I went on the Warner Bros. studio tour today, and something happened that I wanted to share with you. The tour guide was talking about product placement on the set of Chuck when he asked if any of us had seen the movie Cast Away. Then came a series of questions.
No peeking at imdb.
1. What company does Tom Hanks’s character work for?
2. What’s the name of the volleyball?
3. What’s the name of Tom Hanks’s character?
How’d you do?
If you’re anything like the tour group I was with, the first two questions were a piece of cake, but the third one was a complete mystery.
Let that sink in.
I’m not bringing this up to make a point about “selling out” or “the corruption of the medium by advertisers.” I think there’s something positive to be learned from this.
Naming the volleyball after its brand name did a number of things. On the level of product placement, it enhanced audience recall of the brand name, but from a story standpoint, it made the decision to have Tom Hanks talk to a volleyball for an hour seem less crazy. He’s calling it by its brand name. His character is acknowledging to himself, and the audience, that this is a somewhat silly attempt to give himself a sense of companionship so he doesn’t go stir crazy. By using the easiest choice of a name (that which was already printed on the ball), it seems more grounded. He’s not spending time coming up with the perfect name for an imaginary companion, and giving this companion all kinds of imaginary qualities. He’s taking what’s there and nudging it.
A quick note of thanks to those who have linked to and upvoted this blog on reddit! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the content so far, and I hope you (and the other readers of this site) will get something out of what I’m working on for the future.