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GOING FOR THE GOLD (MEMBER):
PRODUCT PLACEMENTS AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF CONSUMERS
Bonnie Brennen, Associate Professor
Missouri School of Journalism
208 Neff Hall, Columbia, MO 65211
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Margaret Duffy, Associate Professor
Missouri School of Journalism
218 Walter Williams, Columbia, MO 65211
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Submitted to the Critical & Cultural Studies Division of AEJMC for the
research competition for the 2004 Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada
GOING FOR THE GOLD (MEMBER):
PRODUCT PLACEMENTS AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF CONSUMERS
In 1964, the Aston Martin DB5 was the automobile of choice for the suave
international spy 007 when the movie Goldfinger premiered. Forty years
later James Bond drove another Aston Martin, the Vanquish V-12 in Die
Another Day, one among dozens of other products carefully placed to gather
maximum impact among movie audiences. The most recent James Bond not only
drives an Aston Martin, he wears an Omega watch, drinks Finlandia vodka,
vacations at Club Med, flies British airways, and carries his spy gear in
Samsonite luggage (Neff 2002)
Product placement is booming. In fact, producers of The Green Hornet, a
Miramax movie planned for 2005, are offering automotive manufacturers the
opportunity to have their car appear in a major role -- for $35 million.
According to Lori Sale, executive vice president for promotion, "It's not
very often where the product is one of the cast. … This is one of those
films that don't come around too often. We want to make this the largest
single automotive placement ever" (Linnett & Friedman 2003).
The wildly successful "Apprentice" television reality program, built
around developer Donald Trump, features contestants vying for a high paid
position in the Trump organization. Newsweek comments on the show's
blatant promotion of Trump properties and enterprises, calling it a
"15-episode informercial" (Naughton & Peyser 2004, 54). The writers note
that while audiences in the past might have found the self-promotion
outrageous, today's viewers seem to have accepted that product placement is
ubiquitous on television today.
Responding to the product placement advertising phenomenon, this paper
investigates product placements from a critical cultural studies
perspective. It draws on reception analysis to help assess the product
placements in the popular film Austin Powers Goldmember, which grossed over
$213 million in 2002 (Movieweb). Reception analysis emphasizes the
historical and cultural context, combining textual analyses of a media
product with audience response and interpretation of that cultural product
(Jensen 1991, 139). Reception analysis offers an alternative approach to
audience studies. It is not based upon isolated elements but is instead
constructed as part of a "complex structure in dominance" (Hall 2001, 66)
that considers the production, circulation, distribution, consumption, and
reproduction of cultural products. Reception analysis draws on Stuart
Hall's groundbreaking work, "Encoding/Decoding" which in 1980 first
challenged users of the traditional mass communication
sender/message/receiver model to consider the variety of ways audience
members read and responded to communication messages. Hall notes that most
communication researchers assumed that when audiences failed to grasp a
message producer's intended meaning that it was due to misunderstandings on
the part of audience members or distortions and/or failures in the message
transmission system. However, Hall suggests that while message producers
create or encode a dominant or preferred meaning in communication products
that audience members interpret or decode that message in one of three main
ways. Audiences may decode messages from within a "dominant-hegemonic
position" (Hall 2001, 174) and understand and accept the preferred meaning
of the communication. However, audience members may accept a negotiated
understanding of the intended message drawing on their own personal
experiences to temper the dominant meaning, practice, or belief. In
addition, audience members may decode the intended message oppositionally,
in a "globally contrary way" (Hall 2001, 175), which totally rejects the
preferred or intended message. All of these are active strategies of
decoding that have nothing to do with misunderstanding, miscommunication,
or transmission failures.
A Growing Phenomenon
Product placement is considered an alternative advertising medium and is
attractive to advertisers because of its implied third-party credibility,
its relatively low cost and the fact that products embedded in an
entertainment venue cannot be manually or technologically zapped out of the
programming. Clow and Baack (2004) report that movie producers generally
charge $20,000 for product display, $40,000 for a product mention, and
$60,000 for actors to touch and use the product. Of course, these figures
are constantly in flux and are negotiated based on the profiles of the
products and the stars.
Product placement has been defined as "the inclusion of a brand name
product, package, signage, or other trademark merchandise within a motion
picture, television show, or music video" (Steortz 1987 cited in Karrh
1998). Karrh points out, however, that this definition is too limited in
that placements can include visual stimuli, dialogue, or background
audio. Moreover, marketers are not inserting generic products such milk
versus cola, or hamburgers versus tacos. Rather they are seeking to "raise
the value of a brand relative to other brands within the same product
category" (Karrh 1994, 90).
