Hollywood’s most obnoxious product placements
Who doesn’t love getting sucked into a good movie or binge-worthy show? We love film for the way it immerses us in fantasy and provides an escape from our day to day worries. It might seem like Hollywood magic, but it’s actually the result of many careful decisions, subtly drawing viewers deeper into another world.
This is why bad product placement is so jarring. When a movie or TV show suddenly starts to feel like an ad for a product, we get flung back into reality and the illusion breaks. We’ll take a closer look at product placement, a few examples of well done placements, and then we’ll dig into some of the worst, most obnoxious product placements we’ve ever seen.
1. What is product placement?
If you watch TV daily, you probably see hundreds, if not thousands, of product placements a week. Essentially, product placement is when a company pays to have its brand or service featured in a movie or TV show. It can be as quick as a two-second shot containing a logo or as long and awkward as an actual commercial.
When product placement is done well, you don’t even realize it’s happening. The product blends right into the story, barely drawing your attention but still an important part of the action. Another key part of product placement is that it will always show the product in the most positive light.
NEXT: Call 007 for an example of product placement done very, very well.
2. James Bond
When a new Bond movie is announced, we always wonder about three things: who will play the Bond girl, who will sing the theme song, and what car will Bond drive? Bond has driven many cars over the years, but throughout the series Aston Martin has become the car most associated with the secret agent.
There’s rarely dialogue calling Bond’s car out by name. Instead, the camera shows us how great the car looks and how awesome Bond seems behind the wheel. Bond’s cars tend to see a spike in sales when the films come out, and Aston Martin is betting on Bond to sell their electric cars when the next Bond movie comes out.
NEXT: This product placement works because the colorful little candies are part of the plot.
3. E.T.’s Reese’s Pieces
When young Elliot uses a bag of candy to lure his alien friend out of the forest, it’s such a key moment in the plot of the movie E.T. The Extra-terrestrial that you probably never realized you were watching an ad. However, big money exchanged hands behind the scenes to determine what brand of candy we see.
Originally, director Steven Spielberg wanted M&M’s for this iconic scene. The company, however, didn’t agree to be featured, so Hershey’s stepped in with their Reese’s Pieces. They paid $1 million for the placement, and the candy tripled its sales once the movie came out.
NEXT: No money changed hands for one of the most successful placements of all time.
4. The Toy Story effect
In the smash hit Toy Story movies, a young boy’s toys come to life when he’s out of the room. Because many of the characters in Toy Story are actual real-life products, it could have turned into a product placement disaster. However, Toy Story succeeded because it told a character-driven story.
Products like Etch-a-Sketch and Mr. Potato Head didn’t pay to appear in the film, but they still saw huge sales bumps when it came out. By turning classic toys into lovable characters, Toy Story drove an 800 percent increase in sales for Mr. Potato Head and gave the Etch-a-Sketch a 4000 percent bump.
NEXT: You’ll be amazed when you see how much companies are willing to pay to get your attention.
5. How much do product placement deals cost?
Your eyeballs and attention don’t come cheap to brands cutting product placement deals. The average product placement in a movie costs $22,000. However, some brands are willing to shell out millions of dollars to get placements in bigger movies. For example, Heineken spent $58.5 million to be James Bond’s drink of choice in Skyfall.
For the movies and TV shows on the receiving end of these product placement deals, the money from the placement often makes up a big part of their budget, allowing the film or show to be made. Product placements are a financial win-win, and they aren’t going away any time soon.
NEXT: With so much upside, product placements couldn’t possibly go wrong, right??
6. Product placement gone wrong
On the surface, it seems like it should be pretty easy to pull off a seamless product placement, but these TV shows and movies are proof that it’s a lot harder than it looks. Unnecessarily long shots of the logo, unrealistic awkward dialogue, and totally transparent plugs make these examples of product placement stand out as particularly egregious.
