$170 million in product placement before ticket sales even happen? That’s an epic win for Superman.
It seems absurd that a movie can earn $170m before it even sells a ticket, that it can recoup three-quarters of its blockbuster budget before anybody sees the damn thing. Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s new interpretation of the Superman mythology, has done just that.
With almost 100 promotional partners, Man of Steel is barely a film; it’s an ad
Perhaps it’s fitting that Superman, an enduring icon of America, now represents the apex of product integration, a particularly American experiment. With almost 100 promotional partners, Man of Steel is barely a film; it’s an ad. And its audience is treated like consumers.
Product placement isn’t anything new, and, if done right, it does nothing to subtract from the film of which it is a part. There even was an ad for Reese’s Pieces in Spielberg’s ET. But, as the years have passed and American cinema changed, product placement has grown increasingly egregious. The video below demonstrates the genesis of product placement.
It isn’t hard to understand why product integration has become such a big part of the film and television business: it works. Traditional advertising, from billboards to TV spots, has been in steady decline for several years. These days, with Netflix and Youtube and all the wonders of the internet, people can avoid ads pretty easily. You just have to wait five seconds and click ‘Skip’ on the bottom right corner of the video.
Product integration has become such a behemoth that it has its own awards
Not to be outmanoeuvred, businesses and advertisers have dedicated themselves to increased product integration. It’s the natural progression of advertising. The audience won’t fast forward through the movie itself. Product integration has become such a behemoth that it has its own awards, and has even caught the attention of do-gooder documentarian Morgan Spurlock.
The main consequence of this product placement initiative will be that even more crappy movies will be made. Perhaps some interesting projects will be co-opted by the devil they do business with, but it’s more likely that these disposable blockbusters that we already have in abundance will be used for increasingly outlandish commercial purposes. So instead of Wedding Crashers, we’ll get The Internship (brought to you by Google).
There does remain a question of whether or not the audience is even necessary if Man of Steel can generate so much money before it’s even been released. But advertisers are only involved because an audience is as well. It is possible that, in the future, Man of Steel may be used as a reference point for how and when the mainstream movie sold what remained of its soul. Superman, as boring a hero as his name suggests, isn’t really the type to sell a ‘super bacon cheeseburger’ to young and impressionable filmgoers. But he does.
Product placement makes things happen. Chuck would’ve been cancelled if not for Subway
There is a caveat to all this denigration of product placement: it makes things happen. A few years ago, there was a show on NBC called Chuck that would have been cancelled if not for Subway. For its remaining 3 seasons, it would include these absurd adverts for the eatery, and did so with grateful gusto.
And, for the best writers out there, there’s even opportunity to do product integration well. Tina Fey’s 30 Rock got terrific comedic mileage out of its commercial relationships with Verizon and Snapple, and Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad used the video game Rage to dramatic effect. So, it’s not all bad. It’s just another step to wherever the hell we’re headed.
Featured image: Warner Bros.
Picture: Regency Enterprises