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Product Placement, Personal Branding, and Marketing Ingenuity in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’

The newest graphic-novel-movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, absolutely blew me away. The plot sounds silly if you’re not used to comic books (description from IMDB.com): “Scott Pilgrim must defeat his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes in order to win her heart.” Is the plot something that could happen in reality? Probably not; it’s definitely a fantastic story that you’d find in a comic or in a video game. But if you have a vivid imagination and you’re a geek-of-all-trades, then you’ll love it. The characters are believable in the context of the story, the actors are well-chosen for the parts, the animation mixed with live-action is flawless, and the colors and visuals are strikingly gorgeous. In short, it’s brilliant. However, like many other fans, I couldn’t help but notice an obvious dabble of product placement in the film. Scott Pilgrim’s preferred beverage, Coke Zero, is mentioned and shown several times and he dons Smashing Pumpkins apparel (including their signature “ZERO” shirt) on more than one occasion.

Scott Pilgrim - Smashing Pumpkins Shirt

A Smashing Pumpkins shirt that Scott Pilgrim wears in the film

What does the Coke Zero product placement signify and what does Scott Pilgrim have to do with the Smashing Pumpkins? I’m not quite sure. It’s interesting that Scott Pilgrim’s initials are the same as the Smashing Pumpkins’ initials and that both can be associated with “zero” in one way or another. When Scott wears the famous Smashing Pumpkins shirt with the letters “SP” inside of a heart (see photo on right), he’s promoting the brand but also bringing his personal association along with it because of his own initials. I haven’t read the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels yet (they’re in my book queue!), but a friend told me that one of the books is titled “Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness,” which is clearly a tribute to one of the most popular emo/rock albums of all time: “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” by the Smashing Pumpkins. It makes you think, doesn’t it? Because of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I now associate both Coke Zero and the Smashing Pumpkins with the movie AND with the title character, which is some pretty impressive branding!

Whether or not the Coke Zero product placement was an advertisement or an offhand attempt at personal branding to go along with the “Zero” shirt, it inspired me to think harder about product placement potential in general. As long as it’s not overdone to the point where viewers would be pissed off, I think that product placement in movies (and on TV shows) would be a natural substitute for television commercials. It could be a long time before TV advertisements completely fall to the wayside, but their effectiveness continues to dilute thanks to the power of fast forwarding on TiVo.

If you think about it, product placement is similar to celebrity endorsements – it comes with a certain level of trust. Did I run out and buy a case of Coke Zero after seeing Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? No, but because I now associate that beverage with the movie, I’d probably choose it over another brand in the pop aisle. That’s the power of product placement when it’s done correctly! (I think it would have been interesting if Coke Zero tied in some sort of promotion for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and really played up their marketing potential on the franchise).

HOWEVER, brands would have to think long and hard before signing themselves up willy-nilly for in-movie or in-show endorsements. For one, the success of the film or show would have a significant bearing on the product’s image and success. Could you imagine spending millions of dollars to feature your product in a movie that crashed and burned at the box office or on a show that didn’t make it past the pilot episode? You’d not only lose a bit of credibility, but you’d also flush a huge chunk of dough without seeing many benefits. Also, the placement of the product would have to be strategic and minimal in order to appease viewers, but I have a feeling this could cause problems with the sponsoring companies because they’d want to get the most bang for their buck. It’s all about the delicate balance! It would be tricky to concoct a perfect formula for product placement success, but I think it’s possible.

Scott Pilgrim: The Game

Scott Pilgrim: The Game

So, between the Scott Pilgrim movie, the Scott Pilgrim video game (which is reminiscent of an old 8-bit beat ‘em up game), and the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack (which KICKS ASS), I’d say that Bryan Lee O’Malley’s book series has spun off into a quite impressive nerd empire! Ladies and gentlemen…THIS is how a marketing promotion should work! They took O’Malley’s refreshingly original graphic novel, turned it into a glittering gem of a movie, adapted it into an 8-bit throwback video game that would appeal to fans, and threw in a soundtrack without even one skippable track. Bravo!

What are your thoughts about product placement and movie tie-ins? Do you know the secret to the Scott Pilgrim/Coke Zero/Smashing Pumpkins riddle? Did you freak out with delight after you saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in theaters like I did? If you haven’t seen the movie, then PLEASE GO AND SEE IT! Comment below…don’t be shy! Thanks for reading the Quality Logo Products blog. :)

Oh, and here’s the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World trailer for those of you who still have no idea what I’m talking about (and for those of you who just want to watch it again for the hell of it):

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Image Credits


Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

Comments

  1. Scooby DOO!

    Jill, wow, what a cool article. It’s nice to always get such a wide range of topics and fresh perspectives on this blog!