When product placement goes wrong, you can’t help but roll your eyes. It breaks the continuity of the story you’re watching, and it feels like the filmmakers think you’re stupid. To put it simply, it sucks. Let’s take a look at some of the worst offenders.
NEXT: This 2007 movie had so much product placement it was practically a car commercial.
Transformers had all the makings of a big summer blockbuster, and though it was a huge hit the blatant product placement left a lot of audience members cold. Transformers director Michael Bay had previously worked with General Motors making commercials for Chevy cars and trucks, so striking up a partnership with the company for Transformers seemed like a no-brainer.
Unfortunately for Bay, his car commercial experience came through all too clear in the film. The camera lingers too long and lovingly on the cars for them to feel like a natural part of the story as it unfolds. Instead, the product placement takes us out of the moment and distracts from the movie.
NEXT: This show was almost canceled until a product placement brought it back, but at what cost?
Chuck was an action-comedy on NBC that focused on a nerdy man who suddenly finds himself embroiled in the plot of an international spy thriller. The witty show was beloved by a niche audience, but because it never found broad appeal it was almost canceled in its second season. Passionate fan petitions and cash from product placements kept Chuck on the air.
However, Chuck’s awkward pitch for a minivan had many viewers wincing in embarrassment. In one episode, Chuck borrows a Toyota Sienna and spends what feels like an eternity running down its exciting features, like dual screens, Bluetooth, and a sound system — all pretty standard in new cars these days.
NEXT: We wish these sneakers had been sneakier about their product placement.
9. I, Robot
Will Smith’s I, Robot is set in the 2030s and centers on a main character who’s nostalgic for the good old days. Smith’s protagonist is so enamored with the past that he orders a pair of “vintage” Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers, and when they arrive in the mail he treats us to a mini-ad for the shoes.
We watch as Smith gently opens the box and holds his new sneakers up to the camera, logo facing out. He later kicks his leg up to show off the shoes to another character, again with the logo blatantly visible. Just thinking about it, we can’t stop cringing.
NEXT: This Walking Dead getaway car had some odd contractual stipulations.
10. The Walking Dead
Fans of The Walking Dead love the zombie show for its gritty approach to the undead horror trope. Fans have probably also noticed that the zombie killing crew keep their car almost suspiciously clean. We can thank a promotional deal with Hyundai for this odd inconsistency in an otherwise meticulously created world.
Hyundai struck up a product placement deal with The Walking Dead, which is why the green Hyundai Tucson featured so prominently in the show. However, Hyundai didn’t want the car to ever get dirty, so it stayed supernaturally clean in the filthy world of the show. The show writers were also forbidden to have a plot where the car broke down or was used to run down zombies.
NEXT: This movie went up the hill to fetch a pail of product placement.
11. Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler movies aren’t exactly famous for their artistic integrity, but the amount of product placement in Jack and Jill is truly ridiculous and distracting. The movie’s plot centers on an ad executive named Jack who struggles to help his lonely sister find love. However, most of the movie’s true concern seems to be for product placement.
The forgettable comedy is basically an all-you-can-eat buffet of shameless product placements. From Match.com and Dunkin Donuts to Royal Caribbean Cruises, the movie is wall to wall ads, inspiring one Twitter user to write, “Jack and Jill also has more product placement than most supermarkets.”
NEXT: Advertisers hailed this movie as a Superbowl for women, but ladies weren’t tuning in for the ads.
12. Sex and the City
Okay, I have to admit that Sex and the City is a really fun guilty pleasure. Starved for naughty brunch talk with the fabulous foursome after the show was canceled, catching up with their lives in movie form was a real treat even though the movie has more product placement than you can shake a Vera Wang dress at.
The movie had seven official corporate partners, including Skyy Vodka and Mercedes Benz, but the real meat of the product placement went to the featured designers. Carrie and company namedrop or wear clothes, shoes, and handbags from over twenty high-end brands according to a count in Vanity Fair.
NEXT: This sitcom wore blatant product placements on its sleeve, but it wasn’t always a good laugh.
