Superman II 2.43: Marlboro

Okay everybody, time to light up. This week, I’m talking about the big Metropolis battle sequence, and I have to take a minute today to appreciate the staggering amount of product placement strewn around the set.

This battle is the main action sequence in the movie, the one scene that everyone remembers as the showdown between Superman and the Kryptonian villains, and that made it ground zero for advertising firms trying to get their clients’ logo onto the screen.

Now, the original intention was that the producers would film both Superman and the sequel at the same time, so I assume that the main advertising space was booked by the time they started shooting in 1977. But then there was a break in the production, and during that time, Superman became a huge hit at the box office, so I expect more companies started lining up to buy placement in the film.

I think that’s why this scene ended up so chock full of brand logos, because this was the big sequence still to be filmed, and the Salkinds could just keep making deals all the way until production started up again. I mean, there’s always more wall space, somewhere.

The example that everybody knows is the unmissable Marlboro truck, which Superman crashes into in a particularly thrilling moment. Inside there are little boxes with the Marlboro logo, like the truck is a Kinder egg.

In the commentary written about the film, there’s one number that everyone quotes — that Marlboro gave the producers $42,500 for placement in the film. They got a lot for their money.

In addition to the truck, there’s a taxicab with a Marlboro ad on it strategically placed at several points in the scene, especially in the closing “don’t leave us!” moment. You’ll notice that a lot of cars get blown up in this sequence, but not the taxi with the Marlboro ad.

There’s also a huge billboard further down the street, which we don’t see very clearly. In the above shot, you can just see the edge of the logo on the left.

And in this shot, you can glimpse both the truck and the billboard at the same time.

Of course, the most unfortunate cigarette placement in the movie is the early scene with Clark and Lois in her office, when she explains — with a cigarette dangling from her lip — that she’ll never get sick, because she drinks orange juice.

There are a couple of other cigarette brands spotted briefly in the fight scene, as ads posted on a construction wall. You can see ads here for Kent III and Viceroy’s Rich Lights, which must have been a late addition, because both brands were introduced in 1979. There’s also a plug for OMNI, a pop science/paranormal magazine that was first published in 1978. This must be the latecomers’ area.

The other major sponsor for this sequence is Japanese electronics company JVC, which appears basically everywhere. They’d already made an appearance in the relatively product-light first movie, in the scene where people are watching television news reports about Superman through a store window.

Their main placement in this sequence is the huge JVC Electronics sign. You don’t actually see the JVC part in that many shots, but the neon “ELECTRONICS” is constantly in view, competing with Mike’s Bar and the Laugier Trust as the most-recognizable landmarks on the street.

There’s also a massive JVC sign behind Ursa when she hits Non with the flagpole.

The other promotional JVC messages are a little more subtle. You can see JVC items in a store window early on in the sequence, when the sidewalk trumpeter plays a trill.

And Aristo’s also has signage that reads “Hi-Fi — Video — TV — JVC Agent”. You get a decent shot of the red and white JVC logos in the store window here, and they’re also glimpsed when Non picks up the bus.

I don’t know why Aristo’s feels the need to promote itself as a JVC Agent; it looks like you can get JVC products at just about every store in Metropolis.

Next to Aristo’s is the Mothercare shop, which is featured appropriately during the moment when the Save My Baby Lady is about to be crushed by the radio antenna. I wasn’t familiar with Mothercare up to now, but I’ve just looked it up, and it’s a British store that caters to expectant mothers and young children.

The truck that Zod threatens to explode is another UK/European brand, the Essex Oil Company.

Now, as recognizable as all of this is as product placement, a lot of the brands are integrated naturally into the scene, like the Mothercare store and the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. But this one for Timex is just naked product placement.

In the first movie, Lois wore a Timex watch, which she checked when she was waiting for Superman to show up for their interview. But apparently nobody needs a watch for any Superman II scenes, so they just wrote the word TIMEX really big on part of the background. It’s not an in-universe ad for Timex appearing on the building; there isn’t even a clock on it. It’s just sort of generally TIMEX.