Product placement is a less accurate term than brand placement, terminology
that underscores the intense efforts undertaken by marketers to develop,
nurture, and increase awareness of their brands. At their most basic
level, brands are simply names of companies, services, or products. For
example, McDonald's has a powerful fast food brand interconnected with
golden arch symbols, Ronald McDonald, and Big Macs. McDonald's also owns
the somewhat more upscale Chipolte Mexican restaurants and has consciously
developed that brand in a much different direction. Marketers yearn for
strong brands because research consistently shows that in parity markets
(where products are not really substantively different) consumers will
choose brands that are salient, memorable, and trustworthy (Ehrenberg, et.
In essence, the brand is often the primary differentiating element of a
product or service. "Brand equity" is all of the assets and liabilities
associated with a brand and strong equity can have an impact throughout the
purchasing process: retailers are more likely to stock strong brands;
customers are more likely to purchase brands they recognize and remember
positively; strong brands perform better in times of recession; consumers
are more loyal and competitors more successfully resisted. Ultimately,
strong brands are positively correlated with profitability (Clow & Baack 2004).
The brand phenomenon has been extended to individuals as well and a robust
self-help category has emerged in books, consultancies, and web sites. For
example, Andrea O'Neill (2004) advises, that "Personal Branding is the
force behind the world's most recognizable individuals -- from Oprah
Winfrey to Bill Gates to Madonna. These individuals have created an image
that precedes their actions. We buy their products, tune into their shows,
and accept their endorsements based on the image by which we perceive
them"(O'Neill 2004). Management guru Tom Peters wrote The Brand You 50,
offering specific guidelines for "building brand you" so as to achieve
personal and professional success (Peters 1999).
Brand placements have been around for many years but catapulted into public
consciousness when E.T. appeared with Reese's Pieces candies. According to
an Advertising Age report, sales of the candy increased at least 65 percent
following the movie's release (Higgins 1985). According to the
Entertainment Resources & Marketing Association, product placement is now a
$1 billion industry (Chmielewshi 2002). Karrh points out that MGM Studios
began a product placement office in the 1930s and Vollmers and Mizerski
cite Joan Crawford's appearance as Mildred Pierce in the 1945 film of the
same name serving Jack Daniels (Vollmers & Mizerski, 1994).
Products may be placed in real situations when an attractive person
approaches patrons of clubs and asks them to take a picture with his/her
new digital cell phone/camera -- and then comments on its surprisingly low
price. In fact, the person is being paid to present the product. Another
sort of placement is the featuring of the item in entertainment products
such as films, books, or television programs. The Bulgari Connection by
Fay Weldon has its entire plot built around the upscale jewelry company and
Bulgari paid an undisclosed sum for her efforts (Kirkpatrick, 2001).
Marketers and filmmakers try to balance their desire for verisimilitude in
showing real products in naturalistic settings with the danger of
overplaying the appearances of the product. When a character drinks from a
can labeled "BEER" in red letters, the effect can be jarring to viewers
(Gupta, et al. 2000). However, when the placement is obvious and draws
attention to itself, this can be equally if not more distracting. In any
case, brand placement is big business. With typical film marketing budgets
around $25 million (Reuters 2000), the deals between film producers and
product placement agencies are often key to marketing the film itself.
Product alliances and joint efforts can considerably enhance marketing
reach and impact. In fact, there are even annual product placement awards.
Brand Placement Research
Virtually all of the existing academic research examines product placement
from an effects standpoint. These studies typically examine whether
placements increase brand salience, recognition, recall, and likelihood to
purchase. For the most part, these studies find that product placement can
have positive effects on brand recall and sales. Babin and Carder (1996)
find that placements increased movie viewers' recognition
brands. Similarly, Karrh (1994) notes that placements are more effective
in increasing brand salience when the brand is relatively less familiar to
viewers and when it is portrayed as an integral element of the
movie. Another study by Russell (2002) suggests that brand placements in
television programs are effective in increasing brand memory and attitude
when they are "congruent" with plot or setting.
In fact, filmmakers insist they use product placement primarily to add
realistic touches to scenes that would naturally have brands associated
with them such as types of cars and beverages (Gupta, et al. 2000). Many
product placements are not paid at all, but selected by the director to
create a certain effect. Research supports the contention that
naturalistic and appropriate brand placements are acceptable to viewers in
films (Nebenzahl & Secunda 1993; Karrh 1998) and computer video games
(Nelson, 2002). However, Gupta & Lord (1998) find that prominent
placements outperform less blatant portrayals in achieving audience recall.
