The 2001 movie Spy Kids is a masterpiece for many reasons.

It inadvertently created the blood-bath revenge-porn film Machete with veteran actor Danny Trejo, one of the main characters says ‘”shitake mushrooms” instead of ‘shit’ in one scene and it also features one of my favourite uses of futuristic movie advertising ever.

It’s not a major plot point that this movie is set in the future, I mean yeah there are evil villains that are just fucking thumbs, but no other future tech. But somehow one of the main characters sorts through non-branded packaging pops it in the ‘rehydrator’ and BAM Big Mac and Fries – no sauces or drink though so I assumed they eventually died of thirst.

Seriously what the fuck were these?

Perhaps you remember it because you were awed by its inventiveness and in-you-face attitude, or maybe like me you were a bit fat when you were a teenager and anything that involved a machine produced McDonalds whenever you wanted was pure genius.

I don’t want subtle, I want in your face

Obviously, there’s a bit of a backlash to advertising in movies, but as long as it fits comfortably in the film, then who cares? Even the part of Fight Club where they smash a brand new Volkswagen Beetle was advertising to some extent, it just fit with the tone of the movie.

That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the advertising that’s screaming in your face. This is especially true for movies set in the future, this gives advertisers the chance to do something cool and interesting.

There is something beautiful about how obvious in-film advertising is – a special breed that creates an alternative universe where it totally makes sense to create a futuristic microwave that pumps out junk food because it’s a the only logical way to get it into the film naturally. Personally, I love films where someone hasn’t just had a fleeting mention to something but has had to create an entire plot device to segue it in.

Demolition Man

Demolition Man is the prime example of this. After a recent re-watch of this film just because I really didn’t understand the sex scene when I was 13 and I needed to watch it as an adult and see if it made any more sense. SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t what the fuck was going on, how do babies get made.

Taco Bell being the only restaurant left in the future is a pretty famous example of pushing the advertising into the plot of a film, but it’s an excellent one. Did the screenwriter have ‘insert highest paying bidder’ here in the screenplay or were they going to a futuristic restaurant with futuristic food anyway, a la Firefly Ice Cream Planets? It’s also worth noting that we don’t have Taco Bell in the UK (why don’t we lads) so Pizza Hut was badly dubbed in to cover that.

Minority Report

If you work in advertising and marketing, I just heard your collective groan.

Okay, I get it, I heard you.

Most advertisers will have heard the Minority Report analogy probably 100 times over. Whether it’s the haptic technology John uses when he’s predicting future crimes, which is pretty cool but has been in TV shows like CSI for a while now. The ‘hot take’ I’m referencing is one you’ve probably read is around the personalised advertising that happens in the shopping mall.

Typically anything that horrifies the general population, we call you ‘consumers’ in the biz, delights and intrigues advertisers. When I first saw Minority Report I was fairly horrified at the prospect of walking into Budget Booze and a pretty model asking me “Back for more cider you fucking lush?” After a few years of taking photos of every inch of my face and tagging myself in every location the idea of my personal freedom and autonomy is now pretty “meh, who cares, we’re all dying, I don’t care if the  cyborg in Tesco reminds me I need to by onions.”

I, Robot

What was this film? I vaguely remember it. It came out in 2004. It was good? No, it was bad? It had Alan Tuydk in it, so it was probably good? But it had Will Smith in his 40-year-old teenage role right? I think I half watched this movie five times when it was on Sky Movies and I was at a loose end on a Saturday night because I had written my Harry Potter fan fiction already.

One of the main offenders for product placements as it was discussed heavily in pretty much every review of the film. But the one that really sticks out is the Converse All-stars conversation.

  1. Those shoes look fucking awful, are those canvas? They look leather and shiny and awful?
  2. This is set in 2035. Those are 2004 shoes. That old woman is what? 80? She must remember what fucking shoes looked like?!
  3. This is only 31 years in the future, I don’t see people wearing platforms from the 1970’s and scream

I like the idea the screenwriter was on set and someone came up to them and was like “Look listen, Will has this idea about shoes, he just got some new Converse, he’s really into it. Can you write something about him showing them off? I know you had that whole soliloquy about the futility of man and artificial intelligence being a silent killer but can you scrap that and pretend nobody knows what shoes look like? Cheers lad”

Final thoughts

Perhaps it’s just nostalgia speaking but there was something special in 90’s about crappy advertising penetrating our everyday life. Whether it’s in films, or in the real world.

When I was thinking about this blog, I remembered one of the greatest places that ever lived. If you lived in London, or nearby like I did in the hellhole of Surrey, then there’s a chance you might have visited heaven on earth that was a celebration of gross 90’s over-advertising and futuristic world-building come to life.

Segaworld at the Trocadero was everything future advertising in films had promised me. It was perfect in every way, dark and only lit by garish neon, filled with over enthusiastic teenagers queuing to place the heavily advertised Sonic the Hedgehog games or trying to get onto the Pepsi Max, a themepark ride in the middle of the arcade. To play some of the machines you could enter ‘Sonic’ tokens while you happily sipped on a Slush Puppy.

I have fleeting memories of this place, I speculate that it may have been renamed Funland when I went as eventually the Hedgehog bucks ran out but the rides and the advertisements stayed the same. You took an escalator named Rocket to the top of the six floors of pure unaltered fun while 90’s trance music blared around you.

If the future of advertising is going to futuristic flights of fantasy into AI, chat bots and data mining. Can it be less slick? I’d like AirBnB to know less information about me, but I’d happily spend all day in an Ikea style showroom of apartments I could possibly stay in all around the world. What I’m clumsily saying is, if it’s true that millennial’s are pretty much done with products and owning things and having loyalty to brands and what they really want is the ‘experience’ of a product – then can we get back to basics? Can we have more in your face advertising that’s trying to desperately garner the positive sentiment of young people? Can they do that with lasers and neon and self-lacing shoes again?

What I’m really saying is, can we have Segaworld back please? I never got to go on the Pepsi Max drop because I was too short.