13. 30 Rock
Tina Fey’s 30 Rock follows the misadventures of a TV writer and her wacky cast and crew. Overall, the show is witty and sharp, with many smart critiques of corporate culture. So, when they began weaving shameless product plugs into the fabric of the show, some viewers saw it as a misstep.
In one particularly on the nose placement, Fey and other characters talk about the great taste of Diet Snapple and their favorite flavors. Later on, when characters are waiting for an elevator a man dressed in a Snapple bottle costume gets off on their floor. A joke that’s a little funny once quickly becomes grating when we all know it’s just an ad barely in disguise.
NEXT: If this was an accident, this product placement was worth $1 million in free advertising.
14. Game of Thrones
This HBO television show is set in a fantastical world of magic, dragons, kings, and queens. It goes without saying that Starbucks stores aren’t found at every corner like they are in our modern world. That’s why it was shocking to fans in May 2019 when a Starbucks cup appeared in a Game of Thrones scene.
Was it by accident? On purpose? Why was it there? What flavor was it? So many questions have been left unanswered as of May 2019. However, the Starbucks cup has set the Internet on fire with memes galore. Who doesn’t love a good meme? If Starbucks didn’t pay for the placement, MarketWatch says that’s basically $1 million worth of free advertising for the brand.
NEXT: Even on a desert island, Hollywood finds a way to jam products into this movie.
15. Cast Away
In the 2000 hit movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays a FedEx delivery man who is flying a FedEx plane when he crashes and is stranded on an island. Hanks scavenges through the FedEx packages to find supplies for his survival, conveniently flashing the FedEx logo hundreds of times.
Later, when he returns to civilization Hanks visits FedEx headquarters and meets the real FedEx CEO. With the sound off, you might think you were watching an incredibly long FedEx commercial. Although FedEx didn’t exactly pay for inclusion in the film, they did provide props including uniforms, trucks, and boxes, and benefited greatly from the exposure. Don’t even get us started on Wilson.
NEXT: Adam Sandler strikes again with this groan-inducing product placement.
16. Little Nicky
We’ve already established that Adam Sandler isn’t exactly Orson Welles, but the product placement in his feature Little Nicky stands out as especially bad, even by Sandler standards. The movie tells the story of the devil’s kindly youngest son Nicky and his adventures on Earth trying to convince his evil older brothers to come back to Hell.
The most hellish thing about this movie is watching Nicky repeatedly shill for Popeyes Chicken. He even devotes a scene to explain how to eat Popeyes Chicken. We love fried chicken as much as the next guy, but this kind of placement leaves us craving a bucket of KFC and some peace and quiet.
NEXT: Product placement was the biggest loser on this show.
17. The Biggest Loser
Promoting an active lifestyle and healthy eating is a big part of The Biggest Loser, but Ziplock’s attempts to market their plastic bags and flimsy faux-Tupperware ultimately came off as a mismatch. Despite Ziplock’s natural tie-in to home cooking and keeping food fresh, their approach felt stilted and heavy-handed.
Lasting as long as 45 seconds, Biggest Loser hosts and contestants would talk about Ziplock products in often confusing ways. In one particularly puzzling placement, host Jillian Michaels bagged up fresh melon and left it on the counter while explaining that the bags prevent freezer burn. Who freezes a melon? Viewers were left with more questions than answers.
NEXT: This kids’ movie is really an ad in disguise for a whole store’s worth of products.
In case you’re blissfully unaware of its existence, Foodfight! is a horrific 2012 animated feature that tried to be a kind of Toy Story set in a grocery store. Needless to say, it failed horrendously, and it contains more product placement per second than any other movie we’ve looked at yet.
In Foodfight! brand mascots are the main characters, including over 80 brands. Charlie Tuna and Mrs. Butterworth come alive to fight the evil, generic Brand X. The movie attempts to be Toy Story, but without a heart and with no motivation beyond constantly shilling for brands, it falls on its face.