There are few critical or cultural analyses of brand placements. Wasko,
Phillips, and Purdie (1993) presciently comment that the growing acceptance
of films as advertising vehicles might encourage advertisers to take an
increasingly active role in movies scripting, production, and
casting. They also express concern that the growing commodification of
films advances consumption as a key cultural value and changes the social
DeLorme and Reid (1999) investigate viewers' experiences and
interpretations of brand placements using focus groups. They conclude, in
part, that viewers are more sophisticated than some critics of the practice
have assumed and that they are generally aware of the intentions of
advertisers vis-ŕ-vis placements. In fact, in terms of establishing public
policy, they suggest that there is a danger that uninformed policy-makers
might be overly influenced by critics of placements. Ethical concerns are
the focus of a study by Gupta and Gould (1997) whose interviews of college
students note generally positive attitudes toward brand placements except
for products such as tobacco, that might be considered
"ethically-charged." They caution managers to avoid the potential for
legal problems and negative reactions among viewers involved in ethically
In contrast to these approaches, this study examines the responses and
reactions of viewers of Mike Meyer's film Austin Powers in Goldmember. Five
Midwestern male teenagers were brought together to view a DVD of the film,
and to talk about their opinions of and reactions to product placements in
the movie. Those interviewed were selected in part because they are members
of a key target market for the film. Aware of the spending power of this
market segment of teens, marketers frequently target young males. It is
estimated that in 2001 teen spending comprised more than 30 percent of U.S.
retail spending accounting for approximately $172 billion in revenue (Kato
In addition, the researchers also viewed the film and chronicled examples
of product placements and their significance to the plots and themes in the
film. The results of the interviews led us to some surprising conclusions
regarding how these young people interpret product placement and the
cultural significance of products and brands.
The Goldmember phenomenon
Comedian Mike Meyers reportedly drew on a variety of television programs
and spy movies including the Bond series as inspiration for his Austin
Powers films. The Bond movies were among the first in the genre to adopt a
genial, self-mocking and ironic tone featuring grotesque evil geniuses and
supernaturally sexy female leads with bizarre and suggestive names such as
Pussy Galore. As Bond, Sean Connery delivered his lines and performed his
superheroic feats with a wink that communicated that viewers were all in on
the joke and it was all in good fun.
Goldmember's plotline revolves around the evil genius—aptly named "Dr.
Evil"—and his alter-ego Mini Me as they escape from a maximum-security
prison and hatch a time-traveling plan to take over the world. Dr. Evil
kidnaps Austin Powers' father, the beloved British spy Sir Nigel Powers,
and takes him back to 1975. Austin joins forces with his former flame, the
streetwise detective Foxxy Cleopatra to save Nigel and stop Dr. Evil's plan
for world domination. While the film is primarily a set of barely coherent
sketches, it employs the venerable "play within a play" device. It opens
with an over-the-top action sequence with cameos of Tom Cruise as Austin
Powers, Gwyneth Paltrow as "Dixie Normous," Kevin Spacey as Dr. Evil, and
Danny DeVito as "Mini-Me."
A cameo of Steven Spielberg who is supposed to be making a film of Powers'
life follows the opening scene. This scene involves yet another cameo and
sexy dance scene with Britney Spears. The close of the movie features John
Travolta as Goldmember.
Products are not only showcased in the film but are included in a variety
of promotional strategies. For example, Heineken Beer is featured in the
Austin Powers films and is also the focus of sales promotions in more than
32,000 bars and restaurants that also offer Austin Powers themed
events. What emerges in the Heineken example is a seamless promotion
erasing boundaries between entertainment and promotion, between the film
experience of brand consumption and the "real" experiences of brand
consumption. Such a strategy has been extremely profitable for the company.
According to MDB News (2002), after Heineken beer appeared in the previous
Austin Powers film: The Spy Who Shagged Me, with the now memorable line
"Get your hands of my heiney, baby!" Heineken's sales rose 15 percent.
