Product Placement in the Movies - Part 1 - 1896-1950

Product placement in the movies is absolutely nothing new. Although the number and value of placements has improved considering that the early Hollywood years and despite the fact that quite a few current movies such as I, Robot and the Transformers Movie might possibly be perceived to employ item placements additional extensively and brazenly than movies from previous decades, the practice itself predates the rise of the Hollywood movie market and is most likely to be as old as cinema itself. In this post we discover some early examples of product placement in the movies.

Early cinema (ca. 1896-1900's) focussed primarily on satisfying the curiosity and amazement of the audience at the spectacle of moving photographs. Quite often coming at the end of a Music Hall billing, the audience's enjoyment of 'cinematic attractions' was most likely absorbed at least as considerably in the novelty of the film-going knowledge as it was in the subject of the film itself. It was quite a few years just before alot more narrative types of cinema became dominant. Early types of cinema had been particularly ideally suited to product placement and, indeed, it is frequently argued that early cinema shares even more in typical with Tv ads than it does with additional modern films.

Advertisers had been swift to realise the potential of cinema as a media for promoting brands. In the early years item placement could afford to be brazen. Brands could be promoted openly and the filmmaker could be confident that their work would discover an audience that would be keen to watch it. Even if it was, basically, an advert. An fascinating early example of this is a 1897 film featuring Admiral Cigarettes. Four guys (one of them, bizarrely, wearing a standard American-Indian headdress) are seated subsequent to a massive packet of Admiral Cigarettes. They chat casually. A woman in a navy uniform (though, strangely, minus the trousers) suddenly bursts from the box and, somewhat clumsily, showers the stage with cigarettes. The men unfurl a banner saying 'WE ALL SMOKE' and point to the giant Admiral Cigarettes billboard that types the backdrop.

A great early example of item placement within a narrative context can be seen in the Edison Manufacturing Co created movie Streetcar Chivalry of 1903. A young woman enters a crowded streetcar and a group of men shuffle up to enable her to sit down. An older, less attractive woman then enters the streetcar and the guys ignore her by, humorously, pretending to read newspapers. The woman struggles to remain on her feet as the streetcar moves about and on a variety of occasions falls on leading of the guys. Ultimately two of the guys leave and she too gets to sit down. All the even though the audience are able to see the different overhead advertising placards for Edison Manufacturing Co merchandise such as the 'Kinetoscope'.

Notable Hollywood silent era films to feature item placement involve Fatty Arbuckle's 1919 film The Garage in which Red Crown Gasoline appears. The first film to win the academy award for perfect picture, Wings (1927), contains plugs for a couple of merchandise including chocolate. In this film a dashing young airman is shown coolly munching a chocolate bar. The audience does not have to wait long to discover which distinct brand our rugged hero prefers. Right after 1 bite he tosses the bar down onto a pair of socks. Helpfully, we are treated to a close up of the chocolate on said pair of socks and we discover that this distinct airman opts for Hershey's when he wants some thing sweet.

The Marx Brothers comedy Horse Feathers (1932) contains a scene exactly where the item getting placed is the topic of the joke. A woman falls from a canoe and asks for a life saver. Groucho Marx tosses her a Life Savers sweet (for the benefit of non-US readers, Life Savers are ring shaped mints somewhat similar to Polo mints). Less obvious, but not necessarily less conspicuous, strategies of product placement were vital for later genres. The classic noir film Gun Crazy (1950) characteristics a thrilling robbery at the payroll department of a meat processing plant. It could be argued that the Armour logo is somewhat unnecessarily prominent throughout this sequence. We also wonder whether it normally has to be a Bulova clock that Bart and Laurie glance up to.

As extended as there has been cinema there has been a medium for product placement. The challenge for the advertiser and the filmmaker is to present the brand to the audience in a way that does not detract from the narrative top quality of the film. If product placement is overdone then there is the risk of a negative reaction from the audience. Possibly the top advert for any brand would be for it to be placed in a high high quality film. It seems likely that the best top quality films, if they feature item placement, will carry it off with taste and discretion. Pretty much definitely, an audience rapt in a outstanding movie like Gun Crazy will not take offence at the presence of Armour and Bulova logos through key scenes. What is hard to measure is the extent of the increased awareness for the brands in question in the minds of the audience. Undoubtedly it seems likely that association with a movie like Gun Crazy can only be a beneficial factor.

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