5 Shameless Acts Of Product Placement That Backfired Completely

Who would have thought the commercialization of art could go wrong?
5 Shameless Acts Of Product Placement That Backfired Completely

We don’t like to admit it, but most Hollywood movies are basically just long episodes of The Price is Right with explosions and occasional nudity; lucrative showcases for consumer products that you can go out and purchase in the real world. And for the most part this arrangement works pretty well -- brands help shoulder the exorbitant cost of film and television production, and we get tricked into buying more useless garbage we don’t need because we simply wanted a two-hour reprieve from the horrors of reality. But as we’ve mentioned before, sometimes these product placements have the opposite of the intended effect, such as how ...

Reebok Paid $1.5 Million To Be Insulted in Jerry Maguire

Presumably after screaming into a phone about wanting large sums of currency exhibited to them, the filmmakers behind Jerry Maguire secured a sweet deal with Reebok for $1.5 million dollars -- or, roughly enough to pay for Tom Cruise's produce crate budget. All they had to do was include a Reebok commercial in the movie. Which sounds crazy, but it was to be motivated by the story when, after nearly dying (and almost certainly suffering severe brain damage) Jerry’s only client, Rod Tidwell becomes a superstar and finally lands a coveted endorsement deal with Reebok.

But for some reason, the commercial was cut from the finished film -- and this is a movie that didn’t cut the scene where its hero drunkenly gropes his only employee hours after breaking up with his fiancee. 


“You complete me, as does Mad Dog 40/40.”

Removing the commercial would be bad enough, but in its absence, the only remaining reference to the sneaker brand was earlier in the film when a bitter Rod loudly proclaimed: “F--- Reebook!” Not surprisingly, the folks at Reebok weren’t super thrilled that they spent over a million dollars to be insulted by the future star of Snow Dogs. So they sued the producers for a cool $10 million, alleging that their brand’s depiction in Jerry Maguire was “highly derogatory and negative” and “the essence of Tidwell’s views on Reebok are summed up in his quintessentially disparaging and vulgar remark.” 

It’s hard not to see their side here; imagine if Nintendo paid all that money for The Wizard only to have Fred Savage scream obscenities about Super Mario Bros. 3. The two sides settled out of court, and as a result the studio eventually re-edited the commercial back into the film for its cable TV premiere and everyone was happy. Mega-corporations win again! 

Some of the Products in No Time To Die Are Already Outdated

It’s no secret that James Bond movies are simply lengthy commercials for assorted products like expensive cars, booze, and fancy watches -- and weirdly Casino Royale includes a random plug for the creeptastic Body Worlds exhibit because it was the most 2006 movie possible. 

The newest entry No Time to Die is seemingly no exception, shilling everything from sweaters to designer handbags. Unfortunately since most people whose names don’t rhyme with “Shmistepher Golan” delayed their 2020 theatrical releases due to the pandemic, No Time to Die, which was primed and ready for release last spring, has still yet to see the light of day. And now many of the products featured in the Bond flick are already out of date -- so much so that the production reportedly had to reshoot certain scenes in order to showcase more recent models. We’ve even seen an example of this happening already; a tie-in commercial for Nokia featuring Lashana Lynch had to be digitally re-tooled to showcase their newest phone.

If it gets delayed any further, they may have to add a CGI teenager that can explain to Bond how to use all of these newfangled gizmos.

Other Beer Companies Turned Down E.T. For What Should Be Obvious Reasons

Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was a marketing juggernaut, spawning lunch boxes, video games, and, of course, unnervingly phallic “finger” toys. And the movie itself wasn’t free from blatant corporate synergy, advertising real-life brands like BMX bikes and, most memorably, Reese’s Pieces, which quickly became the official candy of trapping mysterious woodland creatures. Oddly, another sponsor of this beloved family adventure was … a beer company? Yeah, remember that scene where E.T. randomly gets day-drunk, inadvertently inebriating the small child with whom he shares a telepathic link?