NEXT: In 2017, product placement was an $8.78 billion industry.
19. Why do brands like product placement?
Product placements are on the rise, and have been for the last decade or so. In a marketplace where consumers are getting savvier about avoiding ads, brands are being driven more and more to strike up partnerships to embed their products directly into content. You might fast forward through commercials on your DVR, but you won’t miss a second of your favorite show.
Studies have found that brands are spending over 30 percent of their advertising budget on product placements, and 60 percent of viewers see a product more favorably after seeing it placed in a movie. So, you see, to these brands your attention is a very valuable thing.
NEXT: Where there’s smoke, there’s product placement.
20. Superman II
You don’t see as much smoking in movies now as you used to, and that’s a good thing. Back in 1980 when Superman II came out, it was a different story. Despite the fact that she didn’t smoke in the comic books, filmmakers had Superman’s lady Lois Lane chain-smoking her way through the flick.
It turns out, a placement deal with Marlboro is the reason we saw Lois Lane lighting up. The Philip Morris company paid $40,000 for inclusion in the film. The movie even features a delivery truck emblazoned with the Marlboro logo, even though real cigarette delivery trucks are unmarked for security reasons.
NEXT: The “Man of Steel” should change his name to “Man of Selling Out.”
21. Man of Steel
2013’s Man of Steel saw Superman coming back to the big screen, this time with even more placements. The movie boasts over 100 product placements from companies like Nokia, Gillette, and Chrysler getting into the mix. Before the movie even came out, it was cross-promoted by Carl’s Jr, Twizzlers, and more.
On screen, viewers were subjected to non-stop logos and branding. Sears and 7-Eleven stores get blown up during conflicts, and at one point Clark Kent drinks a Budweiser. The filmmakers claimed the placements grounded the action in reality, but superfans felt let down by the never-ending stream of placements.
NEXT: We’re not done with you yet, Superman!
Smallville was a teen drama on the CW chronicling the adventures of a young Clark Kent as he came to grips with his superpowers. Although this time Superman was on the small screen, he still needed big bucks from product placements, and clumsy writing led to one particularly cringe worthy moment.
As one character flashes a box of Acuvue contacts, actress and cult member Allison Mack utters the soul-crushing line, “Acuvue to the rescue!” Contact lenses seem to us like a product that sell themselves, making this particular instance of shameless plugging extra embarrassing. You either need them or you don’t.
NEXT: This alleged “comedy” is more like an infomercial
23. The Internship
Comedy bros Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson teamed up again for The Internship in 2013. They play laid-off salesmen who get internships at Google in an attempt to start a new chapter in their careers. What they actually start is a 120 minute sponsored video for the tech giant.
Google features prominently all over the movie, and the camera glides lovingly through their fancy offices like you’re watching a brochure come to life. Instead of showing the challenges or actual work that goes on at Google, we see the free food, high tech gadgets, and other perks they offer to employees.
NEXT: Before there was a Google, this tech company threw their hat in the product placement ring.
24. You’ve Got Mail
Remember dial-up modems and AOL CD-Roms? If you’re ever feeling nostalgic for the early days of the Internet, You’ve Got Mail is a great time capsule of the era, in part thanks to heavy placements from America Online. You might recall that when you got a new email in those days, your computer barked out, “You’ve Got Mail.”
Taking a corporate slogan as a title was just the first step for this product placement heavy flick. In one scene, characters even talk about how easy it is to order at Starbucks. Still, thanks to Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, this Shop Around the Corner remake still manages to hold on to a little sparkle through the gross peddling.
NEXT: Microsoft isn’t above tacky placements either.
25. The Amazing Spider-Man
When you say you’re going to look something up online, you probably say you’re “Googling” it. Microsoft understandably wishes you would say “Bing” instead, and they have secured placements in plenty of shows and movies where characters awkwardly chat about “Binging” various bits of information. It feels fake and silly every time.
