There have been many instances when you wanted a product simply because it was being used by your favourite character on-screen. But it’s not just you who did notice the product in a particular blockbuster movie or acclaimed international TV series. The concept of product placement isn’t new and has been long used by the biggest companies, especially tech brands, to reach consumers in a most genuine and meaningful way. And while brand integration is everywhere these days, from movies, TV series to music videos, a handful of product placements stand out. Not because big money was involved but because the product was central to a storyline and the character itself had an emotional attachment to the device. Who can forget Carrie Bradshaw’s beloved Apple PowerBook G3 from Sex and the City or who didn’t want that Nokia 8110 from The Matrix? Here are five classic examples of product placement in movies and television shows that were subtle but impactful.
Sex and the City: Apple PowerBook G3
Carrie Bradshaw, the lead character from the iconic TV show Sex and the City, was addicted to her Manolo Blahniks and the PowerBook G3. The Mac wasn’t just a prop in Carrie’s world. It was Carrie’s life and she was shown extensively using the Mac to write a newspaper column “Sex and the City.” The appearance of the PowerBook G3 in every Sex and the City episode made Mac a household name in the US, a big win for Apple at that time. More than that, Bradshaw and Sex and the City helped create a new image of Mac as a fashion-tech accessory. The image of the black PowerBook G3 with the “upside-down” Apple logo is still fresh in the minds of people. In a way, Carrie Bradshaw, a 35-year-old freelance writer and fashionista, started the trend of influencer marketing way back in the late 90s. She was shown as someone who only used a Mac for work and that probably gave Apple an opportunity to target consumers with an aspirational lifestyle.
The Matrix: Nokia 8110
In the popular 1999 movie The Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves, the Nokia 8110 “banana phone” was central to the plot. Reeves was famous for playing Neo in the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster and was constantly seen using the Nokia 8110, a curved mobile with a slider. Thanks to the popularity of the movie, Nokia 8810 achieved instant recognition selling over 8 million units. The phone had a slight curve and was designed to wrap around the face, which made it distinctive from other phones. The price was on the higher side, but that didn’t stop people from buying the Nokia 8110 just like Neo’s. Those in brand management and advertising hail the in-movie placement of Nokia 8110 in “The Matrix” film as one of the greatest successes of product placement. The Nokia 8110 had a futuristic design and The Matrix, the sci-fi dystopian future on artificial intelligence, successfully captured the essence of the product.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the original Nokia 8110 didn’t come with a spring-loaded mechanism as shown in the movie? In fact, the Nokia 8110 was specially modified to have a spring-loaded mechanism.
House of Cards: Monument Valley
Remember the episode of House of Cards when Kevin Spacey’s character, the series’ lead, US president Frank Underwood, was shown playing the critically acclaimed Monument Valley game on his iPad? The game wasn’t product placement, though it surely was an actual plot on the show. It’s interesting to see how an indie game like Monument Valley made it to a cult show like House of Cards, since no paid deal was in place. Although the makers never exactly explained the idea of putting Monument Valley in the show, the indie puzzle might give a peek into the character of Frank and his current position. Within hours of the episode being aired on Netflix, the game hit the top 10 of paid apps on iTunes and became the third most popular paid game on Google Play.
Modern Family: iPad
Another example is from one of the episodes of the TV series Modern Family in 2010. ABC’s hit sitcom aired an episode that puts Apple’s flashy iPad in the focus, three days before the tablet hits stores. The plot involved the Dunphy family trying to buy their gadget-obsessed dad Phil an iPad for his birthday, which coincides with the device’s launch day. They didn’t pre-order it, so they tried desperately to fulfill their father’s birthday wish. Sure, the episode was an example of over-the-top product placement but that’s the theme of the show. The iPad was carefully integrated into the plot and it didn’t feel like an ad for a new Apple product. Apple got the fantastic opportunity to show a brand new product that’s aimed at families, a demography key to the success of the iPad. Cupertino didn’t pay for the brand tie-up, though the company did provide the iPad for the show.
Guardians of Galaxy: Sony Walkman
Sony’s cult Walkman has shown up in several movies and TV shows before. The classic Walkman has made appearances in both Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, with Peter “Star-Lord” Quill being shown using his Walkman over the Galaxy. The Walkman has an emotional bond with Quill, played by Chris Pratt, given to him by his mother as a gift. While the Sony Walkman might be phased out, the demand for the cassette player among vintage gadget collectors continues to be there. Peter Quill’s prized possession, the TPS-L2 Walkman, that has been prominently featured in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies can fetch hundreds of dollars on sites like eBay. The TPS-L2 was released July 1, 1979, and originally cost $200. It is also the first walkman to ever be mass produced.
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