The Power of Product Placement: The Trend Continues

In this scene in "You Can't Take It With You" it begins to look as though the Socony Vacuum Oil Company's driver can't takeColumbiaPictures' Donald Meek with him.

No Strings Attached, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Hop, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon all share a common quality – each of these films features scenes with Apple product placement.

According to Brandcameo, an online resource for branding information, Apple had more appearances in blockbuster films than any other brand in 2010. It appeared in 30% of last year’s #1 films, and currently remains the most prevalent brand in this year’s top films.

In exploring product trends and their link to appearances in film, it would be useful to look back on a Dun’s Review article from February 1939 by W. Adolphe Roberts titled “Trade Follows the Film.”  Roberts gives us some background on early cinema and describes two possible consequences of a product’s cinematic exhibition:

  1. A “mass impression”: The company’s product and name gets broadcasted worldwide.
  2. Enthusiasm for the product: The company gains trust with audience members through recognizability and its association with prominent celebrities.

Roberts noted trends that resulted from popular Hollywood films, such as the 1934 hit “It Happened One Night.” After Clarke Gable portrayed a scene where he unbuttons his shirt and reveals his bare chest underneath, retailers reported a notable drop in the demand and appeal of undershirts. The film’s protagonists journey from Miami to New York, involving several instances of traveling by bus. In the six months after its release, bus companies saw a 42 percent increase in sales.

In another example, Roberts cites the 1929 film “Flight” which featured two trucks traversing wild terrain – including jungle landscapes, rivers and steep topographies – without any complications. The truck manufacturers then promoted their product with still photos from the film and invited potential buyers to view the film. In six months the company made $200,000 in sales traced directly to the film.

Take a look at some of the product placement examples from our 1939 article:

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Apple seems to recognize a brand-building effects of displaying their products to the masses on the big screen and has successfully used this marketing power to increase profitability. Over this most recent quarter, Apple sold 20.34M iPhones, a 142% increase from last year, and 9.25M iPads, an increase of 183% from the quarter one year ago.

Even with the resignation of former CEO Steve Jobs, as of yesterday, Apple stock has reached an all-time high and is currently the most valuable on the market. Apple’s business savvy unquestionably resides among the most successful in technological entities – partially because, as Roberts aptly noted of similar companies from 1939:

“They have discovered the immense power of the screen, which can sell an existing brand of goods where it was never sold before, put across a vogue for some novelty and even create styles in clothing, furniture, and cars.”

Roberts’ article touches on an idea which has a substantial impact in today’s media and the increasing amount of endorsement deals.  “Trade follows the film,” he wrote, foreseeing the increasing globalization of cultural trends through cinema. “If domestic competition can be thus affected, the results of promoting our goods in countries that never have seen them before may well be imagined.”

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