We see E.T. pounding back cans of Coors -- which wasn’t incidental, Coors was one of the film’s corporate partners. The brewers even launched an ad campaign in which E.T. (who apparently abandoned space travel for a bartending gig) warns people to “phone home” instead of driving drunk. 


Turns out the government didn't want to dissect him, they just wanted to give him a job at the crappiest bar downtown.

And it’s not like all this wasn’t weird back in 1982; Anheuser-Busch specifically turned down the opportunity to provide their beer in the scene because it was used “for the questionable purpose of intoxicating a child.” And the gambit seemingly didn’t work. While Reese’s Pieces saw a “65% jump in profits” only two weeks after the movie came out, by the end of 1982 Coors sales were dismal, probably because E.T. fans were either A) children or B) didn’t feel the urge to buy the drink that enabled a small boy to get blackout drunk at school. Let’s just be thankful that there was no scene where E.T. and Elliott smoke an entire carton of menthol cigarettes.

Back to the Future Had To Give The California Raisins Board Their Money Back

The Back to the Future movies are practically bursting at the seams with product placements; Nike shoes, Mattel hoverboards, $50 bottles of Pepsi. And while they’re mostly pretty successful, there are some odd choices to be found. Like why would Burger King embrace their image as the restaurant with a crazed scientist living in a shack in their parking lot? And it’s weird that Pizza Hut anticipated a future in which they team up with Black & Decker to make their food somehow even more disgusting.

But by far the worst product placement in the franchise (since they took no money from the sports almanac industry) was for California Raisins -- the food, not the claymation R&B group. Reportedly, the California Raisins Board paid the movie $50,000 after they were told that Back to the Future could do for their product what E.T. had done for Reese’s Pieces.”

And while the filmmakers easily could have had Marty McFly snacking on these healthy treats, or hell, even had the DeLorean powered by dried grapes instead of plutonium, they found that raisins don’t photograph well, and looked like “a bowl of dirt.” So instead they just threw an ad for raisins on a bench behind a homeless man, seen sleeping amongst the shuttered stores and dilapidated porno theatres meant to signal to the audience that Marty had successfully returned to the economic hellscape of the 1980s. 

Universal Pictures


"Eat raisins, kids!"

According to writer Bob Gale, when the raisins people saw what their investment bought they were “livid” and in the end the producers had to actually refund half of the money.

Friends’ Diet Coke Tie-In Nearly Destroyed the Series

With their charm, humor, and flagrant disregard for city by-laws concerning public water fountains, the Friends gang immediately vaulted the show to success -- which meant, of course, marketing opportunities. During the second season Diet Coke spent $30 million to be seen in the hands of the loveable twenty-somethings, even Ross for some reason. But the promo also involved an elaborate contest involving a new storyline in which the police are questioning the friends, one of whom “stole” a Diet Coke from Monica’s fridge, which … seems like an overreaction. Also one of the suspects being grilled by the cops is Monica herself, further implying that Friends is set in a dystopian police state which was never fully explored in the show.

It all culminated in a Super Bowl ad revealing that Rachel had stolen the Coke, or in other words, helped herself to a beverage in the apartment she lives in. The winners of the contest were flown to L.A. to attend a taping of an episode that … was immediately halted when Matt LeBlanc dislocated his shoulder.

So this was dumb, but ultimately harmless, right? Nope, it almost killed the show. The promotion lasted for five weeks and “overexposed” the characters. An article in the Chicago Tribune cheekily titled the ads “The One Where the Show Crosses the Line from Promiscuity into Prostitution” adding that “Diet Coke's millions will go down the same sewer grate as has the credibility of Friends.” Yikes. In response to the growing backlash, the producers and cast had to regroup and “bring the focus back to what their show was really about” --  presumably friendship and repeatedly making jokes about horrifying instances of abuse. 

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter! And check out the podcast Rewatchability.

Top Image: Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions Warner Bros. Television

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