At this point in time, there’s probably not much use in complaining about product placement in movies. The battle has been lost and product placements are now ubiquitous in films. Marketers invest heavily to get their products featured in popular movies or to have movie characters hold up their product for a few seconds. Filmmakers justify the exercise by saying it gives their movie a more realistic look and feel. Nevertheless, some product placements go overboard to the point that their product placement is distracting and downright insulting to audiences. And here are 10 of the worst product placements ever in the movies.
10. Wings (1927)
Know what was the first movie to feature a crass product placement? Believe it or not, it was the 1927 silent film Wings. And know what the first product was to be advertised in a not so subtle way within a movie? It was Hershey chocolate bars. After all, there’s nothing World War I fighter pilots like more after working up an appetite than to chow down on a Hershey chocolate bar or two. And that’s exactly what happens in this silent melodrama about two friends who enlist in the Great War and then fall in love with the same woman. A popular film when released, Wings showed marketers and advertisers the power or product placement in the movies. Good move, Hershey!
9. GoldenEye (1995)
To get an idea of how much companies will pay to have a particular product featured in a movie, look no further than the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye. German carmaker BMW paid $3 million to have its then-brand new Z3 Roadster prominently driven by Agent 007 himself. And actor Pierce Brosnan, who resurrected super spy James Bond in the film, looked mighty stylish cruising around in the car. And the cost to have James Bond drive BMW’s Z3 Roadster paid off handsomely for the car manufacturer, which saw advanced sales of the Z3 balloon to nearly $250 million. Now that’s impact. BMW has continued to use movies to push its product line on consumers, as evidenced by the prominence of the company’s Mini Cooper in the 2003 remake of the film The Italian Job.
8. Risky Business (1983)
Sunglass manufacturer Ray Ban was on the skids in the early 1980s as its signature Wayfarer line was no longer selling well. In a bold move, Ray Ban paid to have actor Tom Cruise sport the sunglasses in the classic 1983 teen comedy Risky Business. The gamble paid off as sales of Ray Ban’s Wayfarer sunglasses jumped to 360,000 in the U.S. alone shortly after the movie hit theaters. So successful was having Tom Cruise wear Ray Ban sunglasses that the company paid again to have Cruise wear their shades in the 1986 movie Top Gun. This time, Cruise wore Ray Ban’s Aviator brand of sunglasses. And sales of the Aviator line of sunglasses jumped by 40% once Top Gun was released and became a worldwide hit at the box office.
7. Toy Story (1995)
Many of the toys featured in Pixar’s 1995 hit Toy Story are pretty generic and familiar to people, such as a toy dinosaur and plastic Army men. However, not all of the toys in the movie are generic. Toy Story features two marquee brand names, the Etch-A-Sketch and Mr. Potato Head. And these toys are not in the movie by accident. The toy manufacturers paid a pretty penny to get their products into the film. And it was a smart move, as both the Etch-A-Sketch and Mr. Potato Head (previously viewed as novelty toys) saw dramatic sales increases once Toy Story reached movie theaters and children’s imaginations. Sales of Mr. Potato Head climbed a whopping 800% following Toy Story, while Etch-A-Sketch sales soared by an astounding 4,500%. You certainly can’t claim that product placement doesn’t work with those kinds of returns.
6. You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Who doesn’t love having a coffee in their hand when they sit down at their computer? The producers of the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan certainly do, as evidenced by the shameless shilling for Starbucks that goes on in the film. Not only are Starbucks stores and cups prominently featured in You’ve Got Mail, but at one point in the movie Tom Hanks takes time out to give instruction on how to properly order a coffee at Starbucks—taking care to go over the names of the cup sizes the store uses, i.e. “Tall” and “Short.” It’s all pretty obvious and shameless. However, Starbucks is not the only corporate sponsor of You’ve Got Mail. The movie also features a lot of AOL Internet product placement, including the irritating sound of dial-up modems that makes this movie now seem quite dated.
5. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
What sets the 1982 movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial apart in the product placement universe is that the movie actually incorporates the product its shilling into the film’s plot. In this case it is Reese’s Pieces, which the main character Elliott uses to lure E.T. out of hiding and to his home. Having a product incorporated into a movie’s plot, and not just sitting in the background or used by an actor, was a novel concept at the time and is credited with breaking product placement in movies wide open in the 1980s. A global smash hit, E.T. helped to push sales of Reese’s Pieces through the roof and its maker, Hershey, saw its worldwide sales for 1982 increase by 65%. Marketers took notice and scrambled to get more and more products featured in hit movies.
4. Back to the Future (1985)
The first thing you see in the movie Back to the Future is a pair of Nike sneakers. You also see lead actor Michael J. Fox prominently hold a can of Pepsi in his hand, drive a DeLorean time machine, wear Calvin Klein underwear and meet up with his friend Doc Brown in front of a JCPenney store at a shopping mall. These are just a few of the many and shameless product placements featured in the 1985 blockbuster film. And, as with E.T., many of the products hawked in the movie are woven into the plot—such as when actress Lea Thompson sees Michael J. Fox’s underwear and assumes his name is “Calvin Klein.” The product placement in Back to the Future is quite aggressive and over the top and is distinguished by the fact that it is not just one brand that is given attention. This movie takes product placement to new heights.
3. Sex and the City (2008)
The 2008 big screen version of the television show Sex and the City boasts a staggering 67 product placements—mostly of high-end retailers such as Louis Vitton, Prada, Gucci… the list goes on. Short on plot but long on product placement, the Sex and the City movie unabashedly promotes a staggering array of women’s fashion products and shows the actresses in the film gushing over many of them. But, for a movie that is about shallow people living in New York City, I guess we shouldn’t expect much else from the ladies of Sex and the City. However, while all the product placements may have helped fund the movie with lucrative deals, endorsements and payments, it couldn’t save this disappointing feature from the harsh reviews of critics, who said the movie lacked substance and was a bore. Yes, but look at all the gorgeous handbags!
2. Cast Away (2000)
Has any one product or company been featured more prominently than FedEx in the movie Cast Away? Actor Tom Hanks plays a FedEx employee in the movie whose FedEx airplane crash lands in the ocean, and he is then marooned on a deserted island with nothing but a bunch of FedEx packages. Why FedEx you ask? Cast Away was produced by Frederick W. Smith who is the founder, chairman, president and CEO of, you guessed it, FedEx. And as a result, audiences see the FedEx logo almost as much as they see Tom Hanks in this movie. And it’s not just that FedEx is incorporated into the plot of this movie, FedEx is the plot of this movie—more or less. A great exercise in over the top marketing, Cast Away is both shameless and relentless in its pushing of the FedEx brand. There is even a scene when the stranded Tom Hanks sits silently on the beach of his deserted island and slowly opens one FedEx package after another like it were Christmas.
1. The Internship (2013)
The only movie to feature a company more prominently than FedEx in Cast Away is Google in the 2013 movie The Internship. For God’s sake, even the movie’s title is in the Google logo font and color scheme. Starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as two salesmen who land an internship at Google, where they must compete with tech-savvy youngsters for a job, The Internship is about Google—period. It takes place at Google, focuses on the Google culture and mentions the name Google hundreds and hundreds of times. No movie ever has been so blatantly and unrepentantly about promoting a company, brand and product. It is as if Google hired Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn to do a two hour advertisement for them. Dismissed as a stunt by critics and rejected by audiences—the film earned $44 million at the box office on a production budget of nearly $60 million—The Internship is a cautionary tale of what can happen when product placement literally takes over a movie. This is one marketing ploy that backfired.