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What NASCAR Taught Me about Making Movies

A to Z Challenge,Hollywood,Filmmaking,Product Placement
Here, I visited the Penske Garage a few years ago.

NASCAR is pretty cool to watch if you like adventure and/or fast cars. The sport that made Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. household names also has something in common with the film industry that I believe independent filmmakers and Hollywood movie producers are not taking advantage of properly. This common denominator is Product Placement and one of these two industries in entertainment and/or recreation uses it more effectively than the other.

The film industry does not hold a candle to NASCAR when it comes to the way that corporate sponsorships are handled. NASCAR heavily promotes their sponsors and corporate partners without sacrificing the main point of their business but studios and producers of Hollywood movies do not. Gone are the days where E.T. ate Reeses pieces without the audience being subjected to a less than stellar film.

Now, movie producers seem more interested in generating as much revenue as possible before their film even hits the theaters than making sure that their motion picture has all of the elements for box office success and critical acclaim. Many times, I wonder whether movies are nothing more than 2-hour long commercials dressed up to fit in the cinema category they lack the substance necessary to create a compelling storyline and characters with depth.

A to Z Challenge,Hollywood,Product Placement
As a movie lover and consumer, I do not mind the product placement of Apple computers in the “Sex and the City 2” movie. It could pass as an appropriate placement since Sara Jessica Parker’s character, Carrie Bradshaw is a writer and best-selling book author. Placement of that HP TouchSmart PC in scenes with Kim Cattralls’ Samantha Jones could even convince me as an appropriate feature since Samantha’s job is getting her clients more publicity.

What I find absurd is the development of an entire storyline around Absolute Vodka. That is a ridiculous placement, even in a film like “Sex and the City 2” where the main character loves to shop. When was the last time you saw the Daytona International Speedway reconstructed to look like the VISA logo? The answer is Never! NASCAR still gets money from this credit card company without adjusting the foundation of their sport to suit the needs of a corporate brand, so it baffles me that movie producers are willing to rewrite or add pages to their screenplays for dialogue or scenes that have nothing to do with the story.

A to Z Challenge,Hollywood,Product Placement
Product placement is not necessarily a bad deal, especially for the business side of movie making. As a filmmaker, I costs a lot to get A-list actors like Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Sandra Bullock in a film and then you have to feed them and the crew as well! Who wouldn’t want to make sure that they get a good ROI on their production budget? Independent filmmakers may even be able to finance their entire production using product placement because it is a lucrative fundraising resource. However, the boundaries on how far these deals go to the point where they have negative impacts on the creative elements of a movie seem to be nonexistent these days.

What I learned from the manner in which NASCAR promotes their sponsors is that product placement works when it fits within the action that is happening and the elements that are already set in place. Drivers are already using cars and wearing uniforms, so adding an M&Ms logo on the hood of a Toyota Camry is not going to distract the purpose of the race or affect Kyle Busch’s strategy to get to the finish line and obtain that checkered flag. Movies should be made like actors driving a specific car if the screenplay and scene already calls for it such as Daniel Craig's use of the Aston Martin in those James Bond movies.

Do not put a character in a car just because you want to promote Aston Martin, or even Toyota Camry.....especially if that character is supposed to be walking or flying in the scene. Just imagine what “Catch Me If You Can” would look like if Leonardo DiCaprio was in a Rose Royce instead of a plane. The movie would probably not only have a different ending but would also be historically inaccurate. Kyle Busch is still going to drive, whether he is in a Toyota Camry, Ford Mustang or some motorized concoction that he built in his garage. His product placements make sense. Unfortunately, some movie producers cannot say the same about their work.

A to Z Challenge,Hollywood,Product Placement,Filmmaking
Using the “Kill the Irishman” starring Vincent D’Onofrio as an example, here are a few types of product placement that I would use based on the blatant disclosure of funding sources that is practiced at NASCAR games and their use of available resources.

1. Vincent DiGiorno: Special movie posters would be made to feature a modified title credit for Vincent D’Onofrio, which the DiGiorno company could use to advertise their new Pizza & Cookies campaign. I would provide free movie posters to Grocery stores so they could give it to customers who buy a box of DiGiorno pizza. This would not only help to encourage people to do see “Kill the Irishman,” but it also boosts sales for DiGiorno pizza, since you have to make a purchase in order to get the free movie poster.

2. Add Brand or Product Logos to the “Kill the Irishman” Movie Poster. Many film festivals are not too good to display sponsor logos on their advertising materials, so my press materials for “Kill the Irishman” should not be any different that those of film festivals if I’m getting money from product placement deals in this movie.

For those who may want to whine that this would ruin the artistic direction of the movie poster design, blah, blah, blah....well, there is a solution for this problem if I want the design to remain in tact. I would incorporate the product placements into the movie poster design. Afterward, I’d laugh if someone tried to tell me how the “Kill the Irishman” movie poster loses it’s visual appeal just because I added a Ralph Lauren logo to that scarf hanging around Christopher Walken's neck.

3. There are balloons in one of the “Kill the Irishman” movie trailer scenes. I see no reason why these balloons cannot have display advertisements on them featuring labels from wine companies, logos of the cigars the characters are smoking in this movie or promotional graphics for the booze that they are drinking in some of the scenes.

