Wednesday, March 22, 2017

               The Other Guys: Toyota Prius Product Placement

The feature film The Other Guys staring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, while at best an above average production, excels in its diversity of product placement techniques, from visual, verbal, subtle, in your face, complementary and disparaging. For a student of product placement, this is a must see film that earns a 5 star rating. While there is so much to digest in this movie, only one product will be discussed, so as to whet your appetite. This film is about two misfit cops, relegated to desk jobs for polar opposite reasons. For Will Ferrell, a by the book forensic accountant, he is the perfect “choir boy”, finding himself the butt of the police department’s jokes. For Mark Wahlberg, he is just an aggressive unlikable personality, sidelined for a past indiscretion, namely accidentally shooting New York Yankee star Derrick Jeter. Presented with an opportunity to solve a major crime after the “Starkey and Hutch” team meets an untimely death, the film chronicles their sometimes “Laurel and Hardy” escapades which culminates in their eventual successful capture of the crime syndicate.  The product star of the film, a Toyota Prius, plays an integral role in helping to develop Will Farrell’s character and provide comic relief but it leaves Toyota befuddled, as it tries to maintain its pristine image.

In looking at the overall target audience of this film, macho, snuff dipping, irreverent teens and younger men come to mind. This is a film laced with crude humor, proverbial “peeing contests” and sometimes caveman actions. This is important to consider when assessing and understanding the slant taken in the Prius product placement. In the case of this fire engine red Toyota Prius, it is portrayed in such a bad light that “pay for placement” as described by Martin J. Smith in The Orange County Register, was definitely not an option. From being equated with bodily functions and personal hygiene care, to sustaining so much damage, it becomes unappealing, the Prius epitomizes meek, effeminate “go green” type personalities.   These unfortunates are prey for the testosterone ladened crowd. This is the perfect ride for Will Ferrell as he fits the bill. To add insult to injury, the pristine condition Prius seen at the beginning of the film, is so disrespected that the rear passenger door ripped off during one of the chase scenes was replaced with a “junk yard” grey one and not repainted. Another dagger into the heart of Toyota comes in the scene where Will Ferrell applies the brakes but travels into the crime scene, instantly becoming a target for negative attention and ridicule. In real life, the Toyota Prius has been plagued with braking problems, a fact that Toyota has done its best to hide. One of the most repulsive product associations is the homeless crowd that used the car for sloppy pleasure called “the soup kitchen”, not to mention a raccoon giving birth in the car. The final blow came when Steve Coogan, the mega mogul, bragged about owning eighteen Lamborghinis and a Subaru station-wagon, a direct competitor of the Prius.
From the film producer’s standpoint, the Prius is the ultimate prop. It is so remote from what a tough street cop would drive that it by itself is distinctive. As an ethos appeal, this car helps to solidify Will Ferrell’s rigid personality. From a pathos argument, the car provides comic relief throughout the film. “Emotional appeals (appeals to pathos) are powerful tools for influencing what people think and believe” (Everything’s an Argument). There is even a logos angle, in that, a conservative, analytic person would give a car of this caliber serious consideration. The car, in effect, supports and even solidifies Will Ferrell’s character.

In considering Toyota’s position, the portrayal of their car in such a negative way has the potential to damage their brand which it has so maliciously crafted over the years. The upside for Toyota is negligible. Because, as was previously discussed, the target audience would rarely, if ever, be interested in this car, Toyota’s reputation damage is contained. The best case scenario for Toyota is that the prominence of the Prius in the film would follow the old adage, any news is good news. As an outside possibility, repetitive exposure to the car may at some point register, as those macho young men mature, have families and come to their senses about the environment, cost savings and smart commuting.
In the film The Other Guys, the movie producers had the upper hand when it comes to the use of the Toyota Prius. It helped to develop their character and storyline. It also provided comic relief for their audience. As for Toyota, my advice is to keep a stiff upper lip and find a sense of humor. That beats crying any day of the week.   

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