March 15th, 2011
Retreat, Sell! "Battle: LA" and Product Placing the Marines
Battle: Los Angeles is ostensibly about an alien invasion, but it’s really about being a United States Marine. In fact, it’s a Marine recruiting video, and a powerful one. No surprise there. For all the ink that’s spilled on the product placement strategies of Apple, Coke, Audi or some other consumer brand, nobody — not even cigarette-makers — has harnessed the power of product placement like the Marines.
Battle: Los Angeles has some obvious product placement, including Casio watches, Landshark lager and, this being a Sony Pictures movie — just as we saw in The Social Network — there are Sony Vaios, lots of them. (Are we to believe US armed forces are all stocked with Sony Vaios?)
But the real product being sold in Battle: LA is the Marines.
The film follows a small unit from California’s Camp Pendleton 2nd Battalion 5th Marines. But Camp Pendleton was more than just a plot point. Real Marines from Camp Pendleton participated in training Battle: LA’s actors, while around 50 active duty Marines appear as extras in the film.
The Marines even have an officer whose job it is to liaise between the Corps and Hollywood to ensure that the filmmakers “protect the image of the Marine Corps.” Those are the exact words of Lt. Col. Jason Johnson, the official Marine liaison to Battle: LA, to Nola.com.
When it comes to the Marines brand, filmmakers better follow what Johnson “suggests” or the US military will cease cooperation. Not only is that cooperation valuable from a storytelling perspective, but also from a bottom line one. Because Battle: Los Angeles closely followed Johnson’s script notes and production suggestions, the film was to use a large number of (otherwise expensive or impossible to secure) Marine resources, such as MV-22 Ospreys aircraft, helicopters, and other vehicles — not to mention the Marines themselves. Maybe we should think of this as product “embedding” instead of placement.