Just watched Man of Steel and had to absolutely crack up at the nonstop product placement through the whole movie — man, I really hadn’t noticed product placement in a movie in years. Man of Steel was one of the more blatant I’ve ever seen — Superman has a battle with Zod’s minions in the streets of Smalltown, right in front of a 7/11, then in front of a Sears, then Zod’s minion picks up a U-Haul van and throws it at Superman, then Superman throws one of the baddies through the wall of an IHOP (there’s also an obvious ad for Nokia earlier in the movie.). Pretty funny. Like, we’re too stupid to notice. This movie grossed more than $500 million worldwide, do they really need the extra $100 million from advertisers?
Anyway, the reason this resonates with me, is the 1978 and 1980 version of Superman (and Superman II) is an absolutely despicable chapter in the sordid marriage between Big Tobacco and Hollywood.
Product placement in Hollywood films began in the 1970s, and Big Tobacco was quick to join in. There was also a long history of Hollywood glamorizing smoking in films, but the tobacco industry never had to pay a nickel of advertising — Hollywood was literally doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.
That changed in 1978 with Superman and Superman II (actually filmed as a single production). Philip Morris not only paid to have Marlboro logos put into Superman movies, they also paid to have Lois Lane chain smoke through the movie — Lois Lane never smoked in the comic book. What’s especially craven about this is those Superman movies as we all know were geared toward kids and teens. They were rated PG and were wildly popular with kids, like Star Wars and Close Encounters. I mean, the whole thing is just criminal to me (since cigarette advertising had been banned on TV for eight years because kids watch TV), on both the part of Philip Morris and the Hollywood studios (three studios were involved in the Superman movies, including Warner Bros.).
Ironically years later, in 2006, a scene was added in Superman Returns in which Lois is attempting to light a cigarette and Superman, using his super-breath, blows out her lighter over and over, partly as an homage to the smoking in the Superman movies from 20 years earlier.
Weirdly enough, perhaps out of some sort of need for penance for the 1978 Lois Lane scandal, DC did a special Superman anti-smoking campaign in the 1980s (and accompanying cartoon — seems to be British.), in which Superman battles a villain called “Nick O’Teen.” Nick O’Teen is incredibly lame. He wears a cigarette butt for a hat and has yellow teeth and has these weirdly pedo dreams about handing cigarettes to little girls (Not even remotely exaggerating).
Unfortunately, this cartoon is so dreadful it’s just going to have the same effect as those lame anti-drug movies they made us watch in high school; it’s just going to encourage kids to do what you’re telling them not to do.
Superman product placement (and more Nick O’Teen)!