Product placement has been around for decades, but it is getting even more prevalent in today’s society. One older movie that expanded the use of product placement was You’ve Got Mail. You’ve Got Mail is a 1998 film starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks about two people who fall in love over the Internet. Originally, the title of the movie was going to be You Have Mail, but since AOL was the most popular free internet service when this movie was released, AOL managed to convince the film’s director Nora Ephron to change the movie’s title to AOL’s similar sounding catch phrase.
Anyone old enough to know of AOL will remember the phrase “You’ve Got Mail” to alert you that you have a new message. Using that popular catch phrase was mutually beneficial to both the film and AOL. AOL was already the world leader in the free email service, but they had only recently started the first instant messaging service the previous year and wanted to expand their user base. By using AOL in a movie that was expected to be a hit, it gave AOL extra publicity. Audience members who see the movie would think, “Oh, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks use AOL, why aren’t I?” Having world-renowned actors use AOL on screen could help convince people to use AOL. Women everywhere were wondering where their Tom Hanks was. They saw how Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and Joe (Tom Hanks) met by using AOL email and it makes them believe that if they used this service, maybe they would find their one true love. One might think, “They fell in love through the Internet on AOL, so maybe I can too, if I start using AOL.” It creates a feeling of hope in women all over the world. However, AOL was not the only one who benefitted from this advertising, the film also did. By using a well-known service, it added credibility to the movie. Everyone was familiar with the dial tone that you heard while AOL was booting up, so having the sound and image of dial-up in the film makes the film more reliable to the audience.
Another product that was prominently displayed in the film was Starbucks coffee. In multiple scenes, the main characters are seen holding cups of Starbucks coffee, ordering, or even meeting there. Joe even discusses Starbucks directly in a voice over. He states, “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.” Some people might find this little monologue offensive, but really it is just Starbucks advertising. By putting this dialogue in the movie, Starbucks is not only getting their name out there, but also publicizing a vast amount of options that they have. Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz say in Everything’s an Argument that, “…arguments about causes and effects also inform many choices that people make every day” (337). Starbucks is known for making great cups of coffee and one of the reasons for that is the massive amount of choices that their customers can make. You’ve Got Mail is highlighting that very fact. Moreover, by having Kathleen and Joe get coffee, Starbucks is emphasizing the fact that both high-ranking businessmen and little shop owners alike drink Starbucks coffee, validating that it is worth the time and extra cost. In one scene, Kathleen and Joe meet at Starbucks to socialize. This is one of the times spent together that leads them to fall in love, so it creates a feeling in young women that say that Starbucks is a great place to meet men. In addition to Starbucks getting their publicity, the film gets credibility added to it. Martin J. Smith quotes Mark Crispin Miller in the Orange County Register when saying that, “…it's more realistic to use real products rather than a generic package” (2). Starbucks is a large, very popular company, so having the stars visit there regularly adds believability to the film.
AOL and Starbucks are the two main products that are advertised in You’ve Got Mail. Fortunately, the movie was a hit and everyone benefitted. AOL and Starbucks got their names out into the world even more, while the film got credibility added to it. That is the purpose of product placement in movies: to have both sides come out on top. I believe that You’ve Got Mail did a very good job at it by not forcing it down the audience’s throats but still managing to effectively get the products names out there.