The Most Iconic Product Placements Over the Last 50 Years

Posted by Rembrand Team

January 19, 2023

Product placement has become an increasingly popular form of advertising and one that brands are competing to gain access to. Companies recognize the numerous benefits of product placement in films and happily invest large sums of money in return for the opportunity to be featured in a movie or TV series. There are many iconic partnerships between brands and films that have been studied over the years. In this article, we will discuss these famous partnerships between brands and films and how they ultimately help companies to reach larger audiences.

Aston Martin and James Bond: Aston Martin and James Bond have a long-standing partnership that has been celebrated for decades. From the introduction of the iconic DB5 in the 1964 film Goldfinger, to featuring throughout Pierce Brosnan’s films and Sean Connery’s films from the 1960s, Aston Martins have rightfully earned their place in James Bond fandom. After a period of exploring other automotive brands during Timothy Dalton’s films, there was a resurgence for Aston Martin in Die Another Day when Pierce Brosnan drives an all-new V12 Vanquish. In the most recent instalment, No Time To Die, we see a return to classic style with an updated DB5 making an appearance. In this way, both Aston Martin and 007 always seem to find each other again no matter how much time passes between films – and the partnership between them only continues to grow stronger.

Iron Man and Audi: The decade that solidified the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is also the decade that popularized Audi as an international brand. In 2008’s Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. wowed audiences with his development of alter-ego superhero Tony Stark and his stylish ride—the Audi R8. That same year, Stark unveiled a new model of the car in Iron Man 2, then a convertible edition of the R8 Spyder five years later in Iron Man 3. Through these vehicle showcases and subsequent feature placements in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, Audi became internationally synonymous with Tony Stark’s character progression from egocentric billionaire to noble crime fighter over nine years of blockbuster film releases. The boldness and reliability showcased by Anthony Stark through his incredible shiny car mirrors two of Audi’s core principles — progressiveness and dependability. This synchronization between art and technology has resulted in Audi proving itself as the right car choice for most movies within the MCU.

Etch-a-Sketch and Toy Story: The Etch-a-Sketch has a long and storied history, but who would have thought it would get screen time in a Pixar film? In Toy Story 2, the makers of the classic Disney movie decided to incorporate this beloved classic into their world, not just as regular product placement, but in a way that actually made the toy a character. From his famously stretched out ears to a quasi-Scottish brogue, Etch was guaranteed to be remembered by those watching. Whether it was the original 1970s version of the toy that was used for nostalgia purposes or for visual appeal (or possibly both), the inclusion of Etch was smart move indeed. Not only did it contribute to an otherwise nostalgic setting, but it provided pivotal plot moments such when our heroes huddle around Etch to come up with plan to rescue Woody – showcasing both how essential he was to the story and how neat an idea product placement can be when done right.

FedEx and Cast Away: The incorporation of FedEx and Wilson into the film Cast Away was effective on multiple levels. Wilson’s presence, in addition to Tom Hanks’ character, is fundamental to the plot. Not only does it provide a clear advertising ploy towards sports manufacturers Wilson, but it is more than just a marketing strategy. By giving the ball a name, “Wilson”, Hanks’ character finds solace in it as his only companion and companionable object on the island during his 4 year exile, and giving himself something tangible to talk to. While it could be argued that this kept him sane while he was stranded, it has inevitably become an iconic movie symbol which continues to sell replicas of the washed up ball complete with face drawings even today!

Nike and Forest Gump: Nike’s relationship with the beloved Forrest Gump is one for the ages. The iconic character, played by Tom Hanks, was at the center of a memorable scene when he was given a pair of Nike Cortez running shoes. Viewers of all ages watching around the world were enthralled as they watched him lace up his sneakers to go on his life-changing journey. It has become almost impossible to separate Nike from Forrest Gump and what that moment meant for audiences everywhere.
Their legendary Cortez had been designed by Bill Bowerman himself, offering an incredibly comfortable and durable running shoe suitable for both road racing and distance training. His concept was revolutionary and Nike was proud to fly it’s colors high through Forrest Gump and his new shoes, securing an indelible part in footwear culture history.