One of the worst Bing moments comes in The Amazing Spider-Man, from the spider himself Peter Parker. With great power comes great responsibility, and we wish Spider-Man had used his power to put his foot down with Microsoft. Besides, we all know that the real Spider-Man would never stoop so low.
NEXT: This cop show reboot is a frequent offender when it comes to bad product placements.
26. Hawaii Five-0
CBS procedural Hawaii Five-0 is a new take on the TV classic about detectives in the islands. It also happens to be chock full of ridiculous product placements. There are so many poorly executed placements to choose from when it comes to this show, but we think this Subway placement takes the cake.
Characters spend almost a full minute on screen talking about the health benefits of eating at Subway, even praising Subway’s disgraced former pitchman Jared for his weight loss while eating the subs. All the while, one character is holding a Subway sub and Subway cup, brandishing the logos at the camera. Enough already!
NEXT: Not even Brad Pitt is immune to the allure of a bad product placement.
27. World War Z
World War Z is an action thriller about Brad Pitt kicking some serious zombie butt and taking a break during a climactic moment to enjoy a cold, refreshing can of Pepsi. The product placement in this movie stands out as particularly hamfisted for the way it interrupts a suspenseful action sequence for no real reason at all.
After seeing the placement, one reviewer wrote, “After watching him trying to save to world for an hour and a half, I expect a desire to end it, not to drink bloody Pepsi.” This product placement definitely got our attention, just not in the way that Pepsi hoped.
NEXT: Well, well, well, look who’s back again.
28. Happy Gilmore
Sorry if you’re an Adam Sandler fan, but we simply can’t let this level of product placement slide. Even in Happy Gilmore, one of our favorite Sandler flicks, placements intrude on the story, distracting us from funnyman Sandler’s goofball antics. One scene set in a Subway shop is like a masterclass in product placement at its most obnoxious.
As Sandler has a conversation at one of the Subway tables, logos intrude into every shot. His partner holds a Subway cup that magically beams its logo to the front from every angle. Sandler finally goes full advertisement, as we cut to him on the golf green wearing a Subway polo and eating a sandwich.
NEXT: Looking for product placements in this soap opera is like trying to find sand on the beach.
29. Days of Our Lives
As their name recalls, soap operas began as advertorials to sell soap and other products to the ladies watching at home. Melodramatic plots and outrageously big hair eventually led soaps to focus more on what they call “plot” than products, but many soap operas still toss in outrageously obvious product placements, and none do it more often than the daytime staple Days of Our Lives.
Only on Days of Our Lives can you watch characters have a minute long conversation about eating Cheerios as a nighttime snack or hear a child stumble through the full brand name, “Nature Valley Granola Nut Clusters.” We can’t wait to see what their evil twins will try to sell us next!
NEXT: Spoiler alert: This product placement parody contains A LOT of product placement.
30. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby stars Will Ferrell as a Nascar driver, and it has just as much product placement sprinkled throughout it as any real-life Nascar event. Ferrell’s character is sponsored by Wonder Bread, and according to AdAge, the Wonder Bread logo is on screen for 11 minutes and 32 seconds throughout the movie.
While the movie seems to parody product placement, it’s clear that it profits heavily from promotional dollars. In one scene, Ferrell says grace at his family’s dinner table, thanking God for Dominos, KFC, and Taco Bell. All the while, Coca-Cola and Wonder Bread are visible on the table.
NEXT: According to Business Insider, this TV show has the most product placements of all time.
31. American Idol
In 2011, Fox’s American Idol aired 39 episodes containing a mind-boggling 577 instances of product placement. From the Coca-Cola logos emblazoned on the judges’ cups to Ford showcase music videos, American Idol pumped as much product placement as it could into every minute it had on the air.
Though Idol went off the air for a couple years, it is now back on ABC and it relies just as heavily on placements as it ever did. Just as surely as talented hopefuls line up every season to sing their hearts out for the judges, brands too continue to line up to appear during this popular competition show.