Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Luckily, You Don't Have to Go Back to the Future to Drink a Pepsi: An Analysis of Pepsi's Product Placement in "Back to the Future"

     Contrary to popular belief, commercials are not the only means of advertising through modern media. Rather, almost all large box office films promote different products. However, general audiences often fail to notice such incorporations, either because they are so discrete or that the public has become desensitized to product placement. Nonetheless, one such film that can be held synonymous with brands such as Pepsi, Nike, and Calvin Klein is Back to the Future. Although the product placement that occurs in this film is blatant, it does not take away from the overall impact of the film, allowing the audience to fully enjoy the witty humor and unique plot line.  This is an extremely effective implementation of a logos appeal as it allows the audience to associate popular and widely recognized goods such as Pepsi, Nike, and Calvin Klein with a new and unique film series.
    Back to the Future has a straightforward yet unique plot and although the general outcome, that Marty will escape the past and come back to the present, is predictable, there are many aspects of the film that one might not expect, such as the Libyans shooting at Doc and how Marty’s mom temporarily falls in love with him when he enters the past. Therefore, although the general plot line is highly predictable, the audience remains interested in the film’s subplots. 
     When screenwriter and producer Bob Gale wrote the script for Back to the Future, he wrote it with the goal of incorporating well known brands into the film as he states that “brand names create a certain kind of reality. That was something that Bob [Zemeckis] and I were very adamant about when we made the first movie. We said we need a lot of real brands so we solicited them” (Bob Gale) ¹. Many brands make their way into the film through product placement and in dialogue, however, the brand most notably incorporated in Back to the Future is Pepsi. 
     Many films rely on product placement to supplement their budget, allowing for more realistic special effects and better actors. However, this was not the case in Back to the Future. Gale incorporates, the Pepsi brand into the film not to increase profits, rather to increase the film’s credibility. Therefore, the only cost accrued for the product placement of Pepsi was the donation of free soda for the cast and crew throughout the filming process. Bob Gale incorporated the Pepsi brand for the sole purpose of increasing the films ethos, allowing audiences to associate a credible, well known brand with a new Si-fi series that needed the established support of a major corporation in order to succeed.  
     In addition to Pepsi’s ability to increase the ethos of Back to the Future, this brand also incorporates logos appeals, prompting the audience to rely on facts in order to increase the film’s overall success. One such instance of the use of logos through the Pepsi brand is simply the choice to incorporate this product in Back to the Future. Although it doesn't initially come across as a form of logos to the audience, Bob Gale, the producer and screenwriter of this film states that, “we wanted Pepsi in ‘Back to the Future’ because Pepsi’s logo was different in 1955 than 1985” (Gale) ². This technique is subtle yet effective in logically demonstrating Pepsi’s ethos as the audience now notices that Pepsi has been a well established and trusted company for many decades and that this film will also develop a similar ethos over time.
     The Pepsi brand does a lot to bring credibility to the film and in return, this film affords the Pepsi brand a crucial marketing campaign for their product; a campaign that has spanned several decades. Pepsi’s presence in this film demonstrates the product’s credibility as it has existed for many decades and it is one of the few, if only, factors that connects Marty to both the past and the present. Additionally, with the prospect of a second Back to the Future Film, where they actually enter the future, Pepsi can further expand their brand. This potential campaign allows audiences to see that the future of mankind and Pepsi are synonymous as Back to the Future II creates a futuristic version of Pepsi,“Pepsi Perfect” ³. Although a fictional product that theoretically contains vitamins and minerals in the film, a version “Pepsi Perfect” was actually released in 2015 on the film’s thirty year anniversary ⁴. By associating itself with this film, Pepsi is able to demonstrate the product's flexibility and instill the idea on society that Pepsi is a product that will always be popular, no matter the decade. 
     The Pepsi brand incorporates pathos into the film’s dialogue through the use of confusion and humor when Marty travels back to 1955 and tries to order a “Pepsi Free,” a new, caffeine-free, Pepsi of the 1980’s. Confused that Marty is asking for a caffeine-free drink, something that has not yet been invented, the man at the diner gruffly replies, “If you want a Pepsi, pal, you’re gonna have to pay for it”.⁵  Although the characters seem highly confused, the audience finds this encounter comical, incorporating both situational and verbal irony, because there is an obvious generation gap preventing clear communication. The audience may find this scene comical because in thirty years words such as ‘tab’ and ‘free’ have expanded their meanings to incorporate a soda brand and a Pepsi without calories.
     Pepsi’s incorporation in such an exciting and surreal film allows the audience to associate the consumption of Pepsi with having a connection to the pop icon, Marty McFly, the star of the film. Just as Everything’s an Argument states that, “some ads promise an exiting life and attractive friends if only you drink the right soda” (Everything’s an Argument p. 95). In the case of Pepsi’s advertising in this film, this claim most certainly appears prevalent .
     Overall, I believe that Back to the Future’s successful incorporation of the Pepsi brand into the film deserves four out of five nachos. Although Back to the Future effectively imbeds the Pepsi brand into the film, employing arguments of logos, ethos, and pathos, the extent to which product placement intrudes onto the film, often takes away from the overall experience.  I believe that such prominent incorporations distract the viewer, making the film appear as one long, cheesy, advertisement.


Works Cited:
¹⁻⁵Back to the Future. Dir. Robert Zemeckis. Prod. Bob Gale and Neil Canton. Screenplay by Bob Gale      and Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. 1985.
⁶ Lunsford, Andrea A., and John J. Ruszkiewicz. Everything's an Argument. 7th ed. Boston:
     Bedford/St. Martin's, 2016.

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