Writing a Thesis on Product Placement?
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THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Advertising; In 'Demolition Man,' a car could be your grandson's Oldsmobile
The New York Times
October 8, 1993
By Stuart Elliott
AN auto maker with a glorious past is using a film of the present to reassure consumers that it has a future. When Warner Brothers opens "Demolition Man" today at more than 2,000 theaters nationwide, moviegoers watching Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes play cop and robber in the year 2032 can see the results of an unusual product placement promotion by the Oldsmobile division of General Motors.
Rather than simply helping to sell more cars, the promotion is intended to burnish the images of Oldsmobile and G.M. by linking them to the presumed technological wonders of tomorrow.
"We felt being involved in this movie, set in the future, would send a subtle message to the public that G.M. was alive and well in 2032," said Eric Dahlquist, president at the Vista Group, a product exposure management company in Van Nuys, Calif., that handles promotional activities like product placement and licensing.
Through Vista, G.M. provided 18 futuristic "concept cars" for "Demolition Man" after Joel Silver, the producer, glimpsed one called the Ultralite in Popular Science magazine. Sixteen of them, valued at $69 million, appear in the film, bearing the badges of contemporary G.M. marques like Buick and Chevrolet. Moviegoers will find Oldsmobile Auroras -- which will actually go on sale next spring as 1995 luxury models -- as well as Cadillac Solitaires and Pontiac Proto Sport 4's.
A scene crucial to the action thriller's plot (such as it is in the Stallone oeuvre) takes place at a gleaming, pyramidal Oldsmobile dealership in a California megacity dubbed San Angeles. "Believe in the future," reads a motto emblazoned on the wall of the cinematic showroom, which David Snyder, the film's production designer, developed with the assistance of the G.M. design staff.
And in a real-world print advertisement created by Oldsmobile's agency, Leo Burnett U.S.A., running in publications like Entertainment Weekly and Variety, the showroom appears under these uplifting, almost beseeching, words: "For the follower, the future eventually takes shape. But only a leader can shape the future."
If any auto marketer needs such encouragement, it is Oldsmobile, which at 96 is G.M.'s oldest -- and perhaps most troubled -- nameplate. Since sales peaked at more than a million units in 1985, the division has had about as much success selling Cutlasses and Ninety-Eights as Columbia Pictures had this summer selling "Last Action Hero."
Oldsmobile's problems were exacerbated by rumors last year of the brand's imminent demise; they grew so persistent that executives took the unprecedented step of buying newspaper ads to reprint a letter of support from G.M. senior managers. "It was very unfortunate we had to go through all that," Knox Ramsey, Oldsmobile's general marketing manager, said in a telephone interview from Burnett's office in Chicago. "But we've pretty much put that behind us." Sales, however, remain sluggish; through the first eight months of this year, they totaled 260,035, down 8.1 percent from the corresponding period in 1992.
Mr. Ramsey said there "is not any grandiose strategy to go beating the drums" about Oldsmobile's participation in "Demolition Man." He said he hoped the film would convey this message: "And by the way, Oldsmobile is a dealership that's in business in the year 2032." Mr. Dahlquist was more direct. Emphasizing Oldsmobile "is a way to focus on a division that needed some help," he said.
Apart from its on-screen role and the print ads, Oldsmobile is borrowing literally from "Demolition Man." The dealership set has been shipped to Michigan, Mr. Ramsey said, to be incorporated into an Aurora Vision Center, a training facility for Oldsmobile dealers and sales staff. Product placements in films about the future have a mixed record.
Nothing has yet happened to contradict the world of 2015 in "Back to the Future, Part II" (1989), with highly evolved versions of Nike footwear, Pepsi-Cola and USA Today.
But anyone seeing "Blade Runner" (1982) today would laugh at the prominence of logos for Atari, the video game company that dominated that market a decade ago but now badly lags behind Nintendo and Sega. And if passengers can no longer fly a Pan American plane to Paris, how could they, as forecast in "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), travel in Pan Am spacecraft?
Of course, if the future has no future, there's always the past. According to the trade publication Brandweek, a prehistoric McDonald's restaurant -- with mastodon tusks for golden arches -- will be featured in the film version of "The Flintstones" to be released next summer by Universal Pictures.
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