Most Americans Say Brand Films Like ‘Flamin’ Hot’ Are Art, Not Ads

Clear majorities of Gen Zers and millennials say Hollywood’s increasingly popular brand film genre is a legitimate art form
June 07, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

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Nike Inc.’s Air Jordan shoes. The Kellogg Co.’s Pop-Tarts. Mattel Inc.’s Barbie. These aren’t just household brands. They are, increasingly, the subjects of high-profile Hollywood films. Up next: an origin story for PepsiCo Inc.’s Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on Disney+ and Hulu on June 9.

As consumer products become Hollywood’s hottest creative reference material, a new Morning Consult survey offers a look at how Americans are reacting to the trend. While feelings are mixed, younger generations appear much more amenable to the concept than are older ones.

Fifty-five percent of all U.S. adults said films based around a well-known brand or product can be just as much a piece of art as a film based on an unique idea or concept. Meanwhile, 45% said they view such movies purely as extended advertisements with little or no artistic value. 

The survey also found that so-called brand films have only limited potential to impact consumer perceptions of those brands. Just under 2 in 5 (39%) U.S. adults said they would feel more positive toward a brand that had an origin story movie produced about it, while a nearly equal share (37%) said this kind of film would not change their opinion of a featured brand one way or the other. 

Younger generations more likely to view brand movies as “art”

  • Among generations, Gen Z adults and millennials (63% each) are most likely to view brand movies as art, compared with 57% of Gen Xers and 45% of baby boomers.
  • Self-identified film fans are slightly less cynical about brand films than the general population, with 42% of the group viewing the genre as extended advertisements, compared with 45% of all adults who said the same. 
  • In a separate survey question, Americans chose “Transformers” (2007), “The Lego Movie” (2014), “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (2023) and “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (2009) as their favorite brand movies. The ongoing Transformers film franchise is based on the Hasbro Inc. toy line of the same name, which launched in 1984.

Brand Movies Don’t Always Move the Perception Needle

The shares of respondents who feel more positive or negative toward a brand that had an origin story-style movie produced about it
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Survey conducted between April 13-16, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Young people, men are most swayed by brand movies 

  • Young people and men are more impressionable by the burgeoning genre: More than half of millennials (55%) said a feature movie would positively shift their opinion of a brand, while 49% of Gen Z adults and male respondents said the same. 
  • Gen Xers, baby boomers and women, meanwhile, are least moved. Pluralities of each group said a brand movie release would not impact their opinions at all. 
  • While brand movies may not possess the potential to improve consumer perceptions significantly, they also present very little downside. Fewer than 1 in 10 respondents from nearly all major demographic groups said they would feel more negative toward a brand featured in this kind of movie. 

Brands at the box office

While the jury may still be hung on the question of brand movies’ artistic value, the genre has nonetheless thrived so far this year. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” surpassed $1 billion at the global box office and is the highest grossing film of 2023 so far, while Amazon Studios’ “Air” earned rave reviews from critics and made more than $50 million at the domestic box office. The “BlackBerry” film had a modest box-office showing (just $2 million in limited release) but, like “Air,” received critical acclaim.

Meanwhile, “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” the seventh installment of the franchise, and “Barbie,” directed by Greta Gerwig, are each expected to rack up more than $100 million at the U.S. box office this summer, with the latter already getting the viral meme treatment. BoxofficePro.com Chief Analyst Shawn Robbins told Morning Consult that brand films generally succeed because they “offer a sense of familiarity and something moviegoers can relate to.” Hollywood has taken notice.

The April 13-16, 2023, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

A headshot photograph of Ellyn Briggs
Ellyn Briggs
Brands Analyst

Ellyn Briggs is a brands analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where she conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises brand and marketing leaders on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Ellyn worked as a market researcher and brand strategist in both agency and in-house settings. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in finance. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

A headshot photograph of Saleah Blancaflor
Saleah Blancaflor
Data Reporter

Saleah Blancaflor previously worked at Morning Consult as a data reporter covering the business of entertainment.

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