'Wall-E' Gives Glimpse of Product Placement's Future

Movie's 'Homage' to Apple Is Subtle, Considering Disney Pixar's Ties to Brand

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- In Disney Pixar's new movie, "Wall-E," the female heroine is a shiny all-white robot with no seams or overt buttons showing. Remind you of anything? Actually, it brings to mind most of the Apple product line.
Could this be the product-placement model of the future?
Could this be the product-placement model of the future?

But unlike many movies showing actors gulping from branded soda cans and making calls on cellphones with long logo shots, Apple's "Wall-E" appearance isn't what most would deem product placement. And it might well be the model of the future.

'Almost indoctrinating'
Apple products only physically appear in "Wall-E" a few times -- an iPod that re-projects a favorite movie, the sound of the Mac startup tone signaling that Wall-E, the titular robotic romantic lead, has fully recharged via solar panels, and one-button mice scurrying around a garbage dump. However, there is a less obvious, but still noticeable Apple influence that runs throughout the film.

"My first thought when I watched the movie with my kids and I heard that Mac boot tone and the whole audience laughed ... was that it's so subtle, it's almost indoctrinating," said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey. "That 600 years from now there's nothing of value on the Earth, but there's the Mac boot tone." Abram Sauer, a freelance writer who pens the annual product-placement awards for brandchannel.com, said the whole film could serve as a model for the future.

"People talk about how products and brands will sponsor movies ... that's what's going to happen. But Apple has already done that here without being directly involved. This is what we would use as a great example of how to sponsor a movie," he said. "I would call it product homage. And that is way more valuable than product placement. It doesn't just reinforce a single Apple product, it reinforces Apple's entire design approach from MacBook to iPod to iPhone."

Call her iEve
The "homage" makes sense. Apple CEO Steve Jobs owned Pixar for 20 years before selling it to Disney in 2006 in a deal that makes him a significant shareholder. Mr. Jobs now sits on the Disney board of directors. And Apple's chief designer, Jonathan Ive, is reported to have played consultant for a day on the set of "Wall-E" -- at the behest of Mr. Jobs -- on the design of one of the film's characters, Eve. (Mr. McQuivey joked, "You could call her iEve.") Messrs. Jobs and Ive are included in the "Special Thanks" section at the end of the film.

Even in her name, Eve doesn't stray far from the Apple tree, although EVE is positioned later in the film as an acronym for Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluated.

"Subliminal might be the key here," said Roger Kay, analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates. "Some people will pick up on some of it, but most of it works as subliminal in the way that says this is the coolest and latest stuff. It reinforces the look and feel of Apple."

And considering the relationship between Apple and Disney Pixar, Mr. Kay said, why shouldn't they be doing cross marketing? As he pointed out, until now there has actually been a less-than-expected amount of it. In a time where marketing gurus hail cross-platform, cross-product and cross-media marketing strategies, it could make for good business if it is not overdone.

Not for everyone
"It begs the question, 'What is the future of product representation in film?'" Mr. McQuivey said. "The idea that your logo isn't going to be featured or your product isn't going to be shown ... but your essence runs through the whole thing instead. It also begs the question, 'How many companies could do that?' Not too many, I think."

The iconic Apple, however, seems to be one of them. The company has already proven itself adept at traditional product placement. Mr. Sauer said brandchannel.com research shows Apple computers -- which have about a 7% computer market share in the U.S. -- have been in 30% of all No. 1 films since 2001. (No. 1 films are defined as the box-office leader each week.) And the stats are even better in more recent years. Apple computers were in 38% of the No. 1 films in 2007, and so far in 2008, have appeared in 50%, Mr. Sauer said.

However, not everyone believes the "Wall-E" Apple connection is as important as some think. "People might be making a big deal out of what was likely a group of inside jokes," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg, adding that it just follows that a movie about futuristic technology would look to a tech design leader for inspiration. "Certainly the aesthetic is reminiscent of Apple or Jonathan Ive's design style," he said. "Let's face it, I'm not surprised they didn't put a Zune in there."
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