The 2016 film La La Land is all the talk right now and has been wildly successful in capturing America’s hearts. Damien Chazelle’s film recounts the story of aspiring actress Mia and struggling jazz-pianist Sebastian as they both attempt to achieve their dreams while living in Hollywood. La La Land was both nominated for and won countless awards, including six Oscars at the 2017 Academy Awards. It’s lead actress, Emma Stone, won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. Amidst this beautifully artistic story is something that we’ve probably been conditioned to tune out because we see them everywhere—advertisements. One of the most notable product placements in La La Land is Toyota, specifically the well-known Toyota Prius, making its appearance as the car driven by the main character, Mia. The presence of Prius in the film had a mutual benefit for the brands of La La Land and Toyota through the successful use of all three appeals of ethos, pathos and logos to lend credibility to both the movie and the car.
First, some background on advertisements in movies. Product placement is a marketing strategy that a company will use to gain publicity by establishing a partnership with a film and integrating their product into the film itself. It’s a hefty investment for the company as these partnerships can have advantages and disadvantages for both the company and the film, depending on how the product is presented within the film. Product placement is not only an investment in a reputation, but also a financial investment. Martin J. Smith states, “Generally, experts say, placements range in cost between $10,000 and $80,000 with a few notable exceptions, including a widely reported $ 350,000 fee to have James Bond smoke Larks in "Licence to Kill” (Smith, page 4). Due to the expense to be featured in a film, companies must make strategic decisions in their product placement.
The presence of Toyota in La La Land heightens the believability of the story and the characters by using ethos, pathos, and logos as appeals to its audience. The film opens with a typical bumper to bumper L.A. traffic jam, with Mia sitting in her silver Toyota Prius. Sebastian slides up next to Mia in his 1960s convertible, providing a clear distinction between them as characters. Mia may have big dreams of becoming a flourishing actress, but she lives a relatively cautious life as she takes small risks in her career. In contrast, Sebastian is far from timid as he attempts to fulfill his crazy dreams of reviving jazz music to it’s previous big name. Aaron Widmar stated regarding Mia, “Her fuel-efficient Toyota Prius reflects the character’s practical nature, as she works as a barista to pay the bills, as well as her being a face in the crowd, lost in a sea of wannabe actresses; there’s even a joke about how common Priuses are in LA” (http://thenewswheel.com/dancing-driving-the-cars-of-la-la-land). Based on previous assumptions of the Prius brand, the logos appeal is utilized as it makes perfect sense that the sensible, financially-struggling, amateur actress would be an owner of one, thus reinforcing the credibility of the character. In addition, audience members that identify emotionally with Mia’s circumstances may subsequently find themselves identifying with the Prius brand, thus using pathos to attract its customers. This is case in point of the mutual alliance between Toyota and La La Land.
Toyota also benefits directly from their product placement in La La Land. The SeeSaw Media wrote, “As well as scenes of the film’s star Mia being stuck in LA traffic behind the wheel of her Prius, one of the most memorable and talked about moments in the film is when she & Sebastian are trying to her parked car after a Hollywood party. When asked by the valet what car she drives, Mia’s response of a Prius is met with a wry smile and a panning shot of a line of parked cars that are almost all Priuses, reinforcing the stereotype of the eco conscious Californian” (http://www.seesawmedia.co.uk/news/272-la-la-land/)