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Obnoxious Product Placement: FedEx's 143-Minute Commercial

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It was called Cast Away, and it was nominated for two Academy Awards.

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There's a feature-length Federal Express (FDX) commercial. You may have seen it. It's called Cast Away.

It was roundly criticized for being one of the most egregious examples of product placement in the history of motion pictures.

FedEx's managing director of globalbBrand management, Gail Christensen, told the Sacramento Bee, "It's not product placement. We're a character in this movie."

A character that sold product. Hard.

Want to run a 30-second spot during an episode of 24? That'll be $350,000, please. Thirty seconds on American Idol will set you back about $750,000. Not feeling so flush? Airtime on 60 Minutes only runs $100,000 or so.

FedEx may have gotten the best bargain ever.
Director Robert Zemeckis-- he of Forrest Gump fame --
obnoxious put together the143-minute ad for free. Plus, the movie's other star, Tom Hanks, was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe.

Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx manager who travels to assorted shipping centers around the world and helps them operate as efficiently as possible.

After being paged during Christmas dinner to solve a problem at a FedEx location overseas, Noland's plane crashes over the South Pacific, killing everyone aboard except for Noland--in which case the movie would have been over--and winds up stranded for 1,500 days.

It's worth noting that FedEx didn't just get their logo seen over and over and over again by millions of moviegoers, but also burnished their company image.

Ted Friedman, a professor at Georgia State University who teaches in the PhD program, wrote:

"On the island, Chuck maintains a perverse level of corporate loyalty – especially for somebody whose corporate flight just crashed. [More than one critic has wondered why, when Chuck gets back home, he doesn't sue the hell out of FedEx.] When packages from the downed plane start to wash up, Chuck first refuses to open them, telling himself he'll deliver them once he gets home."

One of the clearly branded FedEx packages contains a volleyball, which Noland names Wilson and "befriends." Without the ball, there would be no chance for dialogue during the majority of the movie, as the only character is alone on an island. It's a deft piece of screenwriting, in addition to being a nice piece of free advertising for Wilson.

After Cast Away's release, Wilson Sporting Goods launched a promotion announcing that one of its products was "co-starring" with Tom Hanks.

How do directors feel about product placement? Obviously, opinions are all over the map. David Lynch, perhaps best-known for helming Blue Velvet, told an interviewer at the Dallas International Film Festival that he found product placement to be "Bull_ _ _ _. Total f_ _ _ing bull_ _ _ _."

Others feel slightly differently. As in all situations, there's another side to this particular coin. First off, FedEx didn't approach DreamworksSKG and offer a "pay-for-play" deal. Additionally, Robert Zemeckis says Cast Away wasn't a celluloid whore, as using a fictional delivery company would have added an element of phoniness to the production.

He said,

"It just seemed to me that the whole integrity of the movie would be compromised if this was some phony trans-global letter delivery service, with some Hollywood fake logo and all that. It wouldn't seem like it would be real. So very simply, we asked Federal Express for their permission to use their logo, and they could've said no. And that was it."

The man has a point.

Can you imagine Chuck Noland as an O-VerNite executive?

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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