Brought to you by... - Shawn Loughlin editorial
The film Sideways, a 2004 tale about two middle-aged men on a bachelor’s week in California’s Santa Ynez Valley (deep wine country), is a comfort movie for me. It may not be the most popular movie to ever hit theatres - though it did win an Oscar - but it’s always been there for me.
Paul Giamatti plays Miles, an English teacher and writer who’s obsessed with wine. Throughout the movie, Miles and his long-time friend Jack (played by Thomas Haden Church) drink a lot of great wine and eat a lot of great food, but those who have seen the movie know that, in Miles’ mind, there are definite winners and losers in the wine game.
Miles waxes poetic about his love for pinot noir. A hard grape to grow and, as a result, a hard wine to produce, pinot noir is grown all over the world, but most clearly connected to France’s Burgundy region, which is well known for its wine. Pinot noir wasn’t very popular the world over until earlier this century... after the release of Sideways.
I suppose it’s hard to beat the endorsement of a character in an Academy Award-winning movie calling a wine’s flavours “the most haunting and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet” but the variety remains popular to this day after seeing a sales bump of 16 per cent after the movie’s release.
On the other end of the spectrum, Miles threatens to leave a nice dinner with some new friends if anyone orders a bottle of merlot. Merlot sales dropped by a few percentage points during that same time period in both England and the United States.
I remember reading about “The Sideways Effect” on the wine industry and having a hard time believing it, but that’s the power of pop culture with an audience of consumers.
Now, I can’t imagine that wine producers got together and pulled off one of the most subtle (and haunting and brilliant and thrilling and ancient) acts of product placement in history. This one, I think, was just organic.
A quick Google search will bring up plenty of results when it comes to product placement (also known as embedded marketing; I’m not sure which one of those is supposed to sound better) from Reese’s Pieces in E.T. to an entire movie being wrapped around the U.S. Navy (Top Gun - the Navy had recruitment booths set up outside of movie theatres).
I also remember hearing that this is a thing for our gun enthusiast friends. Fans of Terminator 2: Judgment Day will remember Arnold Schwarzenneger’s character wielding the 12-gauge 1887 Winchester lever action shotgun while hanging off the back of a motorcycle (and looking pretty damn cool while doing so). Apparently gun collectors with this hole in their gun racks felt the need to fill it after seeing the 1991 blockbuster.
In Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 ode to blaxploitation, gun salesman Ordell Robbie (played by Samuel L. Jackson) goes on a rant about everyone wanting a gun once it’s been in a movie, using the example of a .45 used in the 1989 John Woo movie The Killer.
Back to wine, pinot noir’s renaissance has continued, as the wine’s popularity continues to rise, while merlot has bounced back, but product placement remains as popular as ever for big brands looking to get products in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
Avengers: Endgame has led the way recently with over $78 million in product placement value in 2019; not exactly merlot taking a two per cent dip after Miles insisted “I am not drinking any [expletive deleted] merlot” at his fancy dinner. We’ve come a long way.