Timex also has a spot at street level, on the awning next to the crashed Marlboro truck.

Here’s another one that I didn’t realize was real: Italian designer Fiorucci, which you see a lot of while Superman and Non are slugging it out in the sewers.

And then there’s the big Times Square neon Coca-Cola display, which I find amusing, because the shot is actually the Coke logo exploding, and falling to pieces. This one also feels kind of natural to me: the Times Square Coke ad was a famous New York landmark at the time. It’s certainly more subtle than the Coke advertising blitz in the diner scene.

Okay, what else? There’s a billboard for Cutty Sark Whisky, which we see a couple of times.

When Superman gets thrown into the windshield of a car, there’s a takeout box from Kentucky Fried Chicken on the dashboard…

And then there’s a lengthy moment during the super-breath sequence with customers exiting the store and getting blown away, followed by a KFC-uniformed waitress trying to bring them their change.

And the last one that I’ve spotted is the bus ad for the Broadway musical Evita. This seems to me like an unlikely product to advertise in a movie that’ll be seen by people all over the world, with no ready access to Broadway theaters. Still, Eva Perón was famously ambitious, so it’s not out of the question.

In conclusion: MARLBORO.

Tomorrow:
We check in on the Superman Family in
2.44: The Grim Barbarity of Lois Lane


Footnotes:

The rampant product placement is a handicap in one shot, when the people on the street react to Zod threatening Superman with the construction site wall. The shot’s been flipped to give the gawkers an eyeline to the proceedings, but that means the text on the cigarette and OMNI ads (and the NO ENTRY sign) are flipped as well.

Also, if anybody’s spotted any products in this scene that I missed, please post it in the comments!

Tomorrow:
We check in on the Superman Family in
2.44: The Grim Barbarity of Lois Lane

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

 

10 thoughts on “Superman II 2.43: Marlboro

  1. Such effective advertising- I’d always wondered why, at the age of ten, I left the theater with a craving to light up a Marlboro and slug back a few shots of Cutty Sark, now I know.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Imagine if this had come out in the age of Fred and Barney lighting up their Winston cigarettes. Superman would have crashed into the Marlboro truck and then come out holding a pack of cigarettes. “I’ll save these for dinner with Lois. You get a lot to like with Marlboro,” he says as he tucks the pack into a cape pocket before flying after Zod again.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. This post reminded me both of the Gay Simpsons Episode (“I dunno, I kinda want a cigarette”) and the Family Guy bit about subliminal advertising (“Smoke. SMOKE! YA SMOKIN’ YET?”)

      Liked by 3 people

  2. If you’re bored in Metropolis, you need to go buy more stuff.

    Surprised they didn’t have a joke shot of evil trio being told Marlboros are for earth humans to light up and smoke, so they use heat vision to put the truckful up in smoke.

    I forgot about Omni! Without bothering to look it up, my impression is that it had cool futurist modern looking special effects photography, an influence on Tron a few years later. And gee whiz let’s gush about potential future essays, free of any little nuisances like research or fact checking. Am I right about that? If so, what a perfect fit with this movie.

    I would welcome some comments about how prevalent film product placement like this was at the time. As a kid in L.A., I just thought that the NYC look full of advertising seemed realistic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, I remember Superman crashing into the Times Square Coca-Cola neon sign as one of the more memorable moments, along with the “Kneel before Zod!” one.
    I am trying to remember if I noticed the JVC signage or not. I think they were pretty ubiquitous at the time but TBH, I had totally forgotten about them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My favourite Mothercare reference.

    It was in an office based sitcom – probably sometime in the 80s.
    The paranoid manager had placed hidden microphones around the workplace so he could find out what the staff were saying about him.
    His assistant asked him where he got the spying equipment and he said “Mothercare. £9.99”!

    Like

  5. So much for Metropolis being anything other than blatantly New York City. Since that’s just how it is and we’re all going to have to live with it, I guess there was no way the Salkinds could pass up a scene set in Times Square, with all the signage it’s known for having, and the resultant opportunities for product placement.

    Like

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