The product placements in the movie are extensive and include: the Zone
Diet, MTV "Cribs" program, Jaguar, Starbucks coffee, Taco Bell, Heineken,
Preparation H, Pepsi, Taco Bell, Apple Powerbook, AOL, "America's Funniest
Home Videos," Motorola cell phones, the Mini-Cooper car, and Subway
restaurants. At the close of a movie, the formerly obese character Fat
Bastard appears much slimmer and announces that he lost his excess weight
on the Subway diet. Some placements are incorporated as part of gross-out
humor, such as the many references to Preparation H (the method through
which Dr. Evil plans to arrange for a meteor to crash into the
earth). Many of the placements are not integral to the plotline and their
obvious placement, such as a Taco Bell bag in a maximum-security prison,
may be interpreted as a parody of the product placement industry.
Introducing an active audience
The young men selected for this study are friends and frequently gather at
each other's homes to watch films or play video and computer games. On this
occasion they met at the home of one of the researchers, whose son is also
a participant in the research group. Each participant was asked to identify
himself by a nickname that would protect his privacy and insure
confidentiality. While each participant said that he was comfortable being
identified by his actual name, each chose a popular culture alter-ego from
either literature or computer/video games. In preparation for the
interviews, each member was asked to write down any product placements that
he noticed while watching Goldmember. The viewing environment was casual;
the research participants ate pizza while watching the film and the banter
among members of the group was light and friendly throughout the movie.
In a sense these young men may be seen as members of a social formation
that is created by the activities that they engage in and the interests
that they share. Social formations are more fluid than social categories
based on socio-economic status, race, gender, and/or ethnicity and they
form and dissolve because of contextual activities and conditions. Fiske
suggests that social formations produce cultural experiences, social
identities and relations that frequently "account nonreductively for the
complexities and contradictions of everyday life" (Fiske 1998, 365).
Interestingly, as each young man announces his chosen nickname, "May
Power," "Gustavo's Adolphus," "Tizent Steel," "Ralph," and "Don Quixote,"
the other members of the group nod approvingly. Each understands the
context for the other members' choice of names and their alter egos seem to
reinforce each member's insider status and cement connections between this
social formation. Overall we find that movies and their elements are
deeply important to the individuals we interviewed for the study. They are
emotionally engaged with films -- even the gross-out comedy genre -- and
are passionate about their interactions with the film.
The identification of these young men as a social formation is clarified
during the course of the interviews as members of the group challenge the
other's answers, expand their comments, and ask follow-up questions to help
understand their answers. For example, as the young men address the
potential influence of product placements, "Don Quixote" suggests that a
product placement for Starbuck's wouldn't influence him either way because
he does not drink coffee. In response "Tizent Steel" asks him if him might
feel differently about product placements for Pepsi or Taco Bell and
"Ralph" responds that he knows many people who react with anger to product
placements and overall find that they detract from the films.
Group members do not take issue with the practice of product placements.
Confirming earlier research, all agree, for example that they prefer to see
a product placement for Pepsi rather than a generic form of the soda can
with the word COLA printed on it because it makes the situation and the
people seem more realistic. All members of the group find the more subtle
product placements for Apple Computer, Motorola cell phones, AOL, and E-Bay
most acceptable primarily because they are relevant to the plot line. They
enjoy the humor of the Preparation H and Subway product placements finding
them central to the theme and tone of the film.
What they find questionable are product placements that have no relevance
to the film. For example, "Tizent Steel," said that there is no reason to
have a Taco Bell bag in a prison scene and its inclusion angered him when
he first saw it. "May Power" feels that this type of product placement
takes advantage of audience members while "Don Quixote" considers the Taco
Bell product placement pointless. "I don't see why they did it, because
they didn't do anything with it. They just grabbed a bag off the table." In
contrast "Ralph" finds the Taco Bell bag funny and suggests that its
inclusion is "sort of mocking the whole product placement thing." "Gustavus
Adolphus" also finds it funny and wants to know how much Taco Bell paid for
that product placement. He suggests that they may have paid a large amount
of money for the product placement and the filmmakers may have merely taken
the "bag that the camera man was eating his lunch out of and just set it
down on the table." Clearly these young men have a sophisticated
understanding of the practice of product placements.
All members of the group believe that product placements are an effective
way to introduce new products and they especially like seeing the
Mini-Cooper car in Goldmember. Their response to the Mini-Cooper reinforces
previous research that considers brand awareness the most important motive
in product placement. According to Jay May, president of the product
placement agency Feature This, consumers often purchase the brand of
product that they see most (Beall 2003). The young men understand that the
goal of product placements is brand name recognition and realize that they
often use a specific brand name rather than the product name. Like other
members of this social formation, "Ralph" explains that "a lot of people
use it, they make the brand name the name rather than the generic product
name, like a Kleenex. People say, let's go get some Taco Bell instead of
saying Mexican. You just want Taco Bell."
