Brand Names in Movie Names: Is It Product Placement?

Everyone agrees that The LEGO® Movie was great. Every review praised The LEGO® Movie and quotes from those reviews showed up in ads for The LEGO® Movie.  Do you know what else showed up in every review and ad? The name Lego! Just because a brand integration is the entire basis of a film doesn’t stop it from being a brand integration.

That said, having a brand name in the title of a film may not be the best possible avenue for exposure for the brand.  The brand name may find itself hiding in plain sight; virtually unnoticed in spite of its prominence.  It could also be that the audience for the film is so dissimilar from the brand’s audience that the name is simply utilitarian.

Let’s look at some samples of films with brands in their names and see if the marketing was supported or if the brand was just a word in a name:

The LEGO® Movie; Perfect!  Not only was the film aimed at the toy line’s prime audience, the CGI version of the toy comprised the very fiber of the production informing the animation in a way that made it 100% unique. And the script was great for kids and their parents.

The Devil Wears Prada; Nice, but not perfect.  According to a 2011 article in GQ, “(Women)… are considered a niche audience that, except when Sandra Bullock reads a script or Nicholas Sparks writes a novel, generally isn’t worth taking the time to figure out.” Granted, this film made over $300 million worldwide, but did it reach Prada’s actual customers? Not according to the demos.  If it weren’t for the gravitas Meryl Streep brought, it could actually have devalued the brand by providing pedestrian exposure.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle; Perfect! Many brands would prefer not to define themselves as the go-to stop for curing the munchies, but since White Castle was obviously cool with it, score!

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man; Okay, we’re reaching back into history a little here, but this 1991 film was released one year after into tobacco industry’s declared moratorium on product placement.  By all accounts the title was an artistic choice and neither Harley Davidson nor Marlboro bought the exposure.  However, whether they did or not, this was the perfect movie to follow the title.  Was it a good movie?  It’s one star/24% Rotten Tomatoes rating would suggest not. But the title places the brands nicely.

I Love You Phillip Morris; Irrelevant title, so little brand benefit. This Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor starrer contains something to offend everyone, including a title that lifts Marlboro’s parent company’s name (but changes one letter, assumedly to avoid legal discussions).  This film is so weird any name might have fit. The fact that it’s based on a true story only makes it weirder.

Magnum Force; Perfect. Clint Eastwood brandishes the titular weapon and if I were a gun manufacturer, I don’t think I could possibly hope for more.

The Lincoln Lawyer; Not bad, but Not Good. The problem here is that while the lawyer referred to in the title drives and works out of a Lincoln, it’s an old Lincoln. Furthermore, having the name of the car in the title next to the word “lawyer,” could suggest that the lawyer is comparable to Abe, himself a famous lawyer.  This means neither the title nor the use of the vehicle do much to promote the brand.  It was a pretty good film, though.

So, maybe having a brand in a title is really only impactful if the match is made in Hollywood heaven. Otherwise, it may just be a title, or worse, detrimental to the brand.