Back in the early Seventies I asked a friend why he went to so many movies (two or three a week). He replied: “Because I want to get away from the television ads.” Well, look again, the ads are following moviegoers right into the theatre and into the movies themselves.
If you haven’t seen the future yet, defined by cinema chains as showering full screen ads on a captive audience just before the featured movie starts, you certainly have seen the brand name products looking out at you from the movie itself.
The Marlboro name was visible twenty times in “Superman II” — an unlikely but profitable juxtaposition of a cancer-causer with a strong, healthy comic hero. Miller beer and Miller Lite products or logos appeared 21 times in the film “Bull Durham.” In “Home Alone”, multiple “product placements,” as they are called, appeared for Right Guard deodorant, Aqua Fresh toothpaste, Crunch Tators snack food, Dodge van and Pepsi. A total of 31 brand-names were layered throughout the film.
“Ghost”, the top grossing film for 1990 showed Salem cigarettes, V.O. liquor, Tide detergent, Mobil, Rolaids, Reebok, Nine Lives cat food and Tanqueray vodka. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” featured Burger King Whopper and soda, Dominos pizza, Hitachi and Sony signs, Diet Pepsi, Archie comic book, Turtle Wax, JVS stereo box among the 18 brand-names popping up with the Turtles.
Product placements are a booming, big business. Companies pay movie studios $50,000 and up to get their products on big films and lesser amounts for lesser films. What’s more, the placement agencies that make these deals peruse scripts to find scenes for their products before the movie is made. Sometimes, they’ll suggest changes to make scenes more congenial to their product. And what an invitation to the movie producers to delete portions of the script — say depicting a drunk-driving scene – due to product placements for liquor.
Movies are supposed to be artistic expressions, not vehicles for product pitches. For years the movie industry would go out of its way to make sure no brand name would be shown — as with an airplane coming down to land or a train moving out of a station. Now film producers see their movies as profit centers for interstitial advertisements via brand name exhibitionism.
The Center for the Study of Commercialism (Suite 300, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C., 20009) has formally petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to require movie studios to announce to audiences before the beginning of a film what products are advertised in film. The on-screen announcement would state: “The following film contains paid advertising for the following products and companies: (list of products follow)”
Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media Studies at Johns Hopkins University, says movie-goers have a right to know about any paid advertising. “Audiences will be alerted to the fact that these bright products serve no artistic purpose, bur are in the movie simply to be advertised.” Further, one might add, such disclosure will erase any mistaken impression among consumers that these brand names appeared in the movie because of their intrinsic value.
Commercialism continues to run amok against other values -artistic, educational, democratic and civic. People need to demand some space, some air, some view that is off limits to the hucksters hardsell. Let’s recover our movie theatres and keep them theatres without celluloid billboards and logos.