    The bottom line lesson is that marketing is everywhere… you cannot hide from it! Whether it’s in a movie, on a urinal pad, or your favorite TV show; large companies pay BIG money to get their products used by characters you like, things you do, and places you visit. What’s most interesting to me is that the marketing is softer, more subliminal, not in your face, like times past.

    This concept should make twice about your promotional items and how you imprint them. Ask yourself, is larger / louder better? Or could you effectively promote your brand with a smaller imprint, or softer item colors?

  2. Bret Bonnet

    I am kind of embarrassed to admit this – but deep down inside, I REALLY want to go see ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’; I just know my wife will never let me or go with me to see it – JK!

    I think product placement as a means of marketing/advertising is very effective, especially as you pointed out, when done in moderation.

    I don’t think it’s enough to drive IMMEDIATE response, but subconsciously, we create these connections; and the additional exposure to the brand or product also helps reinforce are beliefs in that brand.

    I think you MUST have a STRONG BRAND before attempting such a feet as paid placement, but other than that, I’m off to slam a Coke Zero and beat the crap out of my wife’s seven evil exes! :) … wish me luck!

  3. Peter Nadeau

    Jill, awesome job on this blog! Really good insights…

    I remember seeing this film and noticing the product placement of Coke Zero, which I usually shun product placement, but this actually didn’t bother me for some reason. Probably because if Scott Pilgrim was a real person it would be totally believable for him to be loyal to a specific brand of soda, as I know many people (who may or may not be video game nerds, lol) who drink their specific favored brand of soda quite frequently.

    The whole Coke Zero situation reminded me of Zombieland, and Columbus’ constant consuming of Mountain Dew Code Red before the zombie apocalypse occurred. In both films the product placement is apparent, however very believable and not in your face. And that is why I don’t think it upsets fans.

    Another good point you had was product placement being inside of TV shows, instead of comercials, which I am all for! I hate watching my favorite show, and getting really into the story, and then having to wait through a comercial break to see what happens.

    As far as the Smashing Pumpkins and Zero t-shirts. I actually think it was Brian Lee O’Malley putting some of his influences into his book, and they then put this into the film. I don’t know though since I have also not read the series, but do want to soon. But as a cool t-shirt fan, I enjoyed seeing what characters wore in the film, kind of cool “Easter eggs” for those who know who the Smashing Pumpkins are, or who Astro-Boy is.

  4. Jana

    I do remember hearing the references to Coke Zero, but even as someone in “the biz,” it didn’t occur to me that it was official product placement. Sneaky! I mean, there’s no amount of product placement in the world that would make me drink that disgustingness, but still – I remembered the name.

    I actually had no idea that the SP shirt was a logo for Smashing Pumpkins; I simply assumed it stood for “Scott Pilgrim” and had been made for the movie. There’s a lesson right there: don’t let your logo be so vague that it’s confused with something else.

    And as much as I really wanted to love Scott Pilgrim, I simply dislike Michael Cera as an actor too much to really fall for it. It was exciting and fun and had an interesting story and lots of bright colors and good music, but I just cannot stand Michael Cera. Chris Evans and Brandon Routh, on the other hand, are welcome to travel my subspace highway anytime.

  5. Barbara Miller

    Jill, once again you have got me with one of your blogs. At our house we have been talking about and noticing product placement in our TV shows quite a bit because of the DVR. I admit that I can sometimes go a week without seeing a TV commercial, because all the shows I like to watch are recorded and I fast-forward. There are more shows that show HP or Dell computers, different soda brands (and I liked that you called it “pop” – I had to learn the whole “soda” thing when I moved from Kansas to Missouri 30 years ago!), cars.

    Having said that, I hugely agree that subtley is key. The consumer doesn’t want to be slapped in the face with the product. Remember the old “subliminal” advertising of the fifties? They would flash a picture of 7-Up at the theater in between frames of the movie so we would all dash out to buy one at intermission? This is not so different. Balance is important. And I think there COULD be a day when television advertising is, if not a thing of the past, minimal at most. Let’s hope so. Some of it is SO annoying!

    I have a show to set-up and do tomorrow so I will not elaborate on how this affects the promotional product industry. Ta-da! See ya!

