Was ‘The Sopranos’ Really Doing Product Placement for Cars and Soft Drinks?

Whether you’ve watched The Sopranos several times or are just getting into the classic HBO series, you’ve probably been struck by all the brands in your face, from episode 1 on. Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) certainly loves Snapple, doesn’t she?

The same goes for Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his taste in soft drinks (Diet Coke), automobiles (various General Motors SUVs), and sunglasses (Armani). Heck, Tony sounds like he could work in a Nissan dealership after he gets his son A.J. (Robert Iler) that Xterra.

Over the years, TV critics and fans alike have wondered about these apparent product placements. Even Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccala, brought it up on the May 25 edition of his Talking Sopranos podcast.

“Obviously product placement,” Schirripa told co-host Michael Imperioli about episode 9 of season 1 (“Boca”). “It’s very obvious to me.” While many viewers might agree, it turns out it wasn’t so cut-and-dried for HBO and The Sopranos writers.

‘The Sopranos’ reportedly never took money for placing products

“The Sopranos” at The Golden Nugget on June 12, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada | Denise Truscello/WireImage

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During the original run of The Sopranos, the product-placement issue definitely grabbed bloggers’ attention. In a 2004 AdAge piece, Jon Fine pointed to some of the more in-your-face examples. And Tony’s Xterra ranked high on the list.

After handing over the keys, Tony throws in some solid ad copy with mentions of “sensors in the seat belts” and “Nissan’s triple-safety philosophy.” To executives at other entertainment conglomerates, the salesy patter was flagrant — distracting, even — on such a high-profile show.

But HBO reportedly never accepted cash from Nissan, Coca-Cola, or any other brand to feature products on the show. (One Sopranos producer told AdAge she’d be fired if she tried it.) However, that’s not to say HBO and Sopranos producers didn’t cut production costs by showcasing products.

Though technically they didn’t receive payments for placements, HBO and producers did get loans or gifts of expensive products (Tony’s Cadillac Escalade, another character’s Maserati). And, according to some automaker executives, there were discussions about how their vehicles might be used.

‘Sopranos’ characters talked about brands naturally in many cases

Vincent Pastore of HBO’s Sopranos at the Four Seasons Hotel | Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

While one executive might see Tony’s Xterra pitch as over-the-top, others might argue it rolled off the character’s tongue. Obviously, Tony has a way with words when he wants to convince someone of something, and he made his point about safety and his son’s new SUV. Besides, he’d learn a lot about such things watching the commercials of football games.

Not only that, Tony revels in his state-of-the-art home entertainment system (complete with popcorn maker); spends time at the Plaza Hotel (a location placement); and otherwise enjoys the consumerist lifestyle he believes he’s earned. And he tries to buy off his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) any chance he gets.

That might be why Imperioli, who wrote four Sopranos episodes, sounded surprised by Schirripa’s mention of “obvious” product placement. “Really?” Imperioli replied on Talking Sopranos. “Jim [Gandolfini] used to drink — sometimes right before a scene, I’d remember he’d drink a can of Coke to wake up.”

Schirripa acknowledged he might be wrong, and noted he’d drink certain beverages on Blue Bloods without any product placement attached. Indeed, on The Sopranos, it was a little complicated. Imperioli and Schirripa were both right in some respects.

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