2010 Oscars Groundbreaking… For Product Placement

Many see the 2010 Academy Awards best film field as groundbreaking because the number of nominees has been increased from five to ten. There is however another way this year’s nominee field is groundbreaking; for the first time, product placement plays an important role in a number of the best picture contenders.
Of course, product placement is not totally new to Oscar-nominated films. Who can forget the bashing K-Mart took in 1988’s Rain Man. In 1994 Pulp Fiction idolized McDonald’s “Royale with Cheese.” Two years later Jerry Maguire was begging you to help you help him… with a Reebok endorsement. In 2003, Lost in Translation put Bill Murray’s gravitas behind Suntory whiskey. Juno quirkily lampooned Sunny D and Tic Tac. Then there is the “original” product placement, Reese’s Pieces in 1982’s E.T. Even 1953’s Roman Holiday was a boon for the Vespa brand. But aside from a few iconic inclusions and a bunch more forgettable background placements, Oscar-caliber films have been largely free of brands. Not this year.

Both The Blind Side and Up in the Air are films in which product placements not only figure prominently, but also serve as character- and plot-driving props. The brand inclusions both inform the story and move it forward. In the former, a Taco Bell franchise empire pays for the BMWs and tony private school education of both hero and heroine. Boasting even more brand integration, the latter film takes at its very core a commercialized world, where brands like Hilton and American Airlines can be a protagonist’s familiar compatriots and conflict-creating antagonists.

The real groundbreaking development this year is that both Up in the Air and The Blind Side serve as rebuttals to the argument that product placements ruin films. The very contention of these films for the year’s top spot is also a contention that, if done properly, “product placement” and “good movie” do not have to be mutually exclusive concepts.

Posted by Abe Sauer on March 5, 2010 05:05 PM


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