However, the young men maintain that when a product is overexposed, they
become hostile to the product and less likely to buy it. Their responses to
the issue of overexposure are certainly framed from a negotiated
understanding of the role of product placements in contemporary popular
culture. As "May Power" notes: "I think the Taco Bell product placement is
a good reason not to ever eat Taco Bell again. I'm so sick of Taco Bell. I
see Taco Bell everywhere. I used to eat it a lot but now I haven't had it
in years." The young men also overwhelmingly reject product placements in
movie theatre commercials and concur with "Gustavus Adolphus" when he said,
"If I see a product advertised in a trailer style commercial before a movie
then I will never, ever buy that product."
While researchers generally limit the realm of brand placements to products
and merchandise, the target audience members have a much more inclusive
understanding of product placements. As "Ralph" comments, "Anything in the
movie that's going to make you remember and associate with it, is going to
be a product placement." The young men include brand name commodities in
their definition but also insist that actors who appear in cameos or scenes
as themselves must also be considered product placements. Differentiating
actors who play a role from actors who play themselves, they maintain that
it is not only about actors using products but that actors can sell
themselves as product placements. For example, Britney Speers's cameo in
Goldmember is seen as a blatant manipulative effort to promote the singer
and her commercial advertising connections to the film and to Pepsi.
The social formation's definition of product placements is substantially
different from the researchers and very likely different from the
intentions of those paying to insert their products in the film. Certainly
we see here a vast difference from the intended or preferred meaning
encoded into the film and their oppositional decoding of the product
placements. For this group, the much discussed and promoted celebrity
cameos are considered product placements -- such a definition blurs the
line between products and people. From such an understanding products
appear as characters and characters are nothing more than
products. Certainly the role of consumables becomes extraordinarily
powerful and the status of individuals is demeaned. In one sense, the
group's alternative understanding of product placements may be seen as an
oppositional position. While Hollywood films carry the interests of the
dominant culture, it is possible for social formations to subordinate that
dominant culture particularly when members decode the encoded messages in
ways that are intended.
Yet these viewers fetishize the products by attaching greater than
reasonable significance to them, and in one sense supporting a critical
perspective on the role of consumerism in modern society. This is seen in
the rather strongly hostile reactions to brand placements they thought were
inappropriate, the strongly positive reactions to those they enjoyed and
thought were suitable, and the extension of the product definition to
Viewed through a lens of critical theory, the group's responses to the film
and its products reinforce the notion that the affluence and consumerism of
modern capitalism has led to a society utterly suffused with brands.
Cultural forms like motion pictures, popular music, and advertising help
reinforce the political, economic, and ideological domination of a consumer
society. The concept of commodity fetishism in which the distinction
between the price that a commodity can be bought and sold for, known as its
exchange value, and its practical utility or use value, has been extended
in recent years to include commodities and also offerings of popular
culture. From this perspective, "social relations and cultural appreciation
are objectified in terms of money" (Strinati 1995, 58). We might extend
this thought by observing that it is through brands and what we extract
meaning from the world around us.
The concept of the culture industry grows out of the domination of
commodity fetishism within modern capitalism and is thought to mould and
shape public tastes and preferences towards conformity and consensus while
excluding radical or oppositional perspectives. The culture industry
creates standardized and consumable products that are imposed upon the
public. Cultural production standardizes elements of culture but "also
confers a sense of individuality on each product" (Strinati 1995, 63) that
makes them seem different and ultimately obscures the manipulation of
consciousness within the culture industry. Commodity fetishism takes on
new forms as consumers and viewers respond with skepticism and even
outright disbelief to claims of brand superiority. Advertisers harness
that skepticism and turn it once again to the sales process.
Ironic and self-reflexive advertising has been growing even among
traditional companies. Some refer to this newer type of advertising as
exemplified by the divide between Leno (iconic) and Letterman (ironic.)
"Postmodern advertising" is characterized by ads and campaigns that often
play with time and space, allude to other cultural manifestations, draw on
ideas and images from high and low art, and blur distinctions between high
culture and low culture (Brown, et al. 1999). Postmodernism theorizes
texts as unstable and open to multiple meanings and interpretations.
