall — possibly due to that very error. By the time the news broke, it was too late, and so Jeep and Resurgence got some extra publicity they weren’t expecting.
7. Agar.io – House of Cards
Frances Underwood isn’t exactly known for his humanizing qualities. He is arguably a sociopath, demonstrating almost no regard for human or animal life– beyond his own. The most recent season of House of Cards, though uneven at times, shows Mr. President knocked down a peg when his health becomes a concern. This gives the audience at least a little bit of reason to feel sorry for him (but not really).
Perhaps the thing that has oft endeared viewers to Frank in the past is his love of video games. It was likely a bit jarring the first time you saw the un-relatable Democratic Whip playing Call of Duty, but since then, his gamer persona has become the one that grounds his character in reality. In one season four episode, Frank meets with Republican presidential candidate Will Conway during the DNC, and the two hole up together in order to give the appearance that they’re working together. In reality, the two spend most of the time playing a mobile game, Agar.io, which is an actual app. It turns out that the publicity was actually free — the producers of HoC expressed their interest to the company that puts out the game, and they were happy to allow for its appearance in the show.
6. Hillary Clinton – Broad City
Working to be relatable is hard for any presidential hopeful, fictional or not. In the case of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the road to appeal to voters, specifically Millennials, has not been an easy one. Before she secured the Democratic nomination in July, many young voters passed on Clinton for Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont whose campaign spat in the face of traditional politics — which is exactly what many were looking for in a candidate.
But Broad City stars and creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are all girl power, all the time, and they all but endorsed Hillary by having her appear in a season three episode of the show. Though not intending to make a political statement, their characters’ love for the nominee and support for her campaign is undoubtedly an example of native advertising. Though the Clinton campaign almost certainly didn’t pay for this appearance, it was a good — albeit awkward — way to get her in front of younger eyes. While smiling and embracing the girls in the final moments of the episode, you can almost hear her quoting the show’s EP, Amy Poehler, as her Mean Girls character: “I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom!”
5. Papa John’s – Ghostbusters
The Ghostbusters reboot released in June received criticism from every angle. Why reboot a perfect movie? (Well, there is at least one cringe-worthy scene in the original.) Remaking it with women is just gimmick, it will never work. (Tell that to the box office numbers.) Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy — who are they? Just kidding, no one said that last one. Whether you consider it a re-imagining, a sequel, or just pretend it doesn’t exist, Ghostbusters was on everyone’s minds this summer — including advertisers.
The first film had its fair share of product placement; who can forget the Twinkie scene? And some of those original sponsors got on board with the latest iteration, including Hostess. But a new partner stands out: Papa John’s, whose pizza boxes appear in the ladies’ lab, in addition to a restaurant front during a big scene in the film. While this may not seem strange at first, think about it for a second: this all takes place in the Big Apple, which is known for its cheap and delicious authentically New York pizza. So why are they spending their limited funds on chain delivery? Let’s chalk it up as token hot secretary Kevin’s error.
4. Every fashion designer on the planet – Zoolander 2
Another long-awaited sequel, Zoolander 2 arrived in theaters earlier this year — seemingly only to disappoint fans and critics of the beloved original. Though Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson fall easily back into their roles as attractive men with very, very low IQs, the movie suffers from the usual call-back syndrome, taking the over-the-top ridiculousness of the former and magnifying it ten-fold. Though there are stakes, they’re almost too unbelievable and convoluted, even for the Zoolander world.
Aside from an apparent Samsung deal that fit well enough into the plot (they have to use technology, even if they’re completely inept), the most blatant product placement was actually just a series of name-drops. Having discovered more dirty secrets about the underground world of high fashion, Derek meets essentially every designer with a new line out this year in less than two minutes. If they gave out awards for “Most Cameos in One Scene,” Zoolander 2 would have easily taken home the gold — actually, make that “Most Cameos in a Movie” as a whole, because it certainly didn’t start with just designers. Talk about strange publicity.
3. Uber – The Shallows
A summer horror flick about a shark and a pretty girl trying to survive doesn’t exactly have Oscar written on it — and fortunately, The Shallows doesn’t pretend it has a true potential to live up to. Blake Lively stars basically alone, opposite the shark in question, as a med student who decides to go surfing solo in Mexico after her mom dies. And obviously, it goes swimmingly.
Before she spends most of the movie with a seagull on a rock just offshore, Lively’s Nancy hitches a ride to her surfing destination. The guy who drops her off isn’t a predator, just a concerned local, and asks her how she’s going to get back to civilization when she’s done at the beach. Her reply? “Uber.” He has no idea what she’s talking about, and the worst part is, she’s completely serious. Apple’s FaceTime also makes an appearance in the film, which is just irresponsible if you think about it: Why are we telling kids that they’re going to have the same access to technology everywhere they go?
2. Jolly Rancher – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
There’s been much debate about Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superman’s nemesis is young, eccentric, and has even been compared to a popular foe of the other titular hero — the Joker. In a movie already packed with character introductions, the inclusion of LexCorp and focus on its CEO creates a bit of overcrowding, but his first scenes are still very intriguing.
After showing the company’s research into Kryptonite to government officials, Luthor talks mano a mano with Senator Barrows, trying to convince him to grant LexCorp access to the wreck of the Kyptonian ship that crashed, among other things. As his list grows longer, Lex shows his dominance over Barrows by taking a Jolly Rancher out of a jar he’s holding, unwrapping it, and putting it into the Senator’s mouth himself, with the line “It’s cherry.” As far as product placement goes, this one seems especially strange, almost as though the brand is positioning itself as the official candy of the psychotic Lex Luthor.
1. McDonald’s — The Bachelor
Who else would do product placement so poorly? On the most recent season of The Bachelor, the man in question takes one of his suitors, Amanda, on a one-on-one date in his Indiana hometown. Apparently, he wanted to show her something “normal” in Warsaw, so he takes her to… McDonald’s. Yes, you read that right– the fast food burger chain.
The scene acts as a promotion for the then-recently announced “all-day breakfast”, so Amanda is forced to eat an Egg McMuffin even though she’s clearly already had breakfast. But if that wasn’t bad enough (and it definitely was), the couple also went behind the counter and served customers at the drive-thru window. The internet did not let this pass by undocumented, of course — the blatantly out-of-place advertisement caused quite the Twitter uproar. Shockingly, Amanda actually stuck around for another episode — I mean, “date” — but was ultimately eliminated.
Honorable Mention: Ford — Angie Tribeca
So, what’s the best way to do product placement? Try acknowledging that it’s ridiculous and tacky, and show the audience that you’re in on the joke. Angie Tribeca is a show that is almost exclusively about making fun of TV tropes, specifically those of cop procedurals. In the first moments of the pilot alone, the title character (played by Rashida Jones) has a training montage, takes a rookie down a peg, and fights with her boss and new partner. Then, she begrudgingly drives off with the new partner in a blue Ford — and the brand’s logo and website are plastered across the bottom of the screen.
This gag continues throughout the episode, with the characters appearing a new Ford vehicle each time, and the same logo treatment when they get in or out of the car — as well as a random placement at the end thrown in just for fun. It’s a show that knows exactly what it is, and how best to use its slapstick humor to make a buck.
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