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Jan van den Hemel July 26th, 2004 12:40 PM

Brand names use in movie
I heard on the Back to the Future DVD audio commentary by Robert Zemeckis that he thought in hindsight it was not worth all the trouble to put references to Nike and Pepsi etc in his version of the future (in BTTF2). Why is it such trouble and to what extend can you use certain brand names in your movies?

John Britt July 26th, 2004 02:07 PM

Hmmm... My natural assumption is that by "trouble" he meant the negative response to paid product placements in movies. I seem to recall that was the era of some of the first paid product placements (or at least the first that it had been discussed so openly) and some people were very unhappy with it, hence the "trouble." I could be wrong, though, but I don't recall B2TF being the type of movie where Zemekis would have trouble getting Nike and Pepsi to allow their products to be displayed throughout the film...

Jan van den Hemel July 26th, 2004 02:51 PM

Actually he mentioned that it was very difficult getting approval for it from the brands, yes. Which is indeed strange. I like how they solved it in "Repo Man" where everything is white label ("food", "beer", etc)

Peter Moore July 26th, 2004 03:08 PM

You almost always need permission for this, despite the fact that I think that is ludicrious that you can't parody products using their logo yet you can parody copyrighted songs, etc.

Companies are extremely protective of their trademarks because, unlike with copyrights, it's possible to lose them if they are misued too commonly. The tradeoff you get for indefinite protection.

So yes they're surprisingly reluctant to let movie makers use their logos. In Austin Powers 2, for example, they had to ask Starbucks for permission for that scene. I'd have thought Starbucks would pay THEM to do it.

Christopher C. Murphy July 26th, 2004 03:18 PM

I know a girl that worked for a product placement company. It's really not that common for any company to pay for placement in movies. You'd think it is, but ultimately there is no way to know who will see the film. In television you got the ratings system, so some basic info on your demographics. But, films can go one way or the other...look at Ben Affleck's Gigli thing! If I paid millions to be in that...man, what a tanker.

That's the not the main reason why, by the way, companies don't pay to be in movies. There are many reasons. One of the things interesting things about cars in movies is that places rent them to be in the movies. So, you have 1000's of movies a year being made...there are rental houses out in LA that only rent to movies in production. If the car companies gave cars to movies they'd lose money.

The other thing about product placement is that the Rep's for the placement companies have to work really hard to get stuff "legal" for their films. Like getting a Coke machine in a movie is better for the film than for Coke, so they really have to try and get it secured. The films always look better if someone grabs a Coke and not some no-name brand!

It's complicated, but I remember being told that placement of product isn't what it appears to be. I bet that on "sure things" (Tom Cruise or similar) - the companies are eager to cooperate though!


Keith Loh July 26th, 2004 03:34 PM

There is another reason why getting brands into movies may not be a good idea. Brands change all the time and will date your movie. Even worse, if your movie is a futuristic movie, including a logo for a company that then goes defunct can result in some unwanted humour.

There is something called "The curse of 'Blade Runner'". That movie was made in 1982 and since then nearly every real company featured in that movie was sold, changed their brand or went south in some other way (except for Coca Cola). Until recently, Atari was a company without any substance. Only a couple years after 'Blade Runner', Atari died in the first big console game bust. Only last year was Atari revived as a brand name. Bell at the time was an unstoppable phone monopoly. But it was split up into the mini-Bells right after 'Blade Runner', as well. Omni magazine is gone.

In "2001: A Space Odyssey", Pan Am is the most famous brand featured. Of course, it is no longer with us. Perhaps when we actually do have regular space plane service to an orbital space station Pan Am might be revived again.

John Britt July 26th, 2004 04:04 PM

Interesting. As Peter said, I'm surprised that it would be difficult to convince a company to allow their products to appear in a "summer blockbuster" (as long as it was in a positive light). It's not that I don't understand that we have to get permission to use trademarked items in our work, but just that it's weird that a company would be uptight about having their product featured (positively) in, say, the next big 80s Michael J Fox flick. This might be the first reason I've found to rent Back to the Future on DVD, I must say...

One thing I'm not sure I follow is how this dilutes the trademark, though. Having your characters repeatedly say, "I'm going to Xerox this form" over and over is one thing, but prominently showing an actual Xerox photocopier is another. If every movie featured its characters drinking Coke, would that really endanger Coke's legal control over the trademark?

Regardless, I'm just thankful we've got some lawyers as members of this forum... :)

Giroud Francois July 26th, 2004 04:18 PM

remember, saying NO is the easiest way to be important.

Christopher C. Murphy July 26th, 2004 04:20 PM

John, when you have a company create a commerical for their product there is a huge amount of control in regards to the copy (script) and everything involved. We're talking second by second, color by color and the overall message must be absolute what the creatives wanted.

In films, how the heck do you police your product placement? I'm sure there have been times companies work with studios. But, overall you can't police a 2 hour movie and know for sure your product won't be seen negatively. I've been on 30 second commerical productions and the companies are relentless...just relentless with every little damn detail. It's important to them, of course.

I can't imagine trying to direct a movie and having a stupid advertiser sitting there telling me to change something. I'd probably shoot myself! This probably disqualifies me from directing features for Hollywood because they're probably going to be doing this shortly...it's cash after all.

Long live independent films with no budgest shot on video.....story first!


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