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You’re sitting there watching TV when a commercial comes on for new 2005 Pizzazzmobile V8. As narrator extols its styling, its power, and its luxurious interior you yawn and flip channel. A few days later, however, you’re at movies when Tom Cruise comes racing along a mountain road overlooking Monte Carlo in that very same Pizzazzmobile. Will you take this opportunity to get up and go buy a bag of popcorn? Not hardly! Somewhere deep within your cerebrum something is being planted. “Wow! I’d look great, too, at wheel of a Pizzazzmobile.” There, in a nutshell, lies appeal of increasingly popular — and controversial — practice known as product placement.
In concept there is nothing mysterious or sinister about product placement. Basically it involves featuring a commercial product within an entertainment or artistic work, most often a movie or TV show. It’s nothing new, especially where cars are concerned. There was, for instance, James Bond’s Aston Martin in “Dr. No”; “Smokey and Bandit” with Burt Reynold’s gleaming black Pontiac Trans Am; “Herbie, Love Bug” and eponymous VW Beetle; and 1971 classic “Le Mans”, which featured Steve McQueen and a bevy of Porsches on race track and on road.
In recent years, however, produce placement has become big business. About $1.5 billion will be spent this year to place products — cars, candies, dishwashing liquid, and even some countries — in 500 feature films released in United States . Of that total, carmakers account for some $600 million. According to Autoweek, Ford spent $35 million to feature Jaguars and Thunderbirds in one movie alone, 2002 James Bond shiller-thriller "Die Another Day." Other carmakers routinely spend up to $10 million per movie for privilege of seeing their models roll across big screen.
The competition among carmakers for a prime movie spot can be heated. In John Grisham book “The Firm”, for instance, Tom Cruise’s employer gives him a BMW 318 as a perk of employment with his new law firm. But in movie, this becomes a Mercedes convertible. Mercedes denies having had to pay for such prime exposure; rather, they appealed to producer, Sydney Pollack’s sense of zeitgeist. “He became convinced BMW was car of 1980s, while Mercedes was car of 1990s,” says a Mercedes spokesperson.