30th Anniversary: The Similarities Between Wayne’s World and Influencer Marketing

19 May 2022
by Annie-Mai Hodge
5 mins
30th Anniversary: The Similarities Between Wayne’s World and Influencer Marketing

Starting as a recurring sketch on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Wayne’s World became such a hit that it was turned into a feature length film. It’s now been 30 years since Wayne’s World was first released in the UK and wowed cinemagoers with its unique blend of earnest yet satirical humour, standout performances and a memorable soundtrack.

While its reputation as a comedy classic quite rightly continues to grow, it also doubles as an excellent case study for marketers, due to its prolific use of product placement.

While Wayne’s World was far from the first movie to feature stars supping from cans of best-selling soft drink brands and eating from the world’s biggest fast-food franchises, it did take it to a new level by incorporating products in a knowing way that supported and poked fun at its narrative. That’s because the two main protagonists, Wayne and Garth, are reluctant to “sell out” in order to turn their low-budget, local chat show into a prime-time TV hit.

Endorsing numerous corporate sponsors does not usually sit well, but as the 30+ product placements in the movie attest, with brands including Pepsi, Doritos, Budweiser, Reebok and Levi’s all featuring, the leading duo unwittingly become what would now be classed as “influencers” in today’s world.

Product Placement in Other Movies

Back in the 1980s, it was common to see the biggest blockbusters feature brand placements, but without the knowing wink of Garth and co, the practice was often dubbed “abhorrent” by media critics. If you rewatch Back to the Future II, released in 1989, you will quickly spot Marty McFly’s Nike Hyperdunk trainers, which is a movie tie-in that ended up being hugely successful for the sports apparel giant.

Reese’s Pieces chocolate also became hugely popular after its involvement in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 hit E.T., and Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses turned into a fashion statement overnight after Tom Cruise wore a pair in 1983’s Risky Business. With branded products evolving into a well-established “trope” in movies during this decade, the time was ripe for Wayne’s World to riff on the tradition and take it to new heights in the early 1990s.

The movie’s main star, Mike Myers, who also wrote the screenplay with Bonnie and Terry Turner, was aware of how overt and inorganic product placements had become and that they would often detract from the story and a viewer’s immersion. In one of the most iconic scenes from Wayne’s World, Wayne and Garth run through a series of over-the-top placements in just 90 seconds of run time. The way it both criticises branded advertising and uses it to support the purpose of the scene makes it memorable.

Waynes World and Influencer Marketing

Fast forward to 2022 and product placements, which are now a branch of “influencer marketing”, have become a primary tactic for brands attempting to increase awareness, build trust and drive engagement on social media and increase organic traffic to websites. The perception of the general public of these tactics has changed too. While critics bemoaned them 30 years ago, studies show viewers are very receptive to them and have positive attitudes towards the practice when it is used correctly.

It’s a testament to the power of product placements that they are just as relevant as they were before digital marketing, although use cases are now different, with videos on TikTok and YouTube taking precedence over scenes in movies. Global spending on these placements was expected to surge to $23bn last year, at a time when spending on traditional TV and print advertising is on a slow, steady decline.

Product placement still works because it can be subtle and weaved into a video without calling direct attention to it. With 90% of consumers admitting they are clicking the skip button or ignoring ads at the start of videos, placements can be used for promotion more organically. The actual products are not always needed either, as researchers have found that “verbal” placements, where a brand is spoken about, can be more effective.

Wayne’s World kicked off a comedy renaissance that is still being felt in movies releasing today, but more importantly for marketers, there are lessons to be learnt about how it approaches influencer marketing. The first is the need to align content with the right influencers. Despite their initial reluctance, Wayne and Garth ended up being energetic advocates of branded products. Choosing influencers who are a good fit for your brand is key. Ideally, they should be reputable and erudite on the topic they are covering.

Back in the 90s, brands had to rely on mega-influencers like celebrities to endorse their products. However, with the rise of social media, brands can now select different types of influencers. This is a welcome development as it is now possible to reach and engage with a specific, niche audience, depending on the objectives of a campaign. The main five categories are:

  • Mega-influencers with 1m followers or more.
  • Macro-influencers with between 500k and 1m followers.
  • Mid-tier influencers with between 50k and 500k followers.
  • Micro-influencers with up to 50k followers.
  • Nano-influencers with up to 10k followers.

How to Take Inspiration from Wayne’s World 

You might think a Wayne and Garth-style product placement is the best for harnessing great results, but this is not always the case, as nano-influencers have the highest engagement rate overall, at 8.8%. Smaller influencers can often appear more authentic and the content they produce is tailored to a loyal and active audience. Conveniently for smaller businesses with low budgets, nano-influencers are cost-effective.

There are a variety of different channels available to leverage the power of influencers as well. Instagram is one of the most popular, with 66% of brands using it for influencer marketing, but TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Snapchat all offer opportunities to forge lasting relationships with talented creators. Just remember that like in Wayne’s World, if influencers want to do things their own way, it might be best to look elsewhere.

So, 30 years after the original influencers took to the screen, brands still have the opportunity to use brand placements and product endorsements to reach a wide audience, drive engagement and generate sales. And if you need help with social media and influencer marketing to make these campaigns more visible, Atlas SEO’s industry-leading services could be the answer. Contact us today to find out more.

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