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Modern Family

Advertising is everywhere. It forces our poor HD TVs to yell at us in our own living rooms. Our cars become mobile brainwashing booths as the radio flogs everything from iced coffee to nasal spray technology. It’s slapped all over buildings, bus stops, buses, shopping centre walkways and highways. Try reading an in-flight magazine, newspaper or your favourite webpage without being smashed in the face with messages telling you how inadequate your life is because you don’t use a particular fragrance or wear a four-and-a-half thousand dollar watch. But recently I’ve been surprised at the level of product placement by Apple in both film and television shows, and the other night they seemed to go one step further …

Image of ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ © Columbia Pictures and MGM.

But first, some background. According to, Apple is only second behind Ford Motor Company in number of products placed in top rated movies, sitting at 131 box office films. These include films such as Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network, Mission Impossible, Ocean’s Eleven, and even kid’s movies such as Wall-E, Cars and Toy Story 3. Even in the 1996 movie Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum’s character uploaded a computer virus to the alien spaceship fleet using a Macintosh laptop computer—spoiler alert—thus saving the world (unlike the movie plot that had no chance of being saved …).

All images © of their respective owners and production companies.

On top of this there’s the countless TV shows that feature Apple products front and centre. One of the first that predominantly featured an Apple product in basically every single episode was Sex and the City, with the character Carrie Bradshaw typing her weekly newspaper column on a PowerBook. Interestingly, this show amongst others brought the ‘upside-down Apple logo issue’ into the spotlight for Steve Jobs and the team, with Steve eventually giving in from his iron-clad belief that the Apple logo should face the right way for users rather than on-lookers—with all MacBooks designed since then having the logo positioned the right way up for on-lookers and ultimately: TV and movie audiences. And though many shows such as House, Modern Family and Dexter feature Apple products either in use by the characters, or just simply sitting in the background … it was overhearing my wife watching an episode of Parenthood the other night that really caught my attention of just how integrated some Apple products have become in both life and on screen.

Now most companies pay big bucks to have their products featured in both film and TV shows, however Apple famously has a policy of never paying for product placement, but will happily supply as many iPhones, iPads and Macs as the producers want to have on set. So I was intrigued to hear the characters of Parenthood playing out a considerably major part of the plot-line that involved the syncing of family members’ calendars.

Basically the scene opened with one character complaining to the other about his iPhone that was beeping constantly while they were trying to have a discussion. It came up that he and his wife synced their calendars so that they always knew what the other was doing on any given day. The second character then went home and suggested to his wife/girlfriend that they should also sync their calendars. These sequences of course involved several closeup shots of the iPhone screens as well as featuring the distinctive Apple reminder sounds.

Now my initial thoughts were: wow, Apple must have paid a fortune to get their iPhones and iCloud functionality not only featured but worked into the script. But then I considered the point that Apple don’t normally pay anyone for anything. And I got thinking: has it got to the point where Apple have so much influence over the way people live their lives these days, that this type of plot has actually made its way onto the show in an organic way? In the same way that characters in movies often find out that their partner is cheating on them after seeing a text message on their phone. Or where characters are talking to each other via Skype, FaceTime or other similar services. Not placed as such, but just part of modern life.

Whether paid or not, this is the first time I’ve seen such an Apple specific feature being incorporated so comprehensively into the script of a show. Sure there’s always been placements like James Bond’s Aston Martin and Tom Cruise’s Ray Bans in Top Gun that often lead to better brand recognition and also in the case of the Ray Bans, epic increases in sales. But these really are just plonking a product into a scene where the features and benefits of are not part of the plot in any way. Maybe the Audi S8 in The Transporter hinted at the performance and handling of the vehicle, but it was still only implied.

So, what will the future hold? Will we be seeing more examples where a device or App is integral to the plot or resolution of a movie or TV series? And will those Apps or features be device specific to the Apple brand? Maybe the bad guy who’s stolen an iPhone that contains top secret data gets tracked down by the hero cop using ‘Find my iPhone’. Maybe a politician character gets caught out by his wife after a racy iMessage from his mistress arrives on his iPhone, iPad and the family iMac thanks to iCloud? Or maybe Apple Maps will send the hero into the middle of a desert or off a cliff face, instead of directing him to the baddie’s hideout (though this probably won’t help with sales) …

Image of ‘Modern Family’ © 20th Century Fox Television.

It’s an interesting time where many technology based products and services have become so much a part of everyday life that they are making their way into popular culture. As the future approaches and all our devices get smarter and more aware, we could even see movies and TVs shows that are produced in multiple versions. So one version might feature Apple products, another version of the same episode might feature Sony products. And it will be up to the individual device that you are watching the show on—whether it’s a tablet, computer or Internet connected smart TV—to work out based on your Internet history, recent Google searches, and even data from your Facebook or Google+ profile, which version of the show to automatically serve you. Basically providing individual users and their families with a tailored movie or TV episode featuring products and services that will most likely take their interest.

This concept is both utterly amazing to consider, and utterly terrifying at the same time. At least if ads are worked into the programming, we can once and for all kill off those infinitely annoying advertising breaks that have all-but-ruined free-to-air TV! Will it ever happen? I’d say so. It’s just a question of when.

Ben Johnston

A core belief of mine is that working with clients on their brand identity should be fun, challenging and meaningful. I work with business owners to realise their own passion and vision for the future—seeing their consequential success is a testament to the power of brand identity.  

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