Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Proposal

My mom does occasional background work on movies and television shows that are being filmed in the New York City area.  The wardrobe instructions always include the very firm statement:  “no logos.”  Most clothing and props are not the focus of a scene and they are meant to blend in.  That’s why we tend to notice when a recognizable product appears.  When done well, product placements reinforce an impression we have about a character or a setting.  When done poorly, product placements draw attention to themselves in a negative way.  “The Proposal”, a 2009 comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds got it right.

Within the first five minutes of the movie I saw a number of well-known products. In the opening scene Andrew stopped in a Starbucks to pick up a latte for his boss, Margaret, the Editor-in-Chief of a New York City publishing firm. In Midtown Manhattan there is a Starbucks on practically every corner. For Margaret and Andrew to be drinking anything other than Starbucks would be odd.  Once Andrew arrived at work, he went to Margaret’s office to prepare for her arrival. The first thing I noticed about Margaret’s office was her Apple desktop. When Margaret walked into her co-worker Bob’s office I noticed his Apple laptop. A few minutes after that we see an Apple desktop in the office of Margaret’s boss. I then started to pay attention to the computers of all the other workers. I noticed that only the big bosses had Apple computers. The computers of the other employees were shown in a way that I was unable to tell what brand they were (clearly not product placement). It makes sense to me that the more important people at the company would have nicer computers.  

Using real products emits Logos (logic). “It’s more realistic to use real products rather than a generic package,” said Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and author of “Seeing Through Movies,” a critical look at product placement. (Martin J Smith ACCENT; Pg.E01) To use fake products or products with no logos on them seems strange.  “First, they say, brand-name products and logos realistically reflect the landscape of everyday American life.  A generic can labeled ‘BEER’ is more jarring to a viewer than a recognizable label.” (Martin J Smith ACCENT; Pg.E01) I would expect a high-powered executive such as Margaret to drink Starbucks (an “unsweetened cinnamon soy latte”) and not plain coffee out of a white styrofoam cup. Likewise, I would expect her to use an Apple computer.  These products reinforce her character.

I was also aware of product placement in the clothing and accessories that Margaret wore. Margaret had a very nice pair of Christian Louboutin heels on when she was at the office. Later in the movie I noticed that all of Margaret’s luggage was Louis Vuitton. These products give Margaret a more powerful look and communicate her status as a successful businesswoman. These products make a statement about her lifestyle. The products also create pathos. The products that Margaret wears can make you feel envious of her expensive and fashionable wardrobe. These feelings may make you want to go out and purchase these products and that is exactly why the companies paid to have their products in the movie.

A clear product placement occurred while Margaret and Andrew were in Alaska visiting his family. Andrew was telling Margaret about all the things he likes and he picked up a container of Pringles and made a comment on how he loves Pringles. When I watched the movie the first time I totally missed this as product placement. Now that I am aware of product placement, I realize that line was probably paid for by Pringles. In the book Everything’s an Argument, authors Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz believe that “Most people argue perfectly well using informal rather than formal logic.” (Lunsford, Ruszkiewicz p 84)  The writers did a really good job placing Pringles into the script in a way that felt natural and had a point.  Early in the movie, Margaret, facing deportation and the loss of her job, spontaneously announced to her boss that she is engaged to Andrew.  Shocked, Andrew has to play along if he is going to finally earn the promotion he has endured working for Margaret in order to achieve.  The fun of the movie is watching them go from pretending they are a couple in front of others (his family, his former girlfriend, their colleagues) to actually developing feelings for one another.  If they are going to convince an immigration officer that their engagement is not a ploy to keep her in the country, the self-centered Margaret needs to quickly learn little details a fiancee should know.

All of the products that were placed in “The Proposal” are getting a good deal. Starbucks is portrayed as the top coffee place where business people get coffee drinks made-to-order. Apple computer is seen as very professional.  Pringles is a chip that a good-looking young guy like Andrew loves. Christian Louboutin shoes and Louis Vuitton luggage are the accessories of an accomplished but fashionable business women. I would say both the movie and the products evenly won. All the products were placed realistically within the movie but, they were also obvious enough that you noticed them. 



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