Like our real world, most of the characters featured on screen have jobs. This means they must work someplace. Of course, they could be employed by some fictitious entity, like Homer Simpson at Burns Industries, Sully and Mike’s gig at Monster’s Inc. and Gustavo Fring’s chicken joint Los Pollos Hermanos on Breaking Bad. But for the sake of realism and/or product placement, many films and TV shows will opt for real life companies for their made-up characters. So, here is our countdown of the top three real life companies that helped secure paychecks for real life actors in real life fictional productions.
1. The Office. Imported from England and starring Steve Carell, The Office, was a highly-rated workplace comedy on NBC. The action centered on the fictitious offices of paper company Dunder Mifflin. In the 3rd season episode “The Return,” offbeat, sycophantic sales manager Dwight Schrute decides to leave Dunder Mifflin and takes a new job at Dunder Mifflin’s biggest competitor, Staples! Much to the brand’s credit, the show’s writers have a field day with Staple’s employees’ geeky reputation.
This wasn’t just a big move for Dwight; Staples was actually one of the series biggest product placement deals. The show also negotiated brand integrations for Cisco, Hewlett Packard and the video game Call of Duty.
Side note: In a rare example of a real product placement company helping out a fictitious paper company, HERO also enjoyed great exposures on the show by placing a Gateway computer on every desk and ServiceMaster Clean cleaning cart in the warehouse. They all received exceptional screen time and, unlike the brands mentioned above, no fee to production was necessary.
2. Baskets. This Emmy-winning off-beat comedy from the FX network provides us with not only a great workplace branding example, but a fundamental lesson on why product placements exist at all. Martha, one of the show’s central characters, is a Costco insurance agent. Her Costco-emblazoned Oldsmobile is also featured. Arby’s also enjoys plenty of screen time but it isn’t a workplace set. In an interview with AdAge, Co-creator Jonathan Krisel explains the use of real brands isn’t about eschewing product placement services, it’s about creating a real universe—that Baskets really shills for no one. “Both are brands that we just wrote into the script and then asked them if we could do it. There’s no money involved. We’re not advertising for them, but it’s more about the authenticity of having the real thing and not having it be a fake brand.”
Side note: HERO delivered a great Baskets exposure for client Cabinets to Go. In this case, the production utilized a TV commercial for onscreen playback, which means their brand messaging was part of the exposure!
3. The Internship. In this film Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson get an internship at a major tech company. And the tech company is so happy to have them, both on screen and in real life, that they actually donated their sprawling campus as a location – for free! The company was Google and their generosity didn’t come without a little oversight. For instance, a scene where a trainer is a little harsh and a driverless car has an accident, had to be removed at their request.
Side note: HERO client Green Garmento, the environmentally friendly, reusable dry-cleaning bag was prominently featured as the choice for Google’s on-campus free dry-cleaning service. The real Google doesn’t use the brand, but HERO is Green Garmento’s product placement agency, so production was educated about their products, which resulted in their exposure in the film.