Ad Report Card

The Ad-Friendly World of Minority Report

One of the first things we see in the new film Minority Report is an ad—a fake political spot touting benefits of the futuristic new form of crime-fighting around which the plot revolves. (Read the review by Slate’s David Edelstein for more on this and a spot-on assessment of the actual film.) But most of the marketing messages in this story, set in 2054, push things that aren’t science fiction at all: the Gap, Aquafina, American Express. The movie is awash in advertising. And while product placement isn’t new, Minority Report pushes it into new territory. Among other things, some of the commercials that flit by were actually produced as fully realized spots by an actual agency, according to trade journal Advertising Age, which has posted three such “ads” on its Web site (you’ll need the RealPlayer plug-in to see them).

The ads: The spot that’s most noticeable in the movie is also the shortest. It’s for Revo sunglasses. Against a techno-ish soundtrack, a crowd of sleek, white, alien-looking figures is shown. Through their midst strides one figure who stands out—because only she (I think it’s a she) is wearing shades. Revo shades. This image conspicuously hovers in the background during a chase scene.

Reebok’s logo sprints by in another chase scene (there’s a lot of chasing in Minority Report), and fittingly the full ad shows a futuristic race. A bunch of unitard-wearing sprinters line up in a videogame-like setting and dash for the finish line while high-octane dance music blares. The spot ends with the exhortation: “Download now,” perhaps implying that in the future even our shoes will be made of 1s and 0s. (It’s also one of the things that makes it unlikely that this ad in particular could have a life outside the film.)

A Pepsi ad shows a woman in a wispy dress, water dancing in what I guess might be an ocean of Pepsi. This time the backbeats have an Indian flavor.

Better than the real thing? All these ads are pretty ambitious, so maybe the most surprising thing to point out is that none are really a focal point in the film. I’m not even sure that Pepsi ad was really in the movie at all—I did notice a Pepsi poster at one point, but if any images from this spot were in the movie, I managed to miss them. That may be because the number of brand messages in Minority Report is almost overwhelming, and the most memorable ones were those that took the most surprising form: Interactive billboards that identify passersby through eye-scans and shout personalized messages, a Gap hologram blurting the specifics of your last purchase and asking how it worked out, a cereal box whose characters rattle to life, etc. Compared to this sort of thing, a plain old ad, no matter how futuristic looking, just can’t compete.

Most viewers will probably shudder at the thought of enduring a world even more ad-soaked than the one we live in already, one where the pitches on every available service shout not just figuratively but literally, with a personalized precision that quietly brushes away the last shreds of our privacy. At first glance, there’s something almost cautionary in director Steven Spielberg’s riffs of the future of marketing.

On the other hand, the filmmakers seem to have few qualms about marketing in the here and now. “Besides edge-of-your-seat action, the summer sci-fi event will also feature the hottest Lexus models … of 2054,” notes a special cross-branding section of the Lexus Web site. In Europe and elsewhere, “Minority Report themed digital services will be available from Club Nokia, Nokia’s online community and loyalty program,” a press release from the cell-phone company promises. And so on and so forth: There honestly isn’t space to recount all the examples of how marketing and art come together in this film. Other creative voices, from filmmaker Paul Verhoeven to writer George Saunders, have wickedly satirized advertising and where its voracious ambitions might lead. But here, in a weird way, the familiar product names may in fact be intended to serve almost as reassuring guideposts: Minority Report is set in a version of the future that is disturbing in some ways and entrancing in others, but it seems that whatever wild twists the future may hold, the one thing we can all be sure of is that it will turn out to be a brand-friendly place.