Why would a TV-prop soda can so closely resemble a real-world soda can (without being the real thing)?
December 8, 2008 10:36 PM   Subscribe

On an episode of The Big Bang Theory, characters can be seen with soda cans which are near-approximations of a Dr. Pepper can and a Sprite can, but which are not actual cans from the manufacturer. Why might this be? Photos within.

During a cafeteria scene, characters are seen with these two cans: Dr. Peeper & "Sprite". I wondered if perhaps Dr. Peeper was a regional name for Dr. Pepper somewhere, but the Sprite can isn't a real can - it's a pretty well-done fake, with no text logo and a white & black stroke on the main logo instead of all-white (among other differences). [reference pic of actual Sprite Can/Logo]

All-in-all, it looks like the people behind the show deliberately used mocked-up soda cans, but the fact that the cans they used would pass for recognizable major-brand cans to the casual viewer has me scratching my head about the motive. It's not quite product placement, but it hardly distances the on-screen item from a real-world manufacturer at all. Do TV-types assign some value to this verisimilitude, even when official arrangements to use a product aren't in place?

The same show has also taken to covering all Apple logos (on phones & laptops) with stickers which only obscure the top-right corner, where the bite is. The show doesn't obscure all logos & trademarked materials, by any means.

I'm speculating rampantly about this, and I'm very curious about the goings-on of TV production in general, so I'd love to hear any thoughts, educated guesses or out-right answers to this one. Thanks in advance.
posted by chudmonkey to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's a pretty common tactic in anime if memory serves, though I don't know the reason behind it.

I'd guess it's for laughs, though sponsorship could also be a factor (who notices a pepsi can? No one. But a Bepsi can!?)
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 10:54 PM on December 8, 2008

Do TV-types assign some value to this verisimilitude, even when official arrangements to use a product aren't in place?

It's easier to suspend your disbelief when you're watching someone drink from what appears to be a bottle of Foster's Lager rather than a white can labeled "BEER" a la Repo Man.

As an aside, my first roommate in Los Angeles worked as a PA on a sitcom, and he would often bring home prop bottles of beer labeled Father's Lager (for Foster's) and Beer (designed in a typeface that made it really look like the Coors logo).
posted by infinitewindow at 11:06 PM on December 8, 2008

Avoid a lawsuit for using said branding without permission/promote a possibility for a sponsorship for very same brands who you are afraid of being sued by.

Or maybe it's just social commentary, a la Repo Man.
posted by Ookseer at 11:06 PM on December 8, 2008

You're overthinking it. It looks like the real thing because the prop makers are starting from the real thing. It's pretty common in Hollywood to use the real can/bottle/item and apply just enough custom labels or paint to modify the prop. Why bother doing any more work than is necessary or starting from scratch?

Between all the items that prop makers have to create or cover up (many of which don't even get used on the final set) that they're going to take the quickest and easiest route to get it done. Many times they may have to do 4 or 5 different variants on a single can in case the director or set director thinks one is too shiny, red, big, etc. So if all it takes is a sticker to fill in the Apple "bite", they're going to go for that rather than try to create a completely original laptop brand/logo.

Read here for a bit more info from an ex-prop maker.
posted by junesix at 12:36 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are also people whose job it is to make fake art for movies and TV shows - paintings that look like Rothko or Pollock but aren't. They got a lot of work when Dallas and Dynasty were on. Probably less these days.
posted by Grangousier at 12:55 AM on December 9, 2008

Here's another well-known instance -- Morely brand cigarettes, most often seen on the X-FILES, but also spotted lots of other places. And looks an awful lot like Marlboro.

My hunch is that prop guys want to come up with something that is close enough to the real thing becuase if you came up with a really visibly fake one, you'd run the risk of having people in the audiene get hung up on wondering, "what are they drinking? I don't recognize that can, is that soda?..." and getting distracted. But if they make something that looks a lot like familiar brands, they fly under our visual radar. However, they can't use the actual thing because of branding issues, so...close fakes.

Morelys sort of took on a life of their own in the X-FILES mythos, but that was just a bonus.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:27 AM on December 9, 2008

Fake brands were the norm for decades in TV and movies. Some people started using real ones for content reasons (e.g., Seinfeld), others because they hated fake brands more then the real thing. Once producers figured out they could actually make money by charging for product placement ... well, here we are.
posted by pmurray63 at 5:10 AM on December 9, 2008

If people are drinking from a can that's noticeably "off" you're going to think, "Wow, that character is drinking some kind of store-brand pop" and notice it more than if they're drinking something that you're used to seeing people drink from.
posted by srah at 5:56 AM on December 9, 2008

They couldn't agree with the product manufacturer on a product placement fee, so they used fake/obscured brands instead?
posted by jrishel at 6:17 AM on December 9, 2008

They couldn't agree with the product manufacturer on a product placement fee,

This isn't necessarily so. Manufacturers don't always want their brand represented, regardless of the price offered. For instance, you'll never get permission from Coke for product placement if it's in a scene where underaged people are shown drinking alcohol. In other words, it's not always about the money. Product image is important as well.
posted by Manhasset at 6:37 AM on December 9, 2008

It's called greeking.
posted by specialfriend at 8:28 AM on December 9, 2008

I'm sure this is some sort of branding/legal/product placement fee issue as others have commented on... but regarding Dr. Peeper, there are enough Dr. Pepper knockoffs that I wouldn't be surprised if that existed. See here and here.
posted by illenion at 8:34 AM on December 9, 2008

PS. I freakin' love that show, by the way.
"Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock!", Klingon Boggle and Halo 3 on Wednesday nights.
posted by willmize at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2008

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