Superman: Man of… Product Placement?

What are your thoughts on product placement in film and television? I’m talking about those scenes where our dashing hero jumps into a sleek sports car, but not before the camera dedicates a long moment to pan over the car model and ending on the company logo. Sometimes it’s as simple as a sitcom star taking a long drink from a soda can with the name pointed directly at viewers. Occasionally we notice them and let out a groan at how obvious and forced the product is, while other times it’s so subtly integrated that we accept it without further thought. Then there are cases so extreme that we must simply pause to gape at the sheer magnitude of it all.

With the release of Man of Steel, the newest Superman movie, we’ve been given such an occasion. Before the movie even hit theaters, it already counted with $160 million in product placement alone. Over 100 companies managed to get their brand associated with Superman. Did you like the glasses Clark Kent wears as he prepares to take on Metropolis and his new journalism job? Warby Parker provided them as one of two limited edition options that quickly sold out. If you ever wondered how Superman shaves (spoiler alert: we see a very scruffy Superman at the beginning of the film), Gillette sponsored a contest where users submitted videos with theories. They even got an entry from everyone’s favorite scientist, Bill Nye, to make a video. But the focus wasn’t just on products Superman uses, viewers were treated to a very clear shot of the  Nikon camera gear Lois Lane carries. Even the National Guard threw their hat into the promotional ring with commercials, theater spots, and recruiting posters.

As a Superman fan I definitely enjoyed the film, but readily admit that I cringed when a well choreographed fight scene barreled through an IHOP or panned by a Sears store. The question remains, can product placement be done correctly? I think so. I did enjoy the modern take on Kent’s glasses that Warby Parker designed, as the placement felt natural. And even as a die-hard Canon camera fan, I did get a kick out of seeing Lois Lane tote around her Nikon as she tried to get the latest scoop.If product placement is ever something you’d consider, strive to have the placement feel natural. Product placement works best if the audience doesn’t feel as if they are being force-fed an advertisement.

It’s important to be honest with yourself when it comes to placing your product or brand. Will the audience understand and is the placement appropriate? Last year The Lorax was released and the movie was harshly criticized for partnering with Mazda despite the film’s environmentally-friendly message. It’s the perfect example of the product not fitting the film. Even though I was slightly annoyed by Gillete partnering with Man of Steel, I understood it. The question of how Superman shaves has been a hotly debated topic among fans. Placements like these both sold a product and fit the storyline.

Movies like Man of Steel require a suspension of disbelief but it’s best to assume that the suspension does not extend to advertising. Viewers are savvy and have the power to turn your product placement into a sold-out commodity or a mocked embarrassment. Do your research and if your product doesn’t fit, it’s best to wait for a chance where it will.


Like it or not, product placement is the future. I say, as long as it’s done tastefully and feels natural, then I’m ok with it.

Thanks for the comment Patrick! I agree, it’s here to stay especially now since people tend to stream television and movies instead of watching them through traditional broadcast. Ad execs have found ways around the death of commercials with product placements. Tasteful and natural are definitely key!

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