Anyone Remember When Movies Were About Entertainment As Opposed To Selling Unrelated Crap?

Anyone Remember When Movies Were About Entertainment As Opposed To Selling Unrelated Crap?<br />
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May 2023

(Image via Getty)

Seriously, does anyone remember that? Because I don't. I was born in 1985 and even back then there was plenty of cobranding going on between film companies and fast-food joints, sugary beverage manufacturers, and many purveyors of various types of useless nonsense across this great nation.

At least the Indiana Jones Diet Coke spot from some 30 years ago was actually a good ad. It even had something to do with the movies in that it featured instantly recognizable scenes and in that Diet Coke is something a person could conceivably consume while watching a movie. But things have just gotten out of hand lately.

Full disclosure before I get into this example: I do not like Chris Pratt. I guess I'm one of the haters he sanctimoniously whines about all the damn time. "If I was of this world, they would love me just like that but as it is, I've chosen out of this world," said Pratt in a recent interview with Page Six, quoting scripture and seeming not to notice he'd just purported to be on a higher plane of divinity than the rest of us swine living down in the mud here on Earth. How truly difficult it must be to be a good-looking white male multimillionaire movie star who shares the same faith as about two-thirds of Americans. What a victim.

Least-good Hollywood Chris to get a beer with aside, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" is kind of an annoying movie for another reason. It reportedly had a promotional partner campaign worth $90 million, which is more than double the value for the previous two films in the franchise combined. Some of the many companies seeking a little help from Rocket and Groot in hawking their various available products and services include:

McDonald's (of course)UberEatsKing's Hawaiian (the bread company)NASCARHelloFreshGeneral MillsEnterprise (really, a rental car company, explicitly because the theme of exploration in a movie about a spaceman fighting extraterrestrial monsters dovetails perfectly with picking up a Toyota Corolla at the airport)MicrosoftCiscoAlipay and JD (big Chinese companies)SamsungVisaKiaMotorolaVirgin PlusABC

This is not a comprehensive list.

Keep in mind that these are promotional campaigns, meaning none of these organizations actually knew whether "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" was any good before they tied their names to it. Chris Pratt notwithstanding, I suppose it's hard to imagine any movie wouldn't end up at least palatable with James Gunn writing and directing.

Still, it seems to defy some economic fundamentals for so many corporations to be so desperate to jump in bed with "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3." Yes, if it had ended up tanking at the box office (it didn't, taking in $118 million in its first weekend at the domestic box office) it would have been easy enough for companies to tear down all the Chris Pratt cardboard cutouts, chalk it up as a loss, and pretend like the whole ad campaign never happened.

But a preemptive cobranding campaign of this magnitude is kind of like if the movie industry and the marketing industry had a baby and named it "Too Big to Fail." When $90 million worth of cobranded advertising is pumped out into the world to secure a $118 million opening weekend for a movie, and that is considered success, well, thank goodness the studio didn't have to rely on quality alone to recoup their large investment in making the movie in the first place.

Back in the '90s, pockets of our culture still held onto the concept of "selling out" to corporate overlords as being at least sort of a bad thing. We were all still capitalists; I don't think back then we'd begrudge a beloved film franchise like Indiana Jones helping to push a little Diet Coke here and there on the side. Yet, any form of media, any form of art, risked acquiring a definite funk of uncoolness about it even at several orders of magnitude below the wildly and baldly commercial sensibilities of your average mediocre Marvel franchise today.

We can't go back, of course. It would be nice though if some companies waited to see how a movie turned out before plastering its imagery all over every available flat surface.

Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn't want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected].