History

The Early Beginnings

The first documented effects of the way in which an audience can be powerfully influenced happened in 1934 when the spectacle of a vestless Clark Gable in the hit movie It Happened One Night sent sales of vests plummeting over night! (Marlon Brando reversed the effect in On The Waterfront!).

In the detective thriller Laura, released in October 1944, Dana Andrews drinks an imaginary brand of whiskey called Black Pony. The brand was promptly launched in real life, ending the last resistance to using real products. The following year, Joan Crawford brought Jack Daniel’s to the silver screen in Mildred Pierce. In this first reliably recorded example of product placement in October 1945, Joan Crawford won the Oscar for Best Actress as the ruthlessly ambitious Mildred, who goes into the restaurant business to boost her daughters’ marriage prospects. Mildred pours a customer a Jack Daniels whiskey – a brand whose fame is founded on product placement to this day.

In The UK

Whilst classic Ealing comedies such as The Titchfield Thunderboltprominently featured Guinness signage, The Saint, a British TV series of the 1960s featuring Roger Moore as Simon Templar is memorable for promoting the P1800 2-door Volvo coupé.
Originally Jaguar were approached to provide Templar’s on-screen car, but turned the opportunity down, only being willing to sell the producers a car at a small discount. Volvo understood the opportunity and loaned the P1800 free of charge. A few years ago King Olaf of Sweden met with The Saint‘s producer and thanked him publicly “for putting Sweden’s car industry on the map”.

Blockbusters

Tom Cruise started the big screen battle when he wore Ray-Ban wayfarers inRisky Business. His sunglasses, a 1952 design, were at the end of their life: annual sales had dropped to 18,000. But Risky Business took sales in 1983 to 360,000.

Another Tom Cruise blockbuster, Top Gun, sealed the popularity of Ray-Ban Aviators forevermore, with the style still being sold today.