  6. QLP Jill

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! :)

    Peter, I’m so glad you commented on this! It’s good to know that I wasn’t the only one unbothered by the Coke Zero references, and you make an awesome point about the brand loyalty. I know a lot of people in their teens or mid-twenties who are DIE HARD about their favorite drink, and they’ll get pissed if they have to drink something else. I didn’t even think about the references in Zombieland! That’s what I mean: product placement in films like these are so smooth and so tricksy that you hardly know someone is trying to “sell” you something. I really do feel that a form of product placement (well done, of course) will replace television commercials someday, for the sake of the advertisers. I can’t remember the last time I actually sat through an entire commercial!

    I always look to see how characters are dressed in movies, too – especially printed t-shirts. You can tell a lot about a person or a character by what they wear, so I’m constantly trying to glean some sort of “clues” every time I watch a film/show or go out in public. As for the author’s influences, I’m also planning on reading the series, so perhaps some light will be shed on these mysteries very soon.

    Jana, I can definitely see why Michael Cera would get on your nerves. Luckily, Scott Pilgrim’s character is a bit awkward and dorky like Cera’s “signature” acting style, so I was okay with him playing the lead role. And I have to agree that Chris Evans and Brandon Routh were some delicious eye candy…I have a major nerd crush on Jason Schwartzman, too! Too bad your boy Justin Long wasn’t in it, eh? ;) Good times all around.

  7. QLP Jill

    Barb, It’s funny you should mention that, because I actually contemplated whether or not I should say “pop” or “soda”! I sometimes go right down the middle and refer to it as “soda pop,” which really seems to annoy people.

    Balance is SO important when it comes to product placement. It does work, though…I’ve gotten thirsty when watching a character order a drink, so I know it’s effective. It just needs to be done in moderation, that’s all.

    Thanks so much for commenting!

  8. Joe

    Great Article Jill! Can’t wait to see this movie!!!

  9. The Reverend Peuler Esquire III

    In regards to product placement I think to do it tastefully writers, directors, and artists need to go incredibly over the top or so subtle its almost a subliminal message. I think Pilgrim accomplishes the latter.

    A couple other movies and TV shows use these templates well. ‘The Invention of Lying’ has a great bit depicting what the Coke/Pepsi war would be like in a world where people haven’t evolved the mental capacity to tell a lie (even white ones). The main character watches a Coke commercial on TV where a spokesman stares directly at the viewer and says ‘hello, this is your bi-hourly reminder to keep buying Coke. It’s worked with you people for years, why stop now.’ Later on the same character is walking by a bus stop, where a sign on the bus is an advertisement for Pepsi that simply states ‘PEPSI. It’s not coke.’ And ’30 Rock’ has a damn good Snapple ad not so much weaved but abruptly and humorously forced into one episode.

    I’m not going to lie, though; Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a 2nd coming for us geeks, I fracking loved that movie, and more people should go see it before it’s gone for good. If not then just wait a couple of months for me to get it on DVD.

  10. Lofty

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  11. Claudette

    Hey, I’m not even a geek, but now I think I want to see this movie!

    Thanks for the great review! I couldn’t make heads or tails of the movie from their trailer. Your article pretty much told me what I wanted to know, plus a lot more!

  12. Jana

    Yes, I am sad that my man, Justin Long, was not in Scott Pilgrim. He would have made an excellent evil ex. However, I did get to see him in Going the Distance recently, so I can’t complain… too much.

  13. McFly

    I always really enjoy when printed t-shirts are used as “in-jokes” or references to other things. There are even some writers/directors that create their own brands in their universes and sell the officially licensed product to fans (like Kevin Smith’s “Mooby” apparel or any of the custom t-shirts that certain characters wear, or Quentin Tarantino’s Red Apple Cigarettes)!

    Also, I’d really like that sweet Rock Band bass logo t-shirt that Scott Pilgrim wears…although, I’m not a big fan of the “ringer” style t-shirt.

  14. Andy B.

    What a great resource!

  15. Phyllis

    Your blog is tremendously informative! Great variety. Keep up the good work!

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  17. Ronald Flood

    So what do people think about the author, does he sound convincing enough to go ahead with a purchase?
    You wanna see a truly realistic movie? How about Inception. 100% realistic scenario – shit like that can only happen in dreams :)

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  19. Abby

    While it is product placement, it’s essential to the details of the storyline. Scott is not an evil ex, therefore he is number zero – the director explains this in interviews.

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