Iron Man is a film that was met warmly by critics and received high ratings on websites like Rotten Tomatoes and Roger Ebert’s online review site. I recently wrote a blog about Iron Man 2 and its use of special effects, and here I will be examining the advertising in the first film of the franchise. I believe it is safe to say that this method worked in two distinctly different ways: It helped companies advertise and it helped the movie build credibility.
In the beginning of the movie, Tony Stark is captured by terrorists in Afghanistan and forced to make an atomic bomb. He is held hostage for three months before he manages to escape, and returns to the United States. Upon arrival, one of the first things out of his mouth is, “I want an American cheeseburger.” Several minutes later, he is seen taking food out of a Burger King bag held by his bodyguard. This effectively brands into the heads of viewers the metaphorical slogan, “Here’s what’s American: Iron Man and Burger King.” This is the most blatant example of advertising in the movie, however it isn’t as flattering as Johns Hopkins University Professor of media studies Mark Miller claims most product placements are: “In most [placements], the product appears like the full moon, the label always facing the camera.” The Burger King logo is hardly noticeable in the shot and does not distract from the scene.
Whether he is driving to get coffee or on his way to a weapons contract convention, Stark is always seen in an Audi. This was a well-formulated decision made by the car manufacturer because who doesn’t want to be a genius billionaire superhero? In the same way that Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz’s “Everything’s an Argument” claims that people who have qualities that we desire have an advantage in getting a job or raise, it also makes audiences strive to be like them and thus, have the same things as them.
In the same way that advertising companies and products in the movie helps said companies, it also supports the plot of the movie and Tony Stark’s character. Stark embraces the playboy persona that he was so famous for in the original comic books. This is by scattering “high-profile” and name brand products meticulously throughout the story. Clearly a car junkie, Stark is constantly surrounded by the most luxurious of automobiles. And, surprisingly, they are not all Audis. Whether it is a Rolls-Royce picking him up from the airport or the random Ferrari purring in the background of a scene, these fine vehicles help him maintain playboy status. Also helping him maintain this look this are his watches; He is constantly shown wearing a Bulgari.
The third and final way in which product advertising helps the movie is with logos. During a scene where the television is left on, Jim Cramer is shown bashing Stark Industries’ stock on Mad Money. Hiring Cramer to make a realistic episode of an actual TV show helps create a more realistic world, which is cited by Miller as the main argument for companies to advertise in movies.
In “Everything’s an Argument,” identifying the target audience is one of the most important elements when presenting an argument. There is a substantial amount of cars and guns in this movie. The producers of Iron Man realized that the film would attract a relatively even ratio of men and women, and adjusted the product placement accordingly. This is most noticeable in the scene where Stark is late to the airport and excuses himself by saying, “I got caught doing a piece for Vanity Fair.” A magazine comprised of mainly pop culture and fashion, Vanity Fair was an excellent choice in advertising for keeping the female audience interested and emotionally invested in a realistic setting.
Despite a much lower budget than its successor and thus much less product placement, Iron Man still used advertising to its advantage. Because the director, Jon Favreau, was limited financially, product placement had to be done with a “quality over quantity” state of mind, an approach I believe worked fairly effectively.