The Allure of the Anti-Hero


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A Noticeable Shift Towards More Complex Protagonists

Tony Soprano. Don Draper. Walter White. Harley Quinn. These fictional personalities are icons of a “golden age” of television and film. They’re not least not entirely. But no doubt about it - they’re definitely not heroes either. Edgy characters became legends and consumers became fans. And while once brand managers would have considered only association with the traditional “good guy,” attitudes have shifted.

I love the way Forbes phrased it: the allure of the badass. We’re seeing a popularization of the rebel attitude. And many brands looking for a way to embrace the engaged fanbases are happily aligning with hot watercooler content – driven by these very compelling characters. In this blog, Hollywood Branded revisits notable examples of brands drawn to the allure of the anti-hero.

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Tony Soprano - The G.O.A.T.

One of HBO’s earliest forays into original programming introduced viewers to the complicated life of one Mr. Anthony Soprano, a realistic family-oriented character who slipped in and out of vicious and unethical circumstances. When the series began shooting its first season, many conventional brands shied away from the unconventional central characters, nervous about an association with any stereotypical tropes of organized crime.

Tony Soprano

Photo credit: HBO

But in the wake of critical and audience adulation, a number of companies happily embraced subsequent seasons, including Tropicana, Cadillac, Heineken, Nissan, Masarati, and a number of electronics brands among others. And the brands were equally embraced on camera, receiving clearly identifiable logo exposure and use by the characters, as a means for creating credible and realistic settings.

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Breaking Bad – Call Him Heisenberg

If there had been no Tony Soprano, would the world have even known Walter White? Considered by many to be one of television’s great masterpieces, Breaking Bad didn’t feature extensive brand integrations, although Chrysler and Denny’s both had prominent presence in a few episodes.


Photo credit: AMC

However, many brands regularly received product placement including Coca-Cola, 5-Hour Energy Shots, Vizio, Sony, HP, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, and TAG Heuer among many others. Even though the story arc followed characters through suspenseful, often terrifying, travails, authentic use provided brands onscreen exposure in realistic settings to large viewing audiences. The massive popularity of the series was too much to ignore. Brand managers trusted customers to separate the illegal activity on Breaking Bad from the products the main characters were fond of and used in their everyday lives.

Mad Men - Because Classic Is Always Cool

Mad Men's Don Draper is the very definition of anti-hero, perhaps one of the most selfish, narcissistic, and cynical characters we've ever seen on television. Cheating on every woman he comes across? Yep. Being an absentee dad? Uh-huh. But despite all of this, Don also showed that he's capable of doing the right thing. Complicated and cool, suave and sexy, Jon Hamm’s portrayal of Don Draper kept fans hooked to the series for seven award-winning seasons. And brand managers took notice. Despite the show’s period-era setting, several products were deeply integrated into storylines including London Fog, Kodak, Heineken, and Utz, all of whom were advertising clients of the fictional agency Sterling Cooper.

Canadian Club Mad Men Don Draper

Photo credit: Canadian Club

As we previously discussed, Don Draper's drink of choice was no accident. Hollywood Branded worked closely with the teams at both Canadian Club and Mad Men to put together a comprehensive product placement plan that made sense for the brand and fit perfectly into the production. Smart move for Canadian Club! After years of declining sales, Canadian Club enjoyed a 4.3% lift thanks to its association with the coolest whiskey drinker on TV.

Birds Of Prey - A Punk Feminist Anti-Hero

Being an anti-hero isn’t just a man’s game, and they come out to play and spread mayhem on the big screen as well. Warner Bros.’ $200+ million R-rated theatrical release Birds of Prey, showcased Harley Quinn and her new posse of bad-ass bitches in a spin-off of Suicide Squad. Despite its R-rating, Harley Quinn’s bright and colorful brand identity, OTT fun, and chaotic personality lured numerous brand partners to the promotional party, including Splat Hair Color, Magnolia Bakery, ORLY Nail Polish, Smashbox, Triumph, Hot Topic, as well as the UGC #WhatWouldHarleyDo TikTok video challenge. 


Photo credit: Splat


A Little Bit Of Bad Can Be Really Good

If you take a look at entertainment content that has seen the most success in the past 20 years, there’s a noticeable shift toward a darker, more complex protagonist. Breaking the mold of traditional heroism and villainy, they instead embody the unique qualities of the anti-hero. And while once brand managers would have considered only association with the traditional “good guy,” well ... those attitudes have shifted with the trends.

Viewers and brand managers know this to be true: anti-heroes liberate us. They reject societal constraints and expectations imposed upon us. Anti-heroes give our grievances a voice. Anti-heroes do things we’re afraid to do. They are who they are and they do as they want—without apology.

Take A Deeper Dive Into More Great Reads

The Hollywood Branded Blog library has hundreds of great posts covering all things entertainment and pop culture - from integrations and product placement to working with influencers and celebrities. And you should check out these links for a little more insight into placement and partnerships with television and film:

For more information about partnerships in entertainment, unlock our Hot In Hollywood Brand Partnership Opportunities.

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