But the blockbuster's latest sequel opening today, the $150 million "Jurassic World," shows just how much product placement has evolved, both as a consistent moneymaker for film executives — and a cringe-worthy fact of life for the theater-going crowd.
The movie's corporate tie-ins are relentless: Kids ignore their parents while immersed in Beats by Dre headphones. Parkgoers can be seen swilling Starbucks, and the velociraptor trainer played by Chris Pratt takes a big, refreshing gulp of Coca-Cola.
The dinosaur park's main shopping center includes a Pandora, the charm-jewelry store, and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, the parrothead-themed restaurant. When Pratt's character races alongside velociraptors, he does so on his Triumph Scrambler, a new model made by the U.K.'s biggest motorcycle maker.
Many of the tie-ins become meta movie tie-ins: A film joking about product placement while still reaping the corporate cash. In the movie, the dinosaur park is strapped for funding and takes on corporate sponsors: Its star dinosaur exhibit becomes “Verizon Wireless Presents The Indominus Rex.” A side character jokes they should have gone even further, naming a dinosaur “Pepsi-saurus."
The script, as Chicago Tribune reviewer Michael Phillips wrote, "makes a tentative stab or two at rampant product placement early on, before getting down to the business of delivering rampant product placement."
The gaudiest tie-in comes through the movie's deal with Mercedes-Benz, whose G-Class SUV, Sprinter van and six-wheeled G-Wagen play leading parts, transporting dino-hunting troopers and conquering the jungle's rough roads. The German automaker's monstrous Unimog, only available outside the United States, also serves as a wheeled veterinary unit for wounded dinosaurs.
In the movie, Pratt's Owen asks Claire, the steely operations manager played by Bryce Dallas Howard, if she wants to “see something cool,” before Benz's new GLE Coupe pulls onto the screen, logo first. In her New York Times review, Manohla Dargis wrote, "There are so many plugs for Mercedes that you may wonder if the targeted viewers are studio executives."
So it would not spoil the GLE Coupe's summer 2015 launch, Mercedes said it worked the SUV secretly into the filmmaking process a year and a half ago: "The security measures on set were huge," the carmaker said, so it could "be shielded from eager photographers."
In Mercedes-Benz promotional materials for the coupe, which the automaker called "strong in every terrain," movie producer Frank Marshall is quoted as saying, “Unveiling the new GLE Coupé in Jurassic World was a natural fit as we continue our relationship with Mercedes."
Mercedes posted a making-of video in which the movie's stars fawn over the new coupe: "Oh, it's beautiful," Howard exclaims, before Pratt shouts, "Yeah! Look at that thing."
Mercedes-Benz has tied its luxury autos to dinosaur movies ever since its outfitted M-Class SUVs whisked adventurers through the 1997 sequel, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park."
But it has rarely wielded such influence on the production even after the film is over. The movie's premiere in Hollywood on Tuesday was sponsored by Mercedes, with the actors spilling onto the red carpet from a red Mercedes GLE Coupe, then gliding into the theater past a themed Mercedes G-Class SUV.
But Mercedes was not alone in drawing out its corporate deal. At the Hollywood premiere's after-party, Pratt was ushered onto stage alongside Jimmy Buffett to sing -- could you guess? -- "Margaritaville." “This is totally impromptu. I did not know this was gonna happen,” Pratt said.
Some companies have pushed to extend their corporate tie-in from the first film, like Barbasol shaving cream, a can of which was used to smuggle dinosaur embryos.
Barbasol's inclusion was mostly a fluke — the movie's art director, John Bell, said he grabbed it off a prop shelf with little thought; in the book, smugglers used Gillette — but the shaving-cream maker now calls it one of its biggest victories: John Price, a marketing vice president for parent company Perio, called it "one of the most recognized brand integrations of all time."
The company has now embarked on a "fully integrated marketing program" taking victory laps on Twitter, launching consumer sweepstakes at www.capturethecan.com, airing a national TV-ad blitz and even selling limited-edition "collector" cans with dinosaurs on the side. For the commercial, in which the can is seen in a puddle, a studio trucked in 1,000 gallons of water and 2,000 pounds of stones for the 36-hour shoot.
Product placement has become so fundamental to how film and TV studios and distributors make money that corporate tie-ins are more the rule than the exception. But "Jurassic Park" was a big engine for corporate tie-ins, largely due to its leadership by Steven Spielberg, a master of the craft: Remember Reese's Pieces in "E.T."?
(Some have joked "Jurassic Park" didn't go far enough. One tweeted, in the faux voice of a product-placement specialist, "Imagine, if you will, the water glass scene in jurassic park... except its a rattling bowl of m&ms.")
"It's become just part of the natural way of doing business ... but they still walk this fine line," said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Rentrak. "It would seem unrealistic if they didn’t have real brands in there. Remember the days when people were drinking a beer and it just said 'Beer?'"
Modern marketers see corporate tie-ins as increasingly valuable, because of the potential for a product's placement getting shared or talked about for days on end. After Samsung scored a coup at last year's Academy Awards, when a crop of movie stars took a selfie with its Galaxy Note, Allen Adamson, a managing director at branding firm Landor Associates, told the Wall Street Journal, "You can't buy that magic of going viral."
Corporate buyers have also seen product placement as an increasingly strong investment as movie studios look move toward international audiences to boost their box-office cash. Of the 10 biggest blockbusters last summer, 70 percent of their box-office revenue came outside North America, meaning product placement here tends to resonate enormously across the world.
In China, where “Jurassic World” has made $17.2 million since its Wednesday debut there, Coca-Cola is already running dinosaur ads packed with bottles of refreshing, red-label Coke. Product placement might just transcend language, after all.