Product placement is just fucking great. It’s less intrusive than commercial breaks, billboards, most forms of guerrilla marketing, and flyers. By using it, shows and films get the production money they need from advertisers. Sometimes it’s retarded – do any of us know a rich Italian-American woman who drinks as much Coca-Cola as Carmela Soprano? But in terms of an advertising device, it’s not bad.
However, an upcoming example of product placement has taken me aback.
Transformers, an upcoming DreamWorks LLC and Paramount Pictures film, is based on a television series, which in turn is based on a line of 1980s-era toys that could morph from various objects (often vehicles) into humanoid fighting machines.
This film won’t just star the fantastic robots people in my age bracket may remember repeatedly breaking 20-odd years ago. It’ll also star four new-model General Motors automobiles. A character called Bumblebee, for example, will morph from a Chevrolet Camaro. Three other characters will morph respectively from the Pontiac Solstice, the Hummer H2, and the GMC TopKick.
Now, General Motors has often employed product placement in TV and film, but this is different.
As the company struggles with increasingly poor performance and poor brand perception, it’s attempting to claw back to the top by having its brands star as the ‘closeted,’ non-robot versions of the good guys — in a movie directed toward kids. Yes, kids. We can go on about the nostalgia value of the Transformers franchise for people my age, but kids love robots and we all know it.
Now, advertising to children may not be the prettiest industry in the world, but it’s an established one that won’t go away any time soon. However, storyline embedded product placement directed at children for adult products is something else again. It’s essentially subliminal advertising. A child who hasn’t yet learnt to recognise hallmarks of the GM brand will learn them in association with awesome robots that save the world.
Bob Kraut, GM's brand marketing and advertising director, carries the repercussions even further: “The cars are integral to the story… It’s a story of good versus evil. Our cars are the good guys.”
Remember, this is GM. That means this is a desperate bid for market share from a company which deserved to lose market share due to its inability to bear international competition in the automotive sector. It’s a mad scramble for prestige from a company whose performance over the last decade hasn’t merited a scrap of prestige. It’s a paid-for-paean for a company that's even outsourcing its white collar jobs now.
But it’s also a desperate marketing ploy that might make the present generation of seven-year olds think these cars are really cool in a moral and robotic way when they're old enough to buy one.
Now, I’m not suggesting a movie be boycotted because the product placement in it is too aggressive. But I am suggesting that, before you take a young relative to see Transformers, you ask yourself if you really want to be ferried back and forth from the old folks' home in 50 years by a twat driving a GM.