Editorial: Stop Making Cents - product placement in film - Publication: GQ (Aus.)

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A little while ago all products in movies were generic. No branding was shown when James Cagney poured a bourbon, Brigitte Bardot lit a cigarette or Marilyn Monroe sprayed on perfume. Times change - and so do values, or so it seems.

In tune with increasingly sophisticated (or insidious?) marketing techniques and strategies, the last thirty years has seen commercial entities gleefully seize the opportunity to place their products in films. Film product placement is now a highly evolved industry, relatively new in Australia though a key component of the North American movie industry.

Currently, the US cinema audience for major commercial movies is estimated to be over 1.8 billion filmgoers; and the international figure is twice that number. This massive worldwide audience makes them an unparalleled communications medium, wielding huge consumer influence.

Its contentious as to whether this melding of art and commerce manages to sustain artistic integrity, though does helps pay the bills. Nowadays, products in films are not only highly visible, but they are also key plot points.

The storyline of What Women Want hinged on Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt working on an ad campaign for Nike (with the eventual results lovingly shown, in great detail, onscreen). Few companies have ever achieved more onscreen time than Federal Express in Cast Away. The company's logo popped up on airplanes, trucks, envelopes and on packages that wash ashore with Tom Hanks, who obsesses on them for half the movie. Hanks also engaged in ongoing dialogue with his imaginary buddy, Wilson (a volleyball), a fine example of brand integration or plot placement with the brand exclusively written into the script to affect the plot.

Product placement is now textbook marketing practice, aiming for increased brand awareness and enhanced brand image. Placement in a film hopes to create an intensified since of realism and authenticity. It also provides a vehicle for a brand or service to be used by celebrities who consumers both admire and identify with.

More recent placement examples include, Zenith television/computer monitors in Matrix II and III, Korbel Champagne in Jersey Girl, Heineken in Goldmember and Brown Sugar, Compaq IPAQ Pocket PCs in the Aussie classic, Crocodile Hunter Collision Course, XBox and Twinkies in Blue Crush, Saab 9-3 convertible driven by Reese Witherspoon's character in Sweet Home Alabama, Pontiac Azteks used as police vehicles In Robin Williams typecast defying One Hour Photo.

Missed those? How about these; U-Haul trailers used by key characters to move in We Were Soldiers (Mel Gibson), Monsters Ball(Billy Bob Thornton) Enough (Jennifer Lopez) and The Rookie (Dennis Quaid), Baskin-Robbins in Spiderman, USA Today in Minority Report, a modified military Humvee in The Time Machine, and a Saab driven by