Audi and iRobot: The Audi RSQ was a special design specifically created for the 2004 science fiction classic, iRobot. It was designed by Audi to look like a supercar from the future, 2035 in particular. In creating such a futuristic car, designers had to walk an extremely thin line between making something uniquely distinct and still managing to make it clearly identifiable as an Audi. Their vision certainly paid off, as all subsequent Audis bear the hallmarks of the iconic car featured in iRobot. An incredibly smart feat of product placement that can be credited with helping propel Audi forward into its current situation as a leader in luxury electrical automobiles.

Doritos and Iron Man: Product placement, even when done subtly, can be highly effective. This was especially true when the Marvel Cinematic Universe featured Spider-Man and Doritos in a marketing collaboration. Tom Holland’s trilogy of Spider-Man movies featured appearances of Doritos’ chilli heatwave flavour snacks onscreen. Offscreen, to mark the release of Far from Home in 2019, limited edition Spider-Man themed packages were designed that contained one packet with a full-size replica costume inside. This clever product promotion was cheekily called ‘Incognito Doritos’ and offered fans a way to dress up as the iconic hero. By incorporating both physical and digital opportunities for their fans to engage with their product, Doritos successfully placed their products in the spotlight without being too overt.

Reese’s Pieces and E.T.: It is no wonder then that product placement has been such an invaluable tool in the world of marketing. One particularly famous example was the use of Reese’s Pieces in Steven Spielberg’s science-fiction classic E.T. Reeling from the failure of its introduction to the market only three years prior, Hershey’s leapt at the chance to promote their sweet confections through arguably one of the most iconic films of all time. Made aware of this unique opportunity, Spielberg requested his sister add Reese’s into the film’s script and sure enough, by February 20th, 1982 it was acclaimed as a huge success for both movie and candy alike. American children flocked to cinemas eager to see the beloved alien onscreen and lining up at supermarkets afterward with just as much excitement for a box of their own Reese’s Pieces.

Wayne’s World and Pizza Hut, Doritos, Pepsi, and Reebok: Wayne’s World is surely remembered as a landmark example of product integration in film. Multiple brands, such as Pizza Hut, Doritos, Pepsi, and Reebok, were featured throughout the movie, providing countless opportunities for sticky brand placements. For example, Garth is regularly dressed head to toe in Reebok gear throughout the film. Similarly, Wayne often carries around a Pizza Hut delivery box with him throughout scenes – both of which are specifically used in the movie for comedic effects. These tongue-in-cheek instances make for an enjoyable experience for viewers; however it can also be argued that having too much branding involvement results in none of them really standing out from the crowd. Nevertheless, Wayne’s World will live on as an unforgettable member of Hollywood product placement history!

Nike and Back to the Future: Incorporating Nike into Back to the Future was an iconic moment for both film and fashion. Audiences around the world connected with this science fiction classic and were enthralled by the idea of Marty McFly’s self-lacing trainers. To satisfy fans, Nike went all out to bring this scene to life and designed a groundbreaking Hyperdunk shoe. The design was so successful that they even made 1000 pairs in 2008 – not only replicating McFly’s shoes but paying homage to the movie that inspired it too! It is no surprise that Nike wanted to be involved in a movie as timelessly iconic as Back to the Future; one that launched their futuristic sneaker design into becoming a much-coveted fashion statement.

From Audi to Aston Martin, Nike to Doritos, and FedEx to Etch-a-Sketch, product placement has become one of the most popular forms of advertising. Companies that have bet on placing their products within the right, influential content, have seen huge impacts as a result. Product placement has helped them reach large audiences, with these iconic brand and film partnerships proving an effective way to secure a devoted viewer following. The study of these famous partnerships between brands and films over the last 50 years reveals how useful this innovative form of marketing can be as well as how it ultimately creates iconic images that people identify with and remain loyal to.

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