Like your product placement unsubtle, overt and obvious?
Watch for the bottle of New Belgium Brewery’s Fat Tire beer in “Fast Food Nation.” In it, Bruce Willis plays a character who sells meat to the nearly-fictional Mickey’s, a fast food burger chain whose marketing guy (Greg Kinnear) is trying to figure out why “there’s s*** in the meat” patties. The scene with Willis and Kinnear is set in Cody, Colorado at a restaurant near the stock pens and the offending meat packer and its suffering illegal laborers. The Fat Tire label is directed right at the camera, while Willis spouts off, threatening and menacing, about whiny Americans who should just learn to cook their meat and shut up – as he orders another Fat Tire. New Belgium Brewery is one of the more progressively sustainable operations around. I wonder if they are happy with the association of contaminated meat, the social injustices of the fast food industry as portrayed very realistically in this movie. Perhaps New Belgium was going for “hip with irony” product association. (On the far side from irony, I recently read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and followed it up with “Supersize Me” and “Fast Food Nation,” and am too revolted for any of it to be the object of an inside wink.)
Like your product placement complex and suspect?
In the Showtime series “Weeds,” Mary-Louise Parker plays Nancy Botwin, the mother of two boys in the nearly-fictional and wealthy California suburb of Agrestic. Her dead husband has left Nancy and the boys in financial straights. So Nancy sells weed. She’s very good at it. So good, in fact, she can keep the house and the maid and the ne’er-do-well brother-in-law afloat and buy a Prius.
Accompanied by a little Caribbean ditty “life can be so sunny with money, money, money,” Nancy drives the Prius home to her youngest son, Shane. Shane is at the age when truth comes easily and is (or should be) un-punishable. He’s playing with an electric car in the driveway. Nancy runs over his toy car, smashing it to smithereens.
“Sweetie, I’m sorry. I didn’t see it. I’m not used to driving this low to the ground.”
“Did you total your car, too?”
“What? No. The lease was up. I just bought this. Isn’t it cute?”
“No. It’s crappy and small.”
“It’s environmentally responsible.”
“I liked the Range Rover.”
“The Range Rover was obnoxious. There’s global warming. Unless you want the planet to dissolve to one big ocean…”
“Global warming is just God’s will. I liked the Range Rover. This car’s gay.”
“Don’t be ignorant, just because it’s in right now. Care about the planet for a change.”
Nancy then unloads from the trunk of the Prius loot from an expensive shopping spree.
I don’t want to spoil the series for anyone who has not yet seen it…but here’s the set up for another scene from the second series: Nancy has mucked it up for her former weed supplier, Heylia, whom the federal drug agents have raided and shut down. Nancy drives (the Prius) to a meeting with Heylia to suggest Heylia buy Nancy’s crop and take the business out of state. Heleah mocks Nancy.
“Oh, so now I’m supposed to traffic across state lines? Ain’t that genius. Take a business it took me 20 years to build and just pick it up and move it someplace else. You tellin’ me you’re getting the shakedown from Mr. Federal Agent? Well, good. Welcome to the f***** party. Conrad know you come see me?” (Conrad is Nancy’s business partner who used to work with Heylia…and is Heylia’s nephew.)
“No. You buyin’ or not?”
“You two like them big companies pumping toxic s*** in the air and then acting all surprised when ice caps melt and hurricanes drown the wards.”
“F*** you. I drive a Prius.”
In the last episode of the HBO series, “Six Feet Under,” the young female character, Claire, gets into a car and pushes a button to start it. The camera then pans back to show Claire driving to New York – to her big wide future, acting on her passions as an artist – in a Prius. For Toyota, that was great product placement.
In “Weeds,” the message is not as goose-fleshy, and it’s no less meaningful.