Overview: Hollywood Branded interviewed on alcohol product placement regulations in movies by Euro Care’s European Alcohol Policy Alliance.
More alcohol product placements in youth-rated movies
A new study finds alcohol brand placement was found increasingly in movies rated for youth as young as 13 years despite the industry’s intent to avoid marketing to underage persons.
The study took a look at 1,400 movies released in the United States between 1996 and 2009 and found that they contained 2,433 alcohol brand appearances.
The study also found that there had been little change in alcohol brand appearances or alcohol screen time overall.
According to the study, tobacco brands in movies declined after implementation of externally enforced constraints on the practice, coinciding also with a decline in tobacco screen time and suggesting that enforced limits on tobacco brand placement also limited onscreen depictions of smoking. Alcohol brand placement, subject only to industry self-regulation, was found increasingly in movies rated for youth as young as 13 years, despite the industry’s intent to avoid marketing to underage persons. Alcohol brand appearances in youth-rated movies trended upward during the period from 80 to 145 per year, an increase of 5.2 (95 percent CI, 2.4-7.9) appearances per year.
“The actions of the brand placement companies are not in line with their stated intentions,” says James Sargent, Professor of Pediatrics at the Dartmouth Medical School and Co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program. “If these companies really cared about not marketing to teens,” Sargent says plainly, “they would restrict alcohol brand placement to R-rated movies.”
The practice of product placement remains uncodified, with some productions relying on agencies, some brands working directly with filmmakers, and some prop masters just placing brands in scenes with no warning.
“Productions sometimes just don’t follow the guidelines and rules set by the alcohol brand for onscreen usage,” explains Stacy Jones, Founder and CEO of Hollywood Branded adding that it’s difficult to know who to hold responsible sometimes. “Keep in mind that production companies need alcohol to set scenes with a basis of reality,” she adds, noting that producers would rather not use “dummy” cans and bottles labeled “beer.” In fact, Hollywood has known this since 1999, when a study by Denise DeLorme and Leonard Reid (“Moviegoers’ Experiences and Interpretations of Brands in Films Revisited”) found that a majority of viewers found generic brands distracting.
“If we learned anything from the trends in tobacco placement, it is that self-regulation by the industry promoting their brands has little to no impact on actual brand placement because the rewards for such a marketing strategy are great,” says Elaina Bergamini, the author of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center study. “Regulatory ‘teeth’ have the only demonstrable impact on the placement of brands in movies.”
It must be said that analyzing the influence of film is a tricky business. Is the Budweiser appearance in Ted on par with the mostly background placements in Iron Man 3? Do the alcohol-fueled plots of movies like The Hangover, 21 Jump Street and 21 and Over do more to promote drinking even though they lack specific brand appearances? That is to say, is it more important how alcohol and smoking are portrayed in films than the brands themselves?