In movies, product placement plays an important role in both financial gain for a company featured, and keeping the film’s content relevant to the audience. Although it can sometimes play on pathos and make audience members uncomfortable or confused, product placement, when done well, will enhance both the ethos and logos of the film, as well as provide financial gain for the company featured. In Michael Jacobsen’s words, you don’t want to “’pretend you’re showing art when what you’re showing is advertizing’” (Smith, E01). In Back to the Future II, Marty McFly travels to the future and ends up in 2015, a year in which Nikes lace themselves and hover cars are widely available. The film uses an array of product placement when Marty first arrives in the future in order to paint a more tangible, realistic view of the future for the audience.
The scene I will explore is when Marty is preparing to travel to the future. His mentor of sorts, Doc, instructs him to wear clothing that will blend in with that of the future. He hands him a futuristic jacket and a pair of Nike shoes. The shoes are a typical Nike style, with the iconic swoosh across the side. However, the futuristic aspect of the shoes is that they lace themselves and light up. This scene is a great example of a film doing product placement well. They took an item synonymous with American culture at the time the film was made, and featured it in a way that wasn’t pushing the product through words, but rather through how cool the shoe was. I believe this was beneficial for Nike, because it put a very positive light on their brand. The way the shoe was featured suggested that Nike was the shoe of the future, and an innovative brand. There’s no doubt this scene encouraged viewers to go out and purchase a pair of Nikes.
This scene earned the brand recognition and money, while simultaneously improving the ethos and logos of the film. The brand provided ethos for the film in that it allowed the audience to associate the cool, in-fashion sneaker with the main character, thus leading them to believe Marty, and the film, were with the times. In addition, Marty is the typical target buyer for a Nike shoe as a good looking, stylish teen. According to Louis Giannetti, “The filmmaker uses actors as a medium for communicating ideas,” which is precisely what the director did with Marty, as he was a relatable “cool” guy (Giannetti, 283). This directly correlates to the logos of the film, because it’s easy to envision a teen like Marty wearing the shoe in real life. These two factors come together to legitimize the film and make the audience feel as though the future is tangible through this film. They come away from the film feeling as though 2015 really will look like it does in Back to the Future II.
Overall, I think that Back to the Future II did a great job of utilizing product placement in a tasteful, not too overbearing way. The products served as connections to the audience’s reality and were true assets to their understanding of the future the film presented. I would give this film 5 pickles, because I think the content is creative and flows well with the first movie, and the product placement wasn’t obnoxious or too obvious.