Mike Judge was on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast this week to talk about Silicon Valley (did you know that most of the main actors on that show originally auditioned for the role of Erlich, which went to T.J. Miller?); and of course, Judge’s revolutionary series, Beavis and Butthead; and his two cult films, Idiocracy and Office Space.
There was a lot of interesting stuff on Office Space, like the fact that he had to fight with the studio over nearly every single detail on that film, including the cast and the music choices (the studio did not want “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta,” for instance). Judge ultimately won every single fight except one (there’s a 3-second shot at the end of the film where Ron Livingston’s character, Peter Gibbons, smiles after blowing up the company that Judge didn’t like).
Most interesting, perhaps, was the origin of that red Swingline stapler that we see in the film.
That stapler didn’t actually exist at the time. In fact, Mike Judge asked the Boston Stapler company if he could use one of their staplers in the movie, and they said no. So Judge went to Swingline staplers and asked if he could use theirs. They agreed (but didn’t pay the movie anything for the product placement), but there was one catch: Swingline didn’t have a red stapler, and Judge wanted a bright-colored stapler that could better be seen on film. So, Judge took the Swingline staplers to an autobody shop and had them painted bright red.
A couple of years after the film was released and became a huge cult hit, viewers actually began seeking that stapler out. Swingline, however, didn’t have such a stapler, so a market for replicas grew on Ebay. Seeing that such a huge market for the stapler existed, Swingline decided to produce one themselves.
It would become the company’s biggest selling stapler and, as the Wall Street Journal wrote in 2002, completely transformed the image of the company.
All because of some free product placement — for a product that didn’t even exist.
In fact, if you go to the Swingline website today, that stapler is still their most prominently featured product, and as Mike Judge said in the podcast, it’s still their biggest-selling product.