A to Z Challenge,Hollywood,Product Placement,Filmmaking
It costs like $20 million to sponsor a NASCAR team for the season and like $500,000 per race but the drivers still deliver on the action that they promote to fans of this sport, so if you’re a Hollywood or independent producer who is getting similar payments from companies to promote certain brands, your film festival screening or theatrical release or DVD better be about the movie and not about some damn car when consumers pay their hard-earned money to see it.

There are similar problems with product placement that I also plan on addressing in a future post.
A to Z Challenge,Hollywood,Product Placement,Filmmaking
“Super Size Me” director Morgan Spurlock’s new film titled "POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is an attempt at spoofing product placement in movies.
A to Z Challenge,Hollywood,Product Placement,Filmmaking
Some critics think that his own product placement deals and advertisement of brands throughout the film overshadows the points he is trying to make or attempting to tell the audience, but hey, I don’t understand what the problem is with Spurlock’s method of moviemaking and marketing. At least someone knows how to use the NASCAR approach of product placement in a way that matches the subject matter of his film.

Much like what is supposed to be a family centered TV show being produced by beer company, product placement in movies are inappropriate when they seem out of place compared to main elements in the production.

What are YOUR views on Product Placement in movies?

Here are some disclaimers for this particular blog post on it’s subject matter and content choices, if you want to know about them and are interested in further reading material:

-I chose “Kill the Irishman” as my example because Vincent D’Onofrio, who currently sits on the Madlab Post’s King Dong throne for April 2011, is one of the actors in this movie. Therefore, this A to Z Challenge post had to kill two birds with one stone because the weekends this month are dedicated to him.

-I chose DiGiorno pizza because it sort-of rhymes with Vincent D’Onofrio’s last name so it was a fitting product for one of my product placement efforts.

-I chose DiGiorno’s “Pizza & Cookies” product line because I saw a TV commercial promoting their new and Nestle Toll House cookies, all in one box, while I was watching the Season Premiere for the Fifth and Final Season of “Friday Night Lights” on NBC.

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Reader Comments (7)

Wow Nicole, this post is awesome. You really know your stuff. Personally, I don't see why they haven't already put ads on the posters. Everything else seems to these days. I mean even email boxes are inundated with ads because of keyword prompts.
"I chose DiGiorno pizza because it sort-of rhymes with Vincent D’Onofrio’s" This made me laugh. Quite the logic you had there. LOL

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeverly


Thanks for the compliment. This post took me a long time to write and to assemble for this blog. I'm also glad you liked that whole DiGiorno/D'Onofrio bit.....good to know it made you laugh, lol.

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

You covered this topic well. Good comparison with NASCAR. I'd hate to see films going to those extremes, but I don't have a problem with subtle use of product placement when it adds to the realism. I've seen movies where they use fake brands in scenes and it detracts in my opinion. I prefer real beer brands or actual cars so long as the movie doesn't turn into an overt commercial that distracts us from what's going on.

One of my favorite uses of actual product, and I don't know whether any paid placement was involved, was the use of Ovaltine in A Christmas Story. It added a sense of nostalgia and realism.

Great handling of "product placement" in the context of using NASCAR for the letter of the day.

Lee" rel="nofollow">Tossing It Out

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArlee Bird


Thank you and I am happy to learn that you were satisfied with my coverage of the subject matter. I understand your point regarding movies going to those extremes. I think that product placement, even on the extreme level of NASCAR styled promotion could be done well so long as it fits appropriately with the storyline.

For example, if someone made a movie about a high school competition where students must try to invent the best soft drink, I wouldn't mind Pepsi or Coca-Cola being shown prominently in the movie or it's marketing materials but I would not want to see the same level of advertising in, say, "Little Children" starring Kate Winslet.

I do agree that subtlety is key and the best choice for product placement, if movie producers decide to use these types of deals when making their films. I would rather product placement not interfere with the plot or that realism that you mentioned.

Thanks again for taking the time to read it. I know it's lengthy. I would also like to thank you for your assessment.

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

It is my first time here. I have a poetry blog but also I have a column where I write researched pieces. I am impressed you are pulling off the challenge by lengthy articles. Great job.
Now to product placement. I miss movies that were made because of their story and not how much money it can bring into pockets. There is a difference.

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRiver

You make a great point about placing the products where they fit naturally into the film. Actually, I recently read an article for writers about product placement in their novels---if your characters meet frequently at a coffee shop throughout the novel, why not make it a Starbucks or a Costa Coffee and perhaps you've opened up a cross-marketing opportunity w/ those chains. I get the concern about artistic integrity, but if a product fits naturally, why not? Same goes for movies. Adds to the realism too---we are all using these products in real life.

One TV show that I think does a good job w/ product placement is Chuck---they take a totally tongue in cheek approach w/ Subway sandwiches where the boss describes the tantalizing flavors of his sandwich every time. And they did a whole storyline surrounding a Sleep Sheep that was hilarious.

Great, thought-provoking post!

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicki Elson

I've taken the Daytona 500 track tour - pretty cool!

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterL. Diane Wolfe

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