Previously on Black Mirror
What started as a Twilight Zone-esque take on society’s use of advanced technology and its overlooked consequences quickly started shocking viewers around the world. Black Mirror is easily one of Netflix’s crown jewels, with four seasons worth of gems (and after June 5, five seasons) that are guaranteed to leave you on the edge of your desktop chair and questioning whether you really want to pick up your phone anymore.
Many viewers, however, don’t notice the product placements throughout the show. And with right reason: there really aren’t that many to begin with! The newest episode, however, doesn’t just blow the minds of viewers around the world; it’s also surprising marketing professionals. In this blog post, Hollywood Branded dives deep into the dark case study of product placements in Black Mirror.
The *Real* Waldo Moment: Why finding placements in Black Mirror is so hard
When you started reading this post, you were probably surprised to hear that there are product placements at all in Black Mirror. If you assumed that there are no product placements in the show, we don’t blame you. Black Mirror tends to steer away from any integrated marketing within the show, almost mirroring how Netflix itself handles integrated marketing (what parent does, child will follow).
Netflix is very careful about marketing and advertising within its shows, particularly preferring to stay away from the traditional advertising models that other streaming video on-demand companies follow (i.e. commercials at the end of every major scene in a program). Netflix and Black Mirror are smart for this, considering Netflix viewers are content with the minimal advertising that they are exposed to through the service.
Integrated marketing, however, is constantly changing with the times and adapting to newer models that streaming services are becoming more inclined into incorporating. As a great and recent example of the changing times, let’s start off with placement number one: cereal.
#1: Kellogg's and Quaker
Netflix released the most recent episode of Black Mirror in December of last year, titled Bandersnatch. Bandersnatch is the first ever interactive episode in Netflix’s expansive library, which is like a filmed version of a choose-your-own-adventure book. The episode is known for its multiple endings and scenes that can only be viewed if a certain previous decision was made earlier on in the episode. As a result, viewers must go through the episode multiple times, from the very beginning, and make different decisions to watch every single scene and outcome that Bandersnatch has to offer.
This concept is revolutionary, as Netflix is the first major streaming service to produce content of this kind. Coincidentally, the first decision in the episode that viewers must make is a product placement. Right before the protagonist of the episode, Stefan heads for the first day in his new job at a beloved video game company, Tuckersoft, his dad asks him which cereal he wants for breakfast: Kellogg’s Frosties or Quaker Sugar Puffs.
Though Kellogg’s Frosties is now known today as Frosted Flakes and Quaker Sugar Puffs are virtually extinct in the U.S. (keep in mind the episode is set in 1984), the placement still put the brands’ names and logos in the spotlight. In addition, whenever viewers head to the very beginning of the episode to unlock new scenes, they must watch this scene repeatedly to advance through the story. Talk about rinse and repeat! Clever move, Netflix.
A second clever placement in Bandersnatch also seems to slip right under viewers’ noses. Considering the episode is about video games and coding, it’s no surprise that there were a few computers scattered throughout the episode. One of the few computers in the episode, supporting character Colin’s computer in his Tuckersoft office to be exact, is placement for Sony. Though the monitor used in Tuckersoft looks like a machine straight from the Industrial Revolution, as again the episode is set in the 1980’s, and you most likely will never find that product in stores, Sony’s logo is clearly and visibly shown.
Of the computer brands that one might catch in the episode, Sony’s is definitely the most noticeable since the other brands are either defunct in the present-day or barely have a market presence anymore. In addition, if one of the decisions the viewer makes leads to a dead-end ending, or endings that immediately end the story and take the viewer to a selection screen where they choose what decision in the plot to reconsider. Every time viewers must go back to an earlier part of the episode and are directed to this selection screen, they may see the Sony monitor displaying the scene when the viewer’s decision was made.
The episode also shows some love to one of Sony’s most monumental products and the device every true 80’s head will recognize: the Walkman. After breakfast and on his way to Tuckersoft, Stefan cannot decide which music tape he wants to listen to for the bus ride. Nonetheless, the decision of which tape to play is up to the viewer, but he’ll end up playing whichever tape on his handy Walkman. Another scene that viewers will need to watch every time they return to the beginning of the episode.
Tired of being on the computer? Try the TV. The next placement we found is another screen, but this time it’s not a computer monitor. Most of the episode’s dead-end endings are scenes in which the local news, being displayed on the TV, covers the performance of Stefan’s video game and the faith of Stefan himself right before directing viewers to the scene selection screen. This means that almost every time the viewer “fails,” they will need to watch the outcome of their decision on the Philips TV monitor.
#4: W.H. Smith
Turns out, Stefan’s got a go-to place if he wants to buy more music. This next one is a brand that probably only our friends across the pond will recognize (don’t forget Black Mirror is a British production). As Stefan begins his video game coding project, he decides to shop for more music for the countless hours he’s about to spend working on his computer.
He ends up taking a visit to his local W.H. Smith store, a retail chain with almost all 1,300 locations in the UK. In true Bandersnatch fashion, the viewer will need to choose which vinyl Stefan is about to listen to during his code grinding.
Looks like Tuckersoft keeps its options open when it comes to television. Take a closer look at another television Tuckersoft uses in its office and you’ll recognize the Mitsubishi logo near the bottom. One of the supporting characters Colin even plays the early version of Stefan’s video game on the monitor in one scene.
#6: The Sun
This is another addition that our fellow Brits may catch during the episode. In a few endings that have a similar outcome (one which will not be spoiled), the front-page story of British newspaper The Sun is shown for a few seconds, with the newspaper’s bright red logo at the upper left corner. You can’t miss it.
Huh? Yes. The show’s respective network gets plugged quite often, particularly towards the end of the plot. Without spoiling much, there are some scenes and endings that involve Netflix itself. The name “Netflix” is said several times, and the logo clearly and notably appears on screen in one shot. Evidently, this show is more than willing to break the fourth wall.
Prepare yourself for some existential questioning when you reach this point in the episode. You might be wondering, “is it even relevant to include the company that literally owns Black Mirror and call it product placement?”. Well as we’ve seen episode after episode, Black Mirror is very intentional and specific about what they show to their viewers. We wouldn’t be surprised if this was indeed seen as product placement by the show’s crew.
Playtesting the Future
Black Mirror will never stop shocking people, whether you’re a casual fan watching on your phone in bed or a marketing professional reading this from your office. Clearly the show has had a very minimal use of product placements and integrated marketing up until only very recently. Should we expect more like this from Black Mirror in season 5? From Netflix and other streaming services as a whole? Whatever the decision will be, we can only speculate based on Bandersnatch’s remarkable impact. If Bandersnatch taught us anything, it’s that every choice matters and will lead to another. Then another. And another.
Interested in finding out more about the behind-the-scenes of product placement in other shows and films?
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- Toy Story Effect: How Film's Product Placement Increased Sales of Toys
- How British Product Placement Law is Different
- Transformers Product Placement History [Infographic]
- How Futuristic Product Placements Make Brands Memorable
Want to learn how product placement works and how to best utilize it in your next production? Don't forget to check out our detailed Product Placement 101 Infographic!