Movie product placement -- Filmmakers are embracing paid-for plugs to lessen their budgets in films like ''Coneheads,'' ''The Firm,'' and more

By Marshall Fine
Updated August 06, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

This summer’s blockbusters are reaping benefits for more than just Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, and T. rex. Alongside the big boys on-screen in virtually all of these hits is an array of products lovingly photographed and shrewdly placed in what can be a most effective, subtle form of advertising. Filmmakers have embraced the paid-for plugs for obvious reasons. ”You can lessen your budget,” says director John Singleton, who was happy to display the Sony label in Poetic Justice in exchange for free use of its equipment. ”If it will help me get an extra day of shooting, I’ll do it — as long as it works with the picture.” And it often does, but as this chart shows, the payoffs for the product are not always readily apparent, but we fix that with our graded viewer impressions:

Film: Last Action Hero.
Exposure: Two large semis prominently bearing the red Coke logo.
Screen time: Fleeting.
Best scene: Arnold Schwarzenegger drives his car up and over one of the trucks during a chase scene.
Viewer impression: First the ”Taste It All” campaign fizzles; now, placement in the summer’s biggest disappointment. What next — New Coke II? D

Film: Rookie of the Year, Coneheads.
Exposure: Cans handled by principals, talked about, seen as background logo on the outfield wall in Rookie, kept in the Conehead household by the case.
Screen time: A lot in both films.
Best scene: Pre-teen pitching phenom in Rookie sits in for Ray Charles in spoof of his ”Uh-Huh” Diet Pepsi commercials.
Viewer impression: A soft drink willing to poke fun at itself — and in two of the summer’s big kid films. Shrewd. B

Film: Sleepless in Seattle.
Exposure: Handled and consumed by two principal characters.
Screen time: One long, memorable scene.
Best scene: The summer’s best female-bonding, with Meg Ryan and Rosie O’Donnell drinking Snapple while tearily watching An Affair to Remember on video.
Viewer impression: Six months from now, women will buy Snapple to drink while tearily watching Sleepless on video. A-

Film: The Firm.
Exposure: Handled, consumed, and discussed by principal characters.
Screen time: More than a TV commercial.
Best scene: Tom Cruise, chugging Red Stripe, knocks over a bottle while snooping in Gene Hackman’s closet when Hackman startles him.
Viewer impression: Watch this Jamaican brew become the hip import beer of 1993. A

Film: Coneheads.
Exposure: Setting for scene in which Subway food is consumed by two principals.
Screen time: Impressive.
Best scene: Connie Conehead devours a foot-long sub in under five seconds. ”My mother’s the only woman I know who can do that,” says her date with a look of love.
Viewer impression: Those sandwiches look pretty good. Want to split one? B

Film: The Firm, Another Stakeout.
Exposure: Scenes o’ plenty of principals driving (and reveling in) the cars.
Screen time: Enough for a commercial.
Best scene: In Another Stakeout, Emilio Estevez exceeds dock weight limit with Mercedes, falls in the drink a la the Porsche in Risky Business.
Viewer impression: Still an emblem of success that also symbolizes a pact with the devil. C

Film: Jurassic Park.
Exposure: Numerous shots of brightly painted park vehicles peacefully touring and not-so-peacefully being stomped by T. rex.
Screen time: Bountiful.
Best scene: Explorer chases Sam Neill and Joseph Mazzello down a tree.
Viewer impression: Can I get it without the dinosaur logo? B-

Film: Rookie of the Year.
Exposure: Three gratuitous product-placement shots that have nothing to do with the story, two mentions as source for celebrity-endorsement cash.
Screen time: About four seconds per shot.
Best scene: Crude New York Mets batter glares menacingly at pitcher; camera cuts momentarily to his shoes, which are not the least bit menacing.
Viewer impression: Confused, given the pile of other product placements (Cracker Jack, Milk Duds, Sports Illustrated) in the film. D-

Film: Free Willy.
Exposure: One lengthy shot, labels prominently turned to camera.
Screen time: About five seconds.
Best scene: Foster parents make gift of new clothes — including Nike shirt and shoes — to new foster child: ”They told us blue was your favorite color.”
Viewer impression: Say, that kid really started to come around and behave after he started wearing those shoes, didn’t he? B-

Film: Another Stakeout.
Exposure: Handled and consumed by principal characters.
Screen time: One three-minute scene.
Best scene: Richard Dreyfuss removes a package of bread, mustard, and meat from briefcase, makes sandwich while bantering with Rosie O’Donnell.
Effect on viewer: Sandwich is eventually upstaged by pita and hummus. Whatever happened to ”Builds Strong Bodies 12 Ways”? C+

Film: Last Action Hero, Poetic Justice.
Exposure: Close-up shots of brand name on various products used by principals.
Screen time: Long enough for brand name to register.
Best scene: In the middle of a chase scene, Schwarzenegger uses the Sony MiniDisc player in his car to change the theme music that’s playing in the movie.
Viewer impression: What a novel way for Sony, producer of both movies, to help its Columbia Pictures’ branch save on production costs — and advertise its electronic gear at the same time! C+

Film: Jurassic Park.
Exposure: Handled in several scenes. Key to the entire plot, and possibly the sequel, though not for its beard-softening properties.
Screen time: Hefty.
Best scene: Disappearing under a mud slide as its owner is being eaten by a dinosaur.
Viewer impression: I didn’t know they still made that stuff. A-

Film: Jurassic Park.
Exposure: Close-up of various toys and other products bearing the ubiquitous JP logo.
Screen time: One long, adoring pan.
Best scene: Camera sweeps over merchandise in the Jurassic Park gift shop. Intended as self-deprecating irony.
Viewer impression: Irony? Kids will be saying, ”Dad, I want one of those” before they even get out of the theater. C+