Reverse Product Placement: Anheuser Busch doesn’t like Denzel drinking its brews

Senior Editor
11.06.12 16 Comments
Turn your Flight into a party with the Bud Light Otter

Anheuser-Busch is asking Paramount to obscure the logos of Budweiser beer in Robert Zemeckis’s Flight, saying they didn’t participate in the production and don’t want their product associated with Denzel Washington’s portrayal of an alcoholic pilot. Yikes, we can’t have booze being associated with alcoholism! It’s all part of Bud’s latest ad campaign: “Bud Light: It’s not for pilots.”

Anheuser-Busch said Monday that it has asked Paramount Pictures Corp. to obscure or remove the Budweiser logo from the film, which at one point shows Washington’s character drinking the beer while behind the wheel.

Budweiser is hardly the only alcoholic beverage shown in “Flight,” which earned $25 million in its debut weekend. Washington’s character frequently drinks vodka throughout the film, with several different brands represented. William Grant & Sons, which distributes Stolichnaya in the United States, also said it didn’t license its brand for inclusion in the film and wouldn’t have given permission if asked.

I saw Flight, and I actually didn’t even remember the part where he drank a Bud. I remembered the part at the beginning where he drinks Miller (High Life, if I’m not mistaken). If anyone should be pissed, it’s the scotch brands, over the way they show scotch inside a hotel mini-fridge. Everyone knows you don’t refrigerate scotch, I mean come on.

“We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving,” AHB Vice President Rob McCarthy wrote. “We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters.”

At what point did the idea of product placement become so pervasive that you’re not allowed to show products that exist in the world without asking the manufacturer’s permission first, for fear that people will assume it’s a sponsor? It’s insane. At this rate, if you can’t get a sponsor, your characters are going to have to wander around in white t-shirts with “T-SHIRT” ironed on the front.

A spokesman for Zemeckis referred questions to Paramount, which did not return an email message seeking comment.
Experts say the film is unlikely to run afoul of trademark protections, as courts have ruled that products may be featured in films regardless of whether the companies approve, as long as they have some artistic relevance. [NBCNews]

Right? And yet if this is the precedent, why is every TV producer so insanely paranoid about covering up any corporate logos that might appear by accident? We’re adults, do our movie sodas really have to say “SOFT DRINK” and our phone numbers begin with 555 at this point? You’re trying to depict reality, and reality shouldn’t require a sponsor. You can put out all the press releases you want about not wanting to be associated with alcoholism, if your product has alcohol in it, guess what? You’re associated with alcoholism. PR people don’t get to make that decision.

Products and logos exist in the world, that should be the only justification you need to show them, or else you’re taking the “corporations are people” thing a little too far. Besides, what’s it going to hurt? That I always drunk dial 867-5309 and scream to put Jenny on the phone, I’m pretty sure that’s the highlight of that old Korean dude’s day.

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