Once upon a time, any artist who took money in order to hock product for some sort of corporate entity was widely considered to be a sell-out and a shill by the cultural elite. There was a shame in lending your talents to an advertisement or allowing an outside interest to have a say in your work. A shame that led to things like Wayne’s World mocking the rampant product placement that goes on in much of studio filmmaking, or A-list actors appearing in TV commercials in Japan, because the payday on those things is too good to pass up, but they know that they’d have their status as a celebrity diminished if they appeared in ads that ran in the US.
On the other hand, in a world where the people who make our entertainment are increasingly unable to make a profit from their work due to things like online pirating, dwindling ticket sales in theaters, all-you-can-watch subscription services, and DVR devices that allow consumers to skip through commercials, we’re rapidly entering a reality where filmmakers are going to have to find new ways to keep the things that they make profitable, and it’s likely they’re going to turn to corporate interests to get that little boost of income needed to keep television series and feature films out of the red and in the black. As the interests of art and products merge, soon we could reach a point of singularity where we can’t even tell the difference between what is entertainment and what is ad. We’ll all be singing along to jingles like those dinks in Demolition Man.
What is the future of advertising in movies going to look like? Chances are it’s going to take many forms, some we might not have even have conceived of yet, but two of the big classics are product tie-ins and product placement, and one only needs to take a look at Anchorman 2 to see what it’s going to look like when they start ramping up to another level.
Anchorman is one of those movies whose reputation grew over time, after it was released on home video. Because of this, its cult following became the rabid sort of fandom who were very invested in the film, and were very hopeful they’d eventually get a sequel. The studio balked at the idea for a long time though. Despite the fact that Anchorman fans were crazy, there just weren’t enough of them to justify putting up the amount of coin necessary for an Anchorman 2. Until they went ahead and did it anyway, which seemed like a strange change of heart at the time, but which makes a lot more financial sense now that we’re seeing all of the product tie-ins that their sequel is involving itself in.
Not only is Will Ferrell appearing as his Ron Burgundy character in a series of ads for Dodge Durango, but the film also has endorsement deals signed with companies like Miller Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, and Hot Topic. And the coup de grâce is probably the deal they have going with Jockey, where not only has the company made a pair of retro-style briefs to be worn by Paul Rudd’s Brian Fantana character during an in-movie commercial, but where they’ve also started manufacturing and marketing those same retro-briefs to be sold to the public [via Screen Crush]. Do you ever remember another time when you were able to buy the same pair of underwear as seen in your favorite comedy of the year?
Classic product placements and tie-ins likely aren’t the only forms of advertising we’re going to be seeing going into the future though, which two awesome videos that are getting passed around the Internet today show pretty well. As television commercials increasingly become skippable nuisances that consumers can easily avoid, advertisers are going to have to start stepping up their game in order to capture people’s attentions and get them to stop hitting the fast-forward button during commercial breaks, which could lead to an increased amount of actors who we think of as movie stars showing up in ads. Not only is an A-lister like Brad Pitt currently the spokesperson for Chanel No. 5, but now we’ve got a performer as infamously prickly as Jean-Claude Van Damme showing up in an ad for Volvo. Check out this commercial where he does his iconic split pose between two moving trucks. It’s gorgeous, the sort of thing that you can watch over and over again, and it’s selling you a product.
Lastly, we could be entering a period where we start seeing the name of products sharing the marquee along with the title of the piece we’re motivated to watch. There’s a new short film from Wes Anderson called CASTELLO CAVALCANTI that’s currently getting passed around the net like a hot potato because, you know, it’s a new short film from Wes Anderson that stars Jason Schwartzman, and how awesome is that? Blink and you might miss the fact that the whole reason the short exists is that it’s a sneaky advertisement for Prada though. Check out Prada presents… CASTELLO CAVALCANTI below, it’s a charming little film and it will subliminally have you thinking about buying designer Italian clothing.
So where’s that shame that used to be so inseparably attached to the idea of movies and movie stars using themselves to sell consumer products? Nowhere to be found if the enthusiasm with which people have embraced that JCVD commercial and that Anderson short is to be believed. The secret seems to be that you have to commit to the idea of ad as art and make the hocking of a product just as high-end a piece of expression as you would a work that took any other subject as its focus. Give us a quality product and we seem to be increasingly forgiving of the fact that it’s really just a message urging us toward yet another product. It’s the new economic reality, and for people who are traditionally known as being stubborn and attached to our opinions, we film fans seem to be accepting the change with little resistance. Does that make us Oscar Mayer Wieners, or just realists who have accepted our place in a consumer culture?