Gives Glimpse of Product Placement's Future
Beth Snyder Bulik
July 17, 2008
YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- In Disney Pixar's new movie,
"Wall-E," the female heroine is a shiny all-white robot
with no seams or overt buttons showing. Remind you of
anything? Actually, it brings to mind most of the Apple
But unlike many movies showing actors gulping from
branded soda cans and making calls on cellphones with
long logo shots, Apple's "Wall-E" appearance isn't what
most would deem product placement. And it might well be
the model of the future.
Apple products only physically appear in "Wall-E" a few
times -- an iPod that re-projects a favorite movie, the
sound of the Mac startup tone signaling that Wall-E, the
titular robotic romantic lead, has fully recharged via
solar panels, and one-button mice scurrying around a
garbage dump. However, there is a less obvious, but
still noticeable Apple influence that runs throughout
"My first thought when I watched the movie with my kids
and I heard that Mac boot tone and the whole audience
laughed ... was that it's so subtle, it's almost
indoctrinating," said Forrester Research analyst James
McQuivey. "That 600 years from now there's nothing of
value on the Earth, but there's the Mac boot tone."
Abram Sauer, a freelance writer who pens the annual
product-placement awards for brandchannel.com, said the
whole film could serve as a model for the future.
"People talk about how products and brands will sponsor
movies ... that's what's going to happen. But Apple has
already done that here without being directly involved.
This is what we would use as a great example of how to
sponsor a movie," he said. "I would call it product
homage. And that is way more valuable than product
placement. It doesn't just reinforce a single Apple
product, it reinforces Apple's entire design approach
from MacBook to iPod to iPhone."
Call her iEve
The "homage" makes sense. Apple CEO Steve Jobs owned
Pixar for 20 years before selling it to Disney in 2006
in a deal that makes him a significant shareholder. Mr.
Jobs now sits on the Disney board of directors. And
Apple's chief designer, Jonathan Ive, is reported to
have played consultant for a day on the set of "Wall-E"
-- at the behest of Mr. Jobs -- on the design of one of
the film's characters, Eve. (Mr. McQuivey joked, "You
could call her iEve.") Messrs. Jobs and Ive are included
in the "Special Thanks" section at the end of the film.
Even in her name, Eve doesn't stray far from the Apple
tree, although EVE is positioned later in the film as an
acronym for Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluated.
"Subliminal might be the key here," said Roger Kay,
analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates. "Some
people will pick up on some of it, but most of it works
as subliminal in the way that says this is the coolest
and latest stuff. It reinforces the look and feel of
And considering the relationship between Apple and
Disney Pixar, Mr. Kay said, why shouldn't they be doing
cross marketing? As he pointed out, until now there has
actually been a less-than-expected amount of it. In a
time where marketing gurus hail cross-platform,
cross-product and cross-media marketing strategies, it
could make for good business if it is not overdone.
Not for everyone
"It begs the question, 'What is the future of product
representation in film?'" Mr. McQuivey said. "The idea
that your logo isn't going to be featured or your
product isn't going to be shown ... but your essence
runs through the whole thing instead. It also begs the
question, 'How many companies could do that?' Not too
many, I think."
The iconic Apple, however, seems to be one of them. The
company has already proven itself adept at traditional
product placement. Mr. Sauer said brandchannel.com
research shows Apple computers -- which have about a 7%
computer market share in the U.S. -- have been in 30% of
all No. 1 films since 2001. (No. 1 films are defined as
the box-office leader each week.) And the stats are even
better in more recent years. Apple computers were in 38%
of the No. 1 films in 2007, and so far in 2008, have
appeared in 50%, Mr. Sauer said.
However, not everyone believes the "Wall-E" Apple
connection is as important as some think. "People might
be making a big deal out of what was likely a group of
inside jokes," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael
Gartenberg, adding that it just follows that a movie
about futuristic technology would look to a tech design
leader for inspiration. "Certainly the aesthetic is
reminiscent of Apple or Jonathan Ive's design style," he
said. "Let's face it, I'm not surprised they didn't put
a Zune in there."
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