Mustang Instead of a DeLorean? Swatch Hoverboards? Back to the Future’s Rejected Brand Tie-Ins

Tales from co-screenwriter Bob Gale

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Now that we've reached Oct. 21, 2015—or Back to the Future Day—the brands featured in the 1989 film have been capitalizing on the film's nostalgia with campaigns showcasing their original integrations in the film.

Brands like Pepsi, Toyota, USA Today and more have been essentially making the future of Back to the Future II a reality.

The film's heavy brand tie-ins were inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, Back to the Future screenwriter Bob Gale tells Adweek.

"We thought, how cool is it that the guy goes to the space station and makes a phone call using AT&T and we see the AT&T logo and that Pan Am logo was on the spaceship?" said Gale. "Stanley Kubrick said there's still going to be branding in the future and if there's a space shuttle that goes to the moon on a regular basis it will probably be affiliated with an airline company."

Now famous for its charmingly memorable brand integrations and predictions, Back the Future II could have actually been very different if the creators had (like Marty McFly accidentally creating his own dystopian alternate reality) chosen to pursue some other brand options that were made available to them.   

The DeLorean could have been replaced with a Ford Mustang. 

Universal had hired a product placement coordinator, Robert Helfrich, who tried to convince Gale to ditch the DeLorean in favor of a Ford Mustang. 

"He tried to convince me to change the DeLorean to a Mustang because Ford Motor Company would give us money," Gale said. "I said, 'No, no, no, Doc Brown doesn't drive a fucking Mustang.' It had to be a DeLorean. A DeLorean was cool. I have nothing against Mustangs, but nothing is as cool as a DeLorean. A Ford Mustang? Does Doc Brown look like the kind of guy who would drive a Ford Mustang? I'm sorry, no." 

Nike came about by accident.

Michael J. Fox was not the original Marty McFly, a role initially set aside for Eric Stoltz. But Stotlz, a fine dramatic actor, didn't have the comedic chops the film needed, according to Gale. When Fox quickly stepped into the role, the film's costuming department didn't have shoes for him. 

Getty Images 

"It was such a quick thing getting him into the movie so [Robert] Zemeicks said the shoes that he had on would be fine," said Gale. "Michael happened to be wearing a pair of Nikes and in order to get more pairs of them we had to contact Nike and that's what started the affiliation with Nike. Then when we decided to do 2015, Nike was one of the first calls we made, asking 'what would the shoes of the future look like?'" 

Pepsi's placement was thanks to its evolving logo


Logos were important to the film's visual styling, which is part of the reason the film used a Pepsi integration rather than a Coca-Cola one, according to Gale. 

"We wanted to make a very strong statement about the difference between 1955 and 1985 and we thought one visual way of doing that would be to pick brands whose logos changed over those 30 years," Gale said. "For example, the Coca-Cola logo has never changed since what 1920 or something? It's the same today as it always has been. But the Pepsi logo has changed many times. So we deliberately said we want to be associated with Pepsi because when we're back in the past the Pepsi logo will look very different than the Pepsi logo people are used to seeing in 1985."

The same idea is also what nixed Shell's appearance

The product placement company hired by Universal wanted Shell for the gas featured in the film.

"They could get participation with Shell gasoline and we said, 'No, no, no we don't like Shell because their logo hasn't changed,'" said Gale. "We want Texaco because their logo has radically changed. Who knew that in 2015 Texaco wouldn't be around anymore, of course. But that was always what was in the back of our heads, let's pick out brands that define the period." 

The hoverboard was almost branded as Swatch

In the film, hoverboards are branded from Mattel, but before the toy brand said yes, the creators had wanted to work with Swatch. 

"Originally we thought about using Swatch as the hoverboard company but Swatch wasn't interested in being associated with us," said Gale. "Back in the '80s they were the hip cool company doing all kinds of cool stuff. Are they still around even? I don't even know. Maybe if they'd have been associated with Back to the Future they would be." 

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.