I’m a big Sci-Fi fan – it probably comes with the territory I work in. Being particularly obsessed with innovation and the future of comms, Sci-Fi often indicates the type of tech we can expect to use in the not-too-distant-future. From H.G. Wells’ World Brain (a spookily accurate prediction of the internet) to Star Trek’s Tricorder (the precursor to every biometric measurement device currently on the market), Sci-Fi has been an inspiration and roadmap to our own technological future. I’m still waiting with baited breath for teleporters to become common place.
This clairvoyance in sci-fi, and its direct link to the products we use and love every day, got me thinking about the more practical relationship between brands, their products, and the fictions we consume. Product placement has been around for decades and, subtle or overt, I’ve never met a soul fond of it. It’s grating, jarring, obvious and, for me and many others, does very little for my estimation of a brand; but the more we examine the strange relationships product placement has with the media consumer, the muddier the waters become.
Ultimately, with regards to comms, there is nothing more powerful than an association between a consumer’s favourite movie, TV show, or song and your product. However, as soon as the link appears to have been created by the brand, it has a hugely detrimental effect. What’s interesting is when the brand has had no control over its products’ inclusion in a narrative. The well-documented vehicle of choice of Edward Cullen (the angst-laden vampire hero in tween pap-fest, Twilight) led to an unexpected avenue into an uncharted market place for perennial dad-mobile purveyors, Volvo. Suddenly, Edward Cullen brooding away in his S60R provided Volvo with a line into a whole demographic of imitators and admirers. Admittedly, again, in my opinion, the crass and overt inclusion of a probably conflicted Robert Pattinson in their ad campaigns pushed that unexpected opportunity into a black mark against them for a lot of consumers (I wouldn’t touch a Volvo with a barge-poll now because of the Twilight connotations).
This again is indicative of your love for the story or, ahem, franchise, in question. A wholly more palatable example in my opinion is the totally radical Nike self-lacing trainers immortalised by Back to the Future. The Nike Mags are particularly interesting as, because of the franchise, Nike actually got the opportunity to invent a product of theirs, shown on film, which didn’t exist outside the land of fiction. What Nike got right here is that they released the trainers exclusively as part of charity auctions. They raised $6.7million for the Michael J. Fox foundation, a hugely positive association with the battle against Parkinson’s disease. So, an incredibly cool product (because my opinion is that Twilight is garbage and Back to the Future is bloody awesome, universal and unassailable, right?), a powerful association with charitable endeavour, and Nike generating an enormous amount of goodwill and positive press – the perfect example of meaningful brand association in this field.
There are of course horrible examples of products existing in fiction coming to life in the real world. You can buy Duff Beer (you know it’s terrible), South Park Cheesy Poofs are on sale (cardboard anyone?), and you can hit the town doused in Anchorman’s Sex Panther Cologne (it works 60% of the time, every time). I’m still waiting for Mattel to release a fully functioning Hoverboard (they’ve got access to state of the art Mag-Lev technology, right?). Lexus have actually entered this field and the results are truly spectacular (it goes on water! What!!!??).