Boutlis (2000) suggests that commerce has been transformed from an emphasis
on production to an emphasis on marketing with attendant emphases on signs,
symbols, and lifestyles. The manufactured product itself is no longer the
focus of consumption: The focus is on the brand and what it signifies. As
audiences have grown increasingly cynical and suspicious of advertising
messages, young people in particular looked askance at commercials that
were too iconic or used traditional emotional and dramatic
appeals. Advertisers took note and began to create campaigns that
acknowledge the sophistication and awareness of consumers toward commercial
Boutlis further observes that among the first ironic campaigns was the
famous "think small" campaign created by legendary ad man Bill Bernbach for
Volkswagen. More and more ads are now themed around self-parody, sly
allusions to other brands, and open acknowledgement of the silliness of
some advertising claims. Sprite's successful "Image is nothing, thirst is
everything" parodies image advertising that suggests wearing sneakers
endorsed by a famous basketball star will somehow transfer the star's
social capital and talent to the shoe-buyer. Viewers are invited to be in
on the joke and since they are aware, they may feel a certain immunity to
the message or even a sense of gratification that they are cool enough to
be in on it. As Levine points out, "While you're laughing, maybe rolling
your eyes, the commercial does its work" (2003, 25). Advertisers also take
advantage of the illusion of invulnerability. Numerous studies show that
individuals overestimate their resistance to persuasion and assume that
they are far less gullible than other people (Levine, 2003).
As researchers, we are surprised at several of the social formation's
responses to the Austin Powers brand placements. The first surprise was
how expansive their definitions are of what constitutes a placement. Cameo
appearances are not seen as amusing or sly references. Rather, they are
seen as unambiguous product placements that in the case of Britney Spears,
for example, are annoying and inappropriate. A song, according to the
young men, can also be characterized as a product and thus can become a
brand placement. Even the U.S. and U.K. flags depicted in the film are
seen by group members as product placements.
Another surprise is that these viewers see little humor in Meyer's attempt
to parody brand placements. As "Ralph" comments, "I think there's a line
somewhere between making fun of a product and pushing a product." They
like the references to Preparation H in that they enjoy the gross-out
humor. While we as researchers are somewhat amused by the send-up of
blatant brand placements, they see any placement that is out of synch with
the storyline as offensive. As "Gustavus Adolphus" said, "I think it's
good [a placement] if it's funny and because it makes it seem like real
people. Like if I go to get some food, I'm going to buy from McDonald's or
Burger /king or Taco Bell not some 'generic burger joint.' But I think they
can overdo it like Pepsi, I saw too much Pepsi in the film."
Yet another unexpected finding is the extent to which their social reality
is brand saturated. We did expect them to be an active and engaged
audience. What we did not anticipate is the degree to which they express
themselves in a brand vocabulary. As viewers, they are decoding meanings
expressed through plot, characters, and settings. As they watch, they are
involved in a creative process of fitting what they see into the social
reality they inhabit. "Gustavus Adolphus" comments, to vigorous agreement,
"I refuse to buy Pepsi -- I'm going to go buy Sprite or something
instead." Even in the act of angry oppositional decoding, his decision is
to select another major national soft drink brand.
We observe as these young men construct and experience culture through
brands. Important messages in this film and many others are communicated
through brands as they become yet another directorial device along with
elements such as freeze framing or the selection of a musical score. In
fact, brand placement in all but period films would be an important
decision in several ways: first, as mentioned earlier, it can be a
critical financial and marketing decision. Second, it is a way to
understand how directors and filmgoers see contemporary life. As the
director decides whether the setting will be lush or stark, whether the
characters live in luxury or penury, he or she will also be deciding on the
telling detail that communicates through a brand use or reference.
When Mike Meyers created the films Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
and Austin Powers in Goldmember he parodied not only the super spy movie
genre, but the burgeoning use of product placements in all sorts of
films. Some, however, believe that his wink-wink nudge-nudge approach to
product placement is really yet another manipulation of the promotional
method that invites the viewer to believe he/she is in on the joke, when in
fact the product placement marketers are achieving at least some of their
goals for product recognition. Further, for some audiences such as the
group described here, brands are so ubiquitous that they are crucial to all
aspects of life. When name brands infiltrate the language so thoroughly,
they frame how people think about eating, drinking, dressing themselves,
choosing mates, and conducting family rituals.
The advertisers' sleight of hand is thus pretending that this is not
"really" a selling message while effectively engaging the viewer in that
selling message. Even if viewers critically evaluate messages and decode
the magic of the parody strategy, they still must intellectually and
emotionally process the brand. While this may not result in their
purchasing the product because they dislike the sense of manipulation, the
brand is now a fragment of their social reality.
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