Product placement has taken over the movie industry. According to an article in the Orange County Register, “product placements during the past decade have gone from a mostly bartered and low-key public relations vehicle into what increasingly are straight cash-for-exposure transactions” (Advertising 8), and that was in 1991…over 20 years ago! Since then, this has drastically escalated. Virtually any movie nowadays contains product placement whether we notice it or not. To be honest, most of the time I miss the placement, unless it’s blatantly obvious. But as Andrea Lunsford argued in Everything’s an Argument, “even in mundane moments, images – from T-shirts to billboards to animated films and computer screens – influence us” (Lunsford 327). As such I took a closer look at the movie The Proposal and was incredibly surprised at what I found. Most, not all, of the product placement in the film was subtle, and I quickly realized, by appealing to ethos, logos, and pathos, the movie producers used the products, the “labels,” to parallel with the movie’s message.
Not even 2 minutes into the film, we see Ryan Reynolds’s character, Andrew, quickly running into Starbucks to pick up his coffee order and take it to his boss. In this instance, the product placement is obvious and has been utilized to relate to all 3 appeals. You were meant to emotionally connect with his character. One way to establish this connection and “to build an motional tie is simply to help readers identify with your experiences” (Lunsford 34). Most people drink coffee, and many go to Starbucks. In fact, it’s hard to get around in major cities without seeing them merely blocks apart. Combine this with the fact that Andrew was running late because his alarm clock lost power, and BOOM! You have an instantly relatable connection between his character and the audience.
In addition to this, Starbucks possesses an ethos of sophistication and quality. Successful business people drink Starbucks. (In reality, you don’t have to be successful to drink Starbucks, but this is what I think of when I think “Starbucks”). Hence, by associating Starbucks with Andrew in this scene and right after with Sandra Bullock’s character, Margaret, the characters are then seen as successful, important, and sophisticated. But not only does this build the ethos of the characters, it also underscores Starbucks’s prior ethos and argues for the use of its products. As stated in the Orange County Register’s article, “‘most placements really flatter the product. In most, the product appears like the full moon, the label always facing the camera. They hover there in an almost beautiful way. Also, they're associated whenever possible with sympathetic characters’” (Advertising 17). This statement completely parallels to the Starbucks coffee in The Proposal. Andrew, the underappreciated, overworked assistant, is the character we immediately relate to and sympathize with because that was, or could have been, us at one point. Also, as evidenced in the short clip below, most of the time the label on the Starbucks coffee is visible, and this doesn’t even include the whole scene that involves the coffee. All in all, this provides an overt argument for the use of Starbucks’s products and says that by drinking Starbucks, you too, can be successful and sophisticated.
Furthermore, the use of the Starbucks coffee early in the movie was logical. Because the producers were trying to establish a connection to the audience, they needed to do it immediately, as opposed to the middle or end of the movie. Margret and Andrew are both not average, everyday people. Margaret is an editor at a major publishing company who wears expensive clothing and talks to influential authors about publicity with Oprah of all people. Andrew works for her and is portrayed as a cut above the rest of the employees. He has his own office while most of the average employees only have a cubicle. Margaret and Andrew could have easily been portrayed as “too successful” and not like “normal” people, but because they were drinking Starbucks, coupled with a couple other details, we were able to relate to them, thereby enhancing our enjoyment of the movie. If they had been drinking Starbucks in the middle or end of the movie, we might have already decided they were too different from us and completely disregarded the product altogether.
On a related note, the movie utilized subtle placement in relation to Margaret’s clothes in order to align the “labels” and “brands” with the message of the movie. The movie is about learning to be yourself by unmasking the person you hide beneath all of the labels and success. It’s about seeing yourself and people for who they truly are inside. In the beginning of the movie, Margaret has some pretty fabulous clothing accessories, but it takes someone who enjoys fashion to catch this. Throughout the first half of the movie, she wears Christian Louboutin shoes. Christian Louboutin shoes are characterized by red-bottomed soles and can cost thousands of dollars for one pair. The classic black pumps she wears in the movie are the mark of a successful businesswoman. Women aspire to one day own a pair of these shoes, again, if they like fashion. She also is seen carrying a very exclusive handbag, as seen in this photo, called a Birkin by designer Hermès. Birkins can cost anywhere between $9,000 and $100,000, and are made in limited supply. Not only do you have to have a lot of money to be able to afford these bags, but you also have to essentially be put on a “waiting list” because of their limited supply. Lastly, the bags she travels with are also high-end designer Louis Vuitton luggage. These pieces also cost thousands of dollars each. All of these product placements become a part of Margaret and her ethos in the beginning of the movie. Her character would not be the same if she didn’t have these pieces. They also serve to emotionally connect the female audience with Margaret. Even if you don’t know the product brands, the accessories are still beautiful. Women envy Margaret because she has these. They want to own these pieces, and they want to be her.
This all starts to change once the pair arrives in Alaska though. At the start of the Alaskan vacation, the labels mattered, but only to her. She was the only one wearing them out of anyone, which is ironic since Andrew’s family, whom they are visiting, are quite wealthy. As the weekend progresses and becomes less about the labels and “stuff,” we see less and less of the product placement. She starts to open up around other people and appreciate them for who they are. At one point she even says, “I forgot what it was like to have a family.” Family, to her, had been just a broad “label” of people, a way to brand them. She realizes though that “family” means so much more than that. It doesn’t even begin to describe the people within a family, their different personalities, their love, and their support. Once she comes to this realization and appreciates Andrew, his family, and herself for who she truly is, the clothing labels are replaced by “normal” clothes. By connecting women who like fashion to this character, these women can also, potentially, have this realization as well. While this is great for the movie and its message, this is not the best advertising for these designer products. In the end, the overall argument is that you do not need them.
By and large, the Proposal’s product placement was effective, but not necessarily a win-win for all of the companies involved. While it definitely advocated for the use of Starbucks (as well as Mac computers, which I didn’t discuss), the message regarding the designer clothing labels was that you don’t need them. As such, this movie gets only a two-ticket rating because not all parties involved benefited. Obviously, I think this is a great movie, and I recommend watching it. Below I’ve posted one final clip that shows Margaret being herself, in addition to appreciating others for who they are. She has no labels to hide behind. Enjoy!