Advertisers tried to engage with consumers by being part of the story, but they probably wasted their money.
Jurassic World is storming through box office records and the companies who were featured in the film—brands ranging from Starbucks to Brookstone to Margaritaville—have gotten enough exposure to make any advertiser drool. Whether the product placements were part of a corporate money-grab, a meta-commentary on it, or some combination of the two is up for debate. The question marketers should be asking is if those companies will see any return on their investment in the film.
Product placement in movies and television is everywhere you look. In 2010 alone, advertisers funneled $7.5 billion into consumer screens in the form of paid product placements. This is partly due to the rise of time shifting. Since most DVR users breeze past commercials (90% according to the International Journal of Business and Management), product placements come at a time when the viewer’s advertising-blinders are down—during the program.
However, the successes and failures of product placements are dependent on how they’re used. In Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, Martin Lindstrom put it to the neuroscientific test:
[F]or product placement to work, it has to be a lot slyer and more sophisticated than plunking a series of random products on a screen and expecting us to respond. [In E.T.] Elliott didn’t just pop those Reese’s Pieces into his mouth during a thoughtless bike ride with his buddies … Unless the brand in question plays a fundamental part of the storyline, we won’t remember it, period.
Films like Jurassic World, with its brand-saturated plot, just produce a lot of white noise. Even if the product placements contribute to the theme of corporate greed, those brands aren’t being used to advance the plot themselves—they’re just there. The Coca-Cola that Chris Pratt’s character cooled off with didn’t contribute anymore towards the plot than the specially made SUVs Mercedes Benz unveiled in the film. Mercedes won’t disclose how much they put into having their cars featured in the movie, but however much it was, according to Lindstrom, most of it was a waste.
So, what sort of product placements do work? Lindstrom pointed out that Reeses Pieces sales tripled a week after E.T.’s release, and the original Jurassic Park had a textbook example of effective product placement as well. Remember the Barbasol can Nedry uses to smuggle the dinosaur embryos out of the park? In the bottom of the can was a cold-storage container capable of holding dino DNA for up to 36 hours. It also had real shaving cream, in case security grew suspicious. Barbasol benefited so much from this cameo that they’ve continued their partnership with the Jurassic franchise some twenty years later by creating Jurassic World themed cans.
It worked because Barbasol’s presence in the film not only made sense, it contributed to the plot in a major way. Despite Jurassic World’s enormous box office success, when it comes to product placement, marketers would do better to look back about twenty years—to a small can of shaving cream.
FOUR32C is an interactive agency, NYC. We’re curious digital natives who bring creativity and intelligence to the world’s most beloved brands. We create thoughtful, compelling interactive experiences by starting every project with questions. Our process leads to evocative digital products designed with a purpose for every pixel.