The Call: Can Product Placement Win = PR Fail?

We didn’t see the new Halle Berry thriller The Call this weekend, but your former editor Tonya Garcia and our current colleague Donya Blaze did — and this morning they alerted us to a case of product placement that somehow doubles as a big old PR fail for the makers of the “prepaid” TracFone (anyone who’s seen The Wire knows what we’re talking about here).

Berry stars as a 911 operator/professional perm model tasked with saving a kidnapped teenager from a serial killer. The victim calls Berry from the killer’s trunk but cannot give her location. More importantly, emergency dispatchers are unable track her because she’s using a “disposable”, untraceable prepaid cell phone which happens to be clearly marked with the logo of its maker, TracFone. It’s a nice plot twist, but there are a couple of problems: first, it’s fiction; second, it doesn’t reflect very well on the brand.

Being media-savvy professionals, Tonya and Donya immediately recognized the bad PR and let the world know on Twitter:

TracPhone’s media team quickly responded to clarify that its phones are, in fact, traceable and serial killer-proof:

Our colleagues weren’t the only people on Twitter who noticed the connection, either:

The company directed everyone who made this comment to a page called “TracFone the Facts” which seems to have been created specifically to address the concerns raised by this movie. We have to wonder, though: did the value of brand exposure really outweigh the PR problems created by this misleading depiction of the company’s signature product? If so, then why did they sign the contract in the first place?

(On a totally unrelated side note, we’re very pleased to see Michael Imperioli getting work. RIP Christapha!)