Lists of the best product placements in film and TV generally come down to the same two or three examples, which tend to include Reese’s Pieces in ET, Tom Cruise’s Wayfarers in Risky Business and James Bond’s Omega Watches in various films from the series. But, truth be told, none of those would actually qualify if ‘’product placement” were being used in the strictest sense of the term. Here’s why:
Reese’s Pieces in ET
When ET was in production, director Steven Spielberg’s artistic choice was to have the lovable, long-fingered alien collect M&Ms. Again, this was an artistic choice, not a product placement. So, Amblin Entertainment, Spielberg’s production company, reached out to Mars, M&M’s parent company and they said… no! An unnamed (and probably unemployed) executive at Mars decided nobody would want to see a movie about a lovable alien with glowing fingers adopted by a lonely kid. Whoops!
With M&M’s out of the picture, Amblin, determined to secure a recognizable bite-sized candy for the classic scene, went to Hershey and Reese’s, where a (probably still employed) executive said yes. In the traditional sense, no product placement was executed in that no solicitation was made by the product to production. However, after the film’s release, Hershey inked a deal for a one-million-dollar advertising promotion.
While the lack of submission to production categorically removes this exposure from being classified officially as a “product placement” it does prove that the kind of onscreen presence product placements deliver, can be incredibly valuable to a brand. Within two weeks of the movie’s premiere, Reese’s Pieces sales went through the roof with increases reported between 65 and 85%!
Bonus fun fact: In spite of missing their on-camera appearance, M&Ms was the candy featured in William Kotzwinkle’s novelization of the film.
Omega Watches and James Bond
Yes, 007 always wore a fine timepiece, but in the Ian Fleming book series that watch was a Rolex. Filmmakers remained faithful to Fleming’s choice right through the reign of Sean Connery, went digital through Roger Moore’s turn at the character and back to Rolex for Timothy Dalton. But when the ultra-fashionable Pierce Brosnan came on board for Golden Eye, it was time (pun intended) for a change. Costume designer at the time, Lindy Hemming, considered everything from cufflinks to socks and when it came to his watch, she passed over Rolex for Omega. Omega had a long history with the British military, with its Seamaster having been the choice for Royal Navy divers in the 1960s. So, to the chagrin of Rolex (and Bond purists), Brosnan strapped on a Seamaster Professional and Omega has been “Bond’s choice” ever since.
Granted, since Ms. Hemming’s initial style choice, Omega has gotten deeper into the promotional fray. For Tomorrow Never Dies, Omega’s second visit to Brosnan/Bond’s wrist, both Bond and his partner-in-action wear Omega timepieces, and Omega is blanketed the United States and Europe spending millions print and TV ads, as well as running the film trailers in nearly 7,000 Omega stores.
In the case of James Bond, a successful product placement led to more product placements! As Omega’s agent, HERO was able to funnel the “cool” factor into placements with Mulder and Scully on the X-Files, David Hasslehoff on Baywatch and Kyle Chandler on Early Edition. Moreover, Brosnan went on to become Omega’s spokesperson and, when meeting Chandler at a convention, the Omega on his wrist couldn’t be missed.
Rayban Sunglasses in Risky Business
In 1982 Ray-Ban sold 200,000 pairs of Wayfarers. But in 1983, Tom Cruise wore the style in the massive hit film Risky Business and sales jumped to 360,000. That makes this one of the most chartable product placement success stories in history. Beyond just delivering a great year for the style, it started a trend that just kept growing. In 1987 they sold 2 million and orders in 1988 skyrocketed to 4 million pairs!
Like James Bond, the relationship between Cruise and Ray-Ban didn’t end with his wearing them in one film. In 1986, Top Gun was released starring Tom Cruise wearing the iconic Aviator sunglasses. Sales from this film increased 40%. Then, in 1988, Cruise starred in Rain Man, increasing Ray-Ban’s sales by another 15%.
Since Cruise’s isn’t the only high-profile actor in Hollywood, Ray-Ban kept going with product placement right through the 90’s. They were visible in many productions, but Reservoir Dogs and Men in Black likely had the most impact.
There are literally millions of stories of high-profile product placements to be told, but like most stories from industries of every kind, some make it to legendary. So, until new ones rise above their storied fame, these are three most famous.