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.
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.
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!
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):