Cast Away is a 2000 film directed by Robert Zemeckis about a FedEx employee named Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks, that is stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean. Hanks’ character is a hard working man that is forced to travel a lot. However, one of his flights crashes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Noland is able to save himself from the wreckage but find himself stranded on an island. The movie follows the time that he spends on the island, and eventually in a search for companionship, he befriends a volleyball that washes to shore in a FedEx package. Noland names the volleyball Wilson after its brand, and their relationship grows as he tries to escape the island.
Wilson’s product placement in Cast Away is one of the most famous examples of product placement in movies, but it isn’t true product placement as Wilson didn’t actually pay to put their brand in the movie. Zemeckis also did not pay Wilson for the use of their product. Robert Zemeckis states that “there was absolutely no product placement. We weren’t paid by anybody to place products in the movie.” (legendsrevealed.com) Wilson was actually chosen when the screenwriter, William Broyles Jr., was walking on a beach and found a Wilson volleyball washed up on the shore. Despite this, both Wilson and Cast Away benefited from the product placement.
In an article by Michael L. Maynard, chair of the Department of Advertising at Temple University, and Megan Scala, a PhD candidate at Temple University, called Unpaid Advertising: A Case of Wilson the Volleyball in Cast Away, Wilson received about eleven minutes of screen time. This is the equivalent of over twenty one commercials of thirty seconds. Maynard and Scala estimate that approximately one hundred million people have seen Cast Away either in theaters or at home. This equates to between 1.85 million and 11.5 million in advertising dollars. Wilson did not have to pay for any of this advertising, so they benefited greatly from the use of their product.
Wilson also benefited from the connection made to the volleyball in the movie. In Cast Away, Noland grows more and more attached to the volleyball. Along with Noland, the audience develops a deeper attachment for the volleyball as well. This is a deeper attraction than the audience would normally develop than watching a generic commercial. The audience connects with Wilson as a friend, which makes them more likely to choose the product at a later date. As the movie is rated pg-13, it appeals to the age range that is most likely to play volleyball. Without paying for any advertising, Wilson appeals to their target audience and creates a strong attachment to them.
Cast Away benefits from putting Wilson in their movie as well. Wilson gives an ethos argument of credibility to the movie. Having a big brand name allows the audience to assume that this is a quality movie. If they can have a big brand like Wilson, then they must have the money and capability to produce a good movie. It also makes the movie seem more believable. Wilson is the most recognized volleyball brand, so it makes sense that the volleyball is Wilson. In Everything’s an Argument, the 6th edition, Lunsford and Ruskiewicz state that “showing that you know what you are talking about exerts an ethical appeal…” (26) The audience might have found it strange if the volleyball did not have a brand or was a brand other than Wilson.
I give Wilson four slurpees for its appearance in Cast Away. The movie did an excellent job of creating an attachment to the volleyball. However, the volleyball was never actually used to play volleyball. Despite this, I still gave it four slurpees for the sheer exposure that the movie gave Wilson. It is an iconic image from the movie, and this alone introduces a lot of people to the brand. Wilson, the volleyball, benefits both the brand and the movie Cast Away.