Bud, Stoli Seek Product Displacement

Product placement –- a.k.a. brand integration -- has grown into a roughly $25 billion industry in the U.S., supporting its own battery of go-getters, an extensive Wikipedia entry, a Morgan Spurlock movie about the practice and its own awards competition and Top 10 lists. Now Anheuser-Busch and Stolichnaya vodka are attempting to create a new category of brand cultivation: product displacement, a.k.a. brand disintegration. They object to the use of their brands by Denzel Washington's character, a heroic airplane pilot struggling with alcohol and cocaine dependence, in the movie “Flight.”

 “We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving. It is disappointing that [the filmmakers] chose to use one of our brands in this manner,” Bud vp Robert McCarthy tells the AP’s Anthony McCartney, Christy Lemire, Jake Coyle, who broke the story.

“William Grant & Sons, which distributes Stolichnaya in the United States, also said it didn't license its brand for inclusion in the film and wouldn't have given permission if asked,” according to the AP story, which points out that Washington seems to be a less particular vodka imbiber who consumes “several different” brands in the film. 

“He also drinks Smirnoff and Absolut vodkas,” Daniel Miller reports in The Hollywood Reporter. “During one climactic scene, the character stares longingly at an open hotel minibar, and the labels of many alcohol bottles are visible.”

A-B’s McCarthy also released to the AP a letter written to “Flight” director Robert Zemeckis and distributor Paramount Pictures asking that the studio “obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters.”

“‘Flight’ is unlikely to face any legal challenges from Anheuser-Busch, as courts have ruled products can be shown in movies without manufacturers’ approval,” writes the Chicago Sun Times’ Bill Zwecker. 

"Although brands would love to be able to exercise complete control over the way they are portrayed to the public,” Monica Riva Talley, an attorney who specializes in trademark law with Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox tells ABC’s Susanna Kim, “Anheuser-Busch will likely face an uphill battle in trying to enjoin use of the Budweiser brand name in the context of the film."

Trademark laws “don’t exist to give companies the right to control and censor movies and TV shows that might happen to include real-world items,” Daniel Nazer, a resident fellow at Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project, tells the AP. "It is the case that often filmmakers get paid by companies to include their products. I think that's sort of led to a culture where they expect they'll have control. That's not a right the trademark law gives them."

Indeed, Budweiser is one of the reigning Kings of Bottled Placement.

“Be careful what you wish for is the lesson out of Hollywood for Budweiser,” writes Brandchannel’s Abe Sauer. Budweiser has appeared in 83 of 403 top box office films over the last decade, he reports, making it the sixth most common brand behind Ford, Apple, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and Mercedes. 

Brandchannel sponsors the annual Brandcameo awards, which for 10 years has tracked product placement and brand appearances in every film that finished No. 1 at the U.S. box office. “In all of the films that made it to No. 1 at the U.S. box office since 2001,” Sauer writes, “Budweiser was more likely to appear than Pepsi, Nike, or BMW. A viewer of one of these films was 2.5 times more likely to see a Budweiser logo than one for McDonald's.”

Sauer goes on to report on Bud product placements in two other recent films that involve substance misuse -- Adam Sandler’s “That’s My Boy” and “The Fighter” (look past Amy Adams at 0:35 in the German trailer for one instance). Front Row Analytics measures the value of Budweiser, Bud Lite and Bud Lite Lime in “That’s My Boy” alone at $ $3,685,234. In fact, Sauer wrote in June that “Sandler, Hollywood's resident master of product placement, had essentially made a Budweiser movie disguised as fratboy comedy flick.”

“Is Anheuser-Busch being over-sensitive?” the Los Angeles Times is asking its readers this morning. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents say they are.

Landor Associates managing partner Allen Adamson agrees, telling the Times’Joe Flint and Mark Olsen: “I don’t think people seeing a character using alcohol inappropriately are going to make the connection back to the brand or think the brand condones the behavior.”

Anymore than it condones any inappropriate use of its product in a movie, albeit tongue-in-cheek.

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