Pavlovian Apples? Wall-E and Product Placement

Pixar’s latest offering, Wall-E, may capture the imagination of children everywhere. My child, being four, was not quite as interested in it as the popcorn and orange soda that came with a Canada Day outing to the movies.

But when we got home, something interesting happened.

What Happened

I was warming up my MacBook to do some work and as the chime that announced my computer had come on went off, my child began tearing around the room wildly chanting “Wall-E! Wall-E!”

Seems that sound of my Mac starting up is, as discussed late last week on FriendFeed, the sound that the adorable rust-bucket of a robot makes when he has achieved a full solar charge. So suddenly, I had a tearful toddler on my hands demanding to know where I was hiding Wall-E.

What It Means

And then it struck me: Will a generation grow up feeling lovingly drawn to Apple computers based on an almost Pavlovian reaction to memories of their delight in a movie they saw when they were small? Is this another way of branding consumers early?

Apparently, these are not the only Apple-related references within the film. The New York Times cited other examples that escaped me- and likely the majority of the other parents in the audience- at the time.

Unlike the in-your-face product placement of the film Sex and the City, has Apple found a more subtle and enduring way of slipping their products into the subconsciousness of the next generation of tech-users? And will it be more effective?

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7 comments so far

  1. Rose on

    Abby this is a very important issue you have raised. How is product placement viewed by society when the target audience is a child? Most of the time, we (adults) know what’s going on, and we do make rational purchasing decisions– don’t we? Or is the reason I like candy-coated chocolate (like reese pieces) because of it’s placement in E.T.? The Canadian Association of Broadcasters has a list of ways that advertisers are prohibited from promoting their products to kids via television: http://tiny.cc/PBRiR.
    This refers to television ads that are shown in between kids shows. Ads that are directed at kids. Advertising to kids has become way more complex, using and integrating all media outlets — especially the Internet. Kids are increasingly spending more time online.
    How do we monitor or ensure that kids (with or without spending power) are not forced to grow up in an increasingly online world that is saturated with subconscious messaging? We can’t. We can educate youth and parents, provide them with the tools they need so that they are aware. But, we also have to help regulating bodies put pressure on the Advertising industry to ensure that ethical practices are the norm.
    Movies like this one are also interesting to examine because even though it’s a cartoon and seems like it’s for kids, it’s also for adults.
    Great post. I’m not sure that product placement is or will be effective on kids… I think it raises important questions that society should address. I think it’s effectiveness will depend on how much “pester power” each individual kid has on their parents. Your daughter is lovely though,which makes your job harder. If I were you and she asked me for an apple-anything, I’d probably buy it. lol

  2. abbymartin on

    Rose

    Thank you for your comment- lengthy, meaty and thoughtful!

    Thank you also for providing the info from the CAB- good stuff!

    But you’d be amazed how much about brands has seeped into small children’s heads. There was a recent study (I’ll have to find the link- sorry) that said kids could be cajoled into eating healthy foods like carrots if they were wrapped in McDonald’s wrappers. And the kids were c.4-6.

    Closer to home, my daughter has been able to spot and demand to visit certain fast food restaurants represented by golden Ms and toy stores with an ‘r’ in the title even if were are zooming down the highway- and she has been able to do so since she was 2. It’s a little scary, especially as I do not let her watch much tv. How is she getting this info? How has she learned all this so quickly? How much is word-of-mouth in PRESCHOOL? And is some of it from brief flashes of banner ads on the educational websites on which we do math and reading games together? Scary.

    Thanks for the kind words about my girl- can I ask her to pester you instead? 😉 (kidding)

  3. Shoppeuse on

    The children, however, don’t have the money to buy the products, at least not until they are older. Parent toughness is essential. But this sort of product-placement training will assure that each generation will “ask your doctor if you should be taking X” when told to do so.

    Is there something in the wiring of some human beings that makes them want to buy the purse that Angelina was carrying or buying the Guerlain compact that was featured in a number of movies a few years ago? Overt product placement is one thing; subliminal intentional product placement is another; but product placement that involves the audience doing research is really over the top.

    Maybe some Pavlovian retraining would benefit the whole consumerist world. That thought makes me salivate.

  4. Ironic on

    Sorry, Soppeuse, but I call bullshit (and I take the card pile).
    It’s SO easy to say “parent toughness”, but it’s also desire. My son can go to the store and see toys without saying, “I want it,” because he doesn’t see the product placement.
    As for your second argument. Yes. It is humanity’s innate desire to be part of the tribe, but also in being slightly better. Imagine a harem: If the favored girl gets a brand new red scarf, she stands out above the herd.
    “What makes her so grand?” the others ask. Then they too work to get that same scarf given to them.
    Then when they all have it…the first girl gets a red scarf with a jewel…and it starts all over again.
    It’s human nature. We know that people who don’t like to think (If you listen, you can hear them bleating) will find a person that LOOKS trustworthy and listen to them.
    If fat, ugly Al says, “Save the planet,” no one listens.
    If ripped, beautiful Brad says, “Save the cats,” Everyone goes and gets one.
    That’s it.

  5. awordlessordinary on

    Subtle conditioning via marketing.

    I’m wondering if this is more subliminal or incidental.

    Is it a conscious effort on the behalf of marketing or highly ironic humor of a few animators and accidentally discovering a new way to connect with our youth.

    I have close friends who are animators and the truth is animated movies are prey to bizarre senses of humor as much as any carefully crafted campaign.

    The funny thing is that we often purchase things not because they are needed or even useful but because to a certain extant they embody something about us and reflect it back to us. If you don’t believe me check out the 30-Somethings at the local comic book store picking up action figures. These are the guy who are lawyers, bankers, CEO’s as much as the ones living in their parents basements.

    BTW how was Walle?

    Brett

  6. abbymartin on

    Ironic

    You make some valid (and very strong) points. Your son is exceptionally good. I wish I could say my daughter didn’t see the placement but when we play on the various preschooler websites, there are banner ads- and they are sinking in fast.

    School isn’t helping either- she sees “the red scarf” on other kids and then asks for it when she comes home. (It’s usually something Barbie-related- and we tried to hard to steer her away from that particular eating-disorder-influencing doll…..)

    Parenting does play a role- and I happen to know for a fact that you are a more involved parent than many. Your son is lucky. Also very cute.

    And yeah- there is an awful lot of bleating these days……but try to play nice with the other posters. 😉

    AM

  7. abbymartin on

    Brett

    Ah the good old Easter Eggs!

    Yes, you could look at it that way.

    In fact, here is a list of some of those to be found in the film:

    http://www.slashfilm.com/2008/06/27/wall-e-easter-eggs/

    But as Apple was involved in the design of the female robot for the film and as they are aware of the fact that many folks look for these little references, I would counter they were smart enough to turn this to their advantage and do some clever marketing. Kids get conditioned and grown-ups think they are clever for spotting the inside references. Pretty smart!


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