Movie & TV sell-outs: When tech product placements go bad

In a world where tech companies want to look cool, there's only one thing they can do -- give ginormous sums of money to film and TV producers to use their stuff...

Cue gravelly voiced trailer man: "In a world where tech companies desperately want to look cool, there's only one thing they can do -- give ginormous sums of money to film and TV producers to use their stuff..."

Ever since an Apple PowerBook saved the world in Independence Day there's been a powerful feeling that every movie and TV show should feature a gadget doing something to make the world a better, safer place -- or at least look cool and shiny.

More often than not, the choice of gadget is influenced strongly by how much money the tech company ponies up, how much of the production company is owned by an electronics manufacturer, or simply what they could blag for free.

Here, we're proud to present our most over-the-top technology cameos from TV and films, for either being a hilariously blatant attempt to sell more kit, or simply because their presence in the production was so jarring it made us cry.

Included in our choices is our patented Sell-out Scale, so you can see at a glance just how in-your-face the placement is, from near-arthouse integrity to filthy kerchinging commercialisation. -Ian Morris

Casino Royale: Sony HD5, Blu-ray, Vaio laptops, Sony Ericsson phones and Ford cars 
The HD5 is probably the greatest MP3 player ever made, if you ignore the glaring problems with the way it worked and Sony's ludicrous SonicStage software.

If you compare it to the iPods available at the same time, it had superior battery life, better sound quality and it was smaller and better-looking. These days, kids won't get out of bed for less than a VGA screen with millions of colours and video playback. But back in the day, this was the MP3 player to have.

Of course, that doesn't explain its location in naughty secret-seller Dryden's desk drawer, sitting there right next to his gun. It's a funny combination of things to have in a drawer, and you can imagine him sitting there thinking, "Do I want to listen to some tunes, or shoot someone? Music or murder? Hmm."

And it doesn't end there. It's hardly a secret that Sony owns a significant chunk of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the movie studio behind the James Bond films. It's also no secret that Casino Royale, while being very good indeed, did play out as a Sony advert, with placements for Vaio laptops, Sony Ericsson phones, Blu-ray players and even a Ford Mondeo -- Sony doesn't make cars, you see.

It's the Blu-ray security camera system that made us laugh hardest though. We could scarcely believe the audacity of including such a ridiculous and over-blown recording system in a movie, and then we remembered we were watching James Bond -- rarely a bastion of believability.

At the time HD DVD was still alive and kicking, but after seeing Blu-ray in James Bond, everyone threw their HD DVD players in the sea and rushed out to get Blu-ray players instead.



CSI: NY: Microsoft Photosynth
With Apple clobber saving the universe all the time, Microsoft had to do something to redress the balance. Windows isn't all that cool though, so it needed to push something else out into media-land. Enter a Microsoft Research application called Photosynth , which allows you to take a series of photos in one location and then stitch them together in a 3D environment.

In CSI: New York, Photosynth is deployed to look for a murderer in a stack of photographs. You might find yourself wondering why they don't just browse through all the photographs like normal people, but that's not the Bruckheimer way. Indeed, when the CSI people use the software, it makes some insidious beeping and whizzing sounds -- because, in fiction, computers must not operate quietly -- which the real product doesn't do at all.

It's worth pointing out that Microsoft doesn't pay for these appearances in CSI -- it's part of a deal where the producers get to see the latest toys and research, and in return put the product on-screen. Which goes some way to explaining the vomit-inducing line: "It's Microsoft's world, I'm just living in it."


24: Cisco and HP
It's fair to say that 24 has given Cisco some great publicity. Firstly, that damn ringtone everyone has on their phone, and insists on calling the 24 ringtone, is actually from a Cisco IP phone. But hey, no one is going to remember that are they? After all, most normal people don't know what Cisco is.

This didn't stop it being involved in possibly the most ludicrous and embarrassing example of product placement in living memory. A hacker tried to gain access to CTU's computer systems and Chloe says not to worry, "The Cisco system is self-defending." With a straight face.

Unlike most government departments, CTU seems incredibly well financed. Every year (sorry, 'day') they take all their high-tech and ludicrously expensive computers and throw them away, replacing them with entirely new ones. The sceptical among you might argue that it's because new sponsorship deals are done each year, with HP being the most recent in a long line of corporate sponsors from Apple to Alienware. 


Sex and the City: BlackBerry and iPhone
If you're a man, you're probably trying to work out a way of not seeing Sex and the City with your girlfriend. We've tried telling our other halves that watching the movie will cause our reproductive organs to first shrivel to the size of a pea and then drop off. We've even tried claiming that watching handbag-obsessed narcissists harp on about their pointless lives for 148 godforsaken minutes is proven to cause cancer. It's nearly two and a half hours!

Sadly, they aren't buying it, so inevitably we're going to get dragged along to listen to a cinema full of women laugh at hundreds of in-jokes that require an encyclopaedic knowledge of the TV series and the shoe industry. Accompanied by the sound of their boyfriends dying a little inside.

About the only even remotely boy-orientated thing about this movie is the fact that's got both an iPhone and a BlackBerry as guest stars. Weak, we know. Still, at least the blonde one is holding the iPhone the right way round, which beats Charlie Sheen's efforts.


The Oscars 2008: iPhone and Nintendo Wii
Everyone loves Jon Stewart and his razor-sharp Daily Show, and Jon likes the Wii and the iPhone, so both were seen at this year's Oscars ceremony. It was a useful little break from the monotony of self-important actors crying, thanking everyone whose name they can remember or simply being boring old goats.

In the clip above, Jon watches a movie on an iPhone, while geeks worldwide are yelling at their TVs, "Hold it in landscape mode, IN LANDSCAPE MODE FOR PITY'S SAKE!" He then looks knowingly at the camera and does exactly that. We just hope Apple paid big money for this ad, because it's a beauty -- even if it does agree with David Lynch.

Jon also gave geeks worldwide a little thrill by doing what every testosterone-filled youth from Basingstoke to Barcelona dreams of -- playing Wii tennis on a honking great screen. Shame they couldn't have just done that instead of the tedious award-giving.


The Matrix: Duracell battery
It's heart-warming to see the old copper-top making an appearance in The Matrix. The humble battery is at the heart of so much technology we love, from remote controls to games console controllers . So how does a Duracell D Cell happen to appear in The Matrix? Well, bringer of reality in pill form Morpheus informs Neo that we're all batteries for an advanced race of robots, who think enslaving the human race to power their ghetto blasters is more efficient than, say, cold fusion, which Morpheus also claims they've been using.

Did Duracell pay millions for this placement? We suspect not, as you never actually see the brand name. It's more likely it belonged to someone on set, and was simply loaned to the production for this scene. Incidentally, the famous Nokia 8110 used in the movie never actually existed as shown -- the real phone didn't have a fancy spring-loaded slider.


CSI: NY: Cisco TelePresence
TelePresence might well be the coolest thing Cisco has ever done, but does it really need two massive screens screaming its branding in the middle of an episode of CSI: NY?

To be fair, if you've ever participated in a video conference you'll be aware that they range from fairly hideous to utterly unbearable, with ropey picture quality and juddery motion. TelePresence on the other hand presents full-screen, full-motion video.

Well, that's the way it works on CSI, so we can only assume the real product is like that. We're unlikely to ever actually find out, because TelePresence suites costs a big old wedge of cash, and are generally not going to end up in every home across the globe.

But having it on the telly makes IT managers feel good about their purchases. Which is why Cisco stumps up the cash, presumably.


Spooks: Apple's entire computer range
Kudos has to be given to, erm, Kudos, the TV production company that makes Spooks for the BBC. It's done a sterling job of including Apple computers in each episode, with Macs proving vital in MI5's neverending struggle to protect America's oil interests. The baddies use PCs, of course, so keep an eye out for an occasional Panasonic Toughbook waging war on freedom.

This shot, taken from the second season, is just one of the many times we got to see a free Apple advert during the show's early episodes. Later on, the BBC got a bit itchy about it, stickers started appearing over logos and other PCs were shown too.

Real product placement is illegal in the UK, so this was just a result of a fairly lazy production team who just wanted something shiny and easy on the eye and happened to have a few Macs lying around.

It's refreshing to know that no matter what predicament the Earth faces, somewhere out there is a geek with a Macintosh waiting to make it all better -- and a little prettier too.


NCIS: Mass spectrometer
Abby Sciuto, the awesome forensics expert on NCIS, could make anything cool, even a gadget as obscure as a mass spectrometer. Her ability to make geekiness cool is a welcome change from the usual tedious portrayal of techies on TV.

The king of Abby's lab is Major Mass Spec, her pet name for the device used for identifying unknown compounds found at crime scenes. She loves her mass spectrometer so much, it actually makes us love them too. Bless their little ion hearts.


 

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