Deer Hunter and Rolling Rock and Good Product Placement

January 27, 2017

By Eno Sarris, January 27, 2017

I have this trick I pull on myself. In order to watch movies guilt free while I work from home, I'm only allowed to watch what's currently on. Go to the premium movie channels, find the movie closest to beginning, press go, and work.

So I didn't see the very beginning of The Deer Hunter when I rewatched it recently. That's all right, I think I studied the 1974 Vietnam classic in school. Definitely deep watched it before at least.

There were, as with any movie made that decade, glaring differences in movie making style embodied in The Deer Hunter and the styles we see today. Violence in the seventies was something you could spend a whole movie building up to. You get an hour plus of a wedding in rural Pennsylvania before you ever see jungle. Go watch Taxi Driver or Dog Day Afternoon again and you might be surprised by how little screen time the violence gets. 

What surprised me on this watching was not about movie making style, at least not in terms of pacing. What surprised me was this exchange between Robert DeNiro’s character Michael and Meryl Streep’s Linda:

Mike Duesenberg / Good Beer Hunting

What? That's a record scratch, especially for a critically acclaimed movie. I had to break my rule and rewind to confirm what I had seen, but yeah, there it was, one of the best actors of all time interrupting a movie for what has to be blatant product placement. It's an ad in the middle of a masterpiece.

But the exchange doesn’t appear in the original script by Michael Cimino. In fact, the words “Rolling Rock” never appear in that script. They show up five times in the movie. Definitely negotiated in. 

Mike Duesenberg / Good Beer Hunting / Data: Untappd

It’s not the worst choice of product, given the beer’s ties to the region. But as much as Rolling Rock is Pennsylvanian, so is Yuengling, and probably more so in the rural areas at that time. Yuengling gets more (and better) ratings than Rolling Rock on ratings app Untappd, but both beers get a home state boost. Yuengling gets 50% more ratings in Pennsylvania than the national average, and Rolling Rock enjoys 25% more checkins than usual. And if you’re really going to get micro-regional about it, the movie might have been in Iron City territory.

Further watching showed that the green bottle is all over that movie. Check the famous bar scene, and look at the bottles in the front. Probably not Heineken.

It's pretty terrible product placement for a movie so good. We're used to this stuff in movies now, though – maybe filmmakers have just gotten better at it?

The James Bond franchise is perfect for it in style and execution. Dude is supposed to be the guy all guys want to be. All he has to do is drive the car or order the drink. Done.

That would tell us that Rolling Rock should maybe have been cool with their green bottles being everywhere, and maybe one line about ordering it.

It's fine that they wanted to push it just a bit. Three instances of ordering their beer and a couple product shots, who can blame them.

It's just.. the way DeNiro tells the lady she "should" buy this drink. The mansplaining is so off putting. It doesn't read like any normal situation I've been in. Especially if you're interested in the person romantically, badgering them about beer choice is weird. It’s not even about the sexes of the people involved, it’s that relationship. She said any kind! Go get her a beer! What are you doing?

If you're going to set up a "you should" type of product sequence, take a hint from another classic film with its own record scratch product placement: Blue Velvet.

There might be the same element of surprise here for the viewer, but it's totally germane to the character to yell like that. That's who Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth is. And a friend would definitely yell at a friend about drink choice. That's happening right now, as you read this, in a bar not too far from you.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't have any of these scenes in our movies. They threaten to take us out if the movie, to interrupt our suspension of disbelief, to awaken us to the outside world while we've bought into the movie's world.

But businesses have to sell things, beer included. That dollar makes the world go round.

The lesson here, then, if there is one? Take care to make the moment as seem as rea as possible, even if it means going big like David Lynch did in Blue Velvet.

Go to a bar and watch friends interact. Heck go to the bar with old friends yourself. Order something you know they won't like.

You probably won't hear a "should."  If your friends are anything like mine, you will hear some curse words, though.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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