Saving the world from dystopian corporation — while touting cool brand?

Posted by Rob Walker on July 23, 2008
Posted Under: Entertainment,Imaginary Brands,Murketing


I haven’t seen Wall-E, but yesterday someone* was telling me about it. I wasn’t taking notes but Wikipedia says much what she was saying about the movie’s plot. (Spoiler alert!) Here’s the context:

In the 22nd century, the megacorporation Buy n Large assumed every economic service on Earth, including the government. Overrun by un-recycled waste, the planet eventually became so polluted that it could no longer support life. In an attempt to keep humanity alive, Buy n Large sponsored a five-year exodus to outer space aboard massive executive starliners…

Etc. Etc. So Wall-E, who I guess is technically a Buy n Large product, eventually saves the day, or whatever.

Anyway, details aside, the point seems to be that a rampant corporation took over the world and didn’t give a rat’s ass about the ecology, and so on: Profit motive runs amok.

So it’s interesting to read that according to Ad Age, this article deconstructing the product-placement style used in the film. As you probably know, it’s a Disney/Pixar movie, and former Pixar owner and Disney board member Steve Jobs also runs another company you’ve heard of.

Apple products only physically appear in “Wall-E” a few times — an iPod that re-projects a favorite movie, the sound of the Mac startup tone signaling that Wall-E, the titular robotic romantic lead, has fully recharged via solar panels, and one-button mice scurrying around a garbage dump. However, there is a less obvious, but still noticeable Apple influence that runs throughout the film.

“My first thought when I watched the movie with my kids and I heard that Mac boot tone and the whole audience laughed … was that it’s so subtle, it’s almost indoctrinating,” said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey. “That 600 years from now there’s nothing of value on the Earth, but there’s the Mac boot tone.” Abram Sauer, a freelance writer who pens the annual product-placement awards for, said the whole film could serve as a model for the future.

“People talk about how products and brands will sponsor movies … that’s what’s going to happen. But Apple has already done that here without being directly involved. This is what we would use as a great example of how to sponsor a movie,” he said. “I would call it product homage. And that is way more valuable than product placement. It doesn’t just reinforce a single Apple product, it reinforces Apple’s entire design approach from MacBook to iPod to iPhone.”

I guess Apple is a more benevolent company than Buy n Large (even if Greenpeace does pick on them sometimes), so we have nothing to worry about in real life. Right?

[* The someone I was talking to was Celeste Quinn, in the course of being interviewed on her radio show on WILL Chicago. I just didn’t want you to think this was yet another self-promoting post. Although as long you’re reading this I may as well mention the interview is on the Buying In page]


Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

I think it’s worth actually watching the movie before deciding how to interpret it. I’ve heard so many contradictory interpretations and explanations of Wall-E. It makes me a little sad when people take a very rich and layered expression and reduce it to suit their needs.

Written By Joanna on July 24th, 2008 @ 3:59 pm

Well. I thought I was being pretty careful here to stick to established facts, and to cite exactly what I was relying on, and to avoid actually interpreting it, for that matter. And I don’t think what I said actually undercuts the movie in general.

However, it’s a fact that I haven’t seen it. And it’s also a fact that I get annoyed at some comments I’ve seen online trashing my book by people who openly admit they haven’t read it. I don’t think I trashed Wall-E, but … I’ll just plead no contest.

Written By Rob Walker on July 24th, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

Has anybody noticed the sleek and futuristic robot ‘Eve’ looks like a product from apple? Its design is sleek and white and simple.

Written By Robbie on August 2nd, 2008 @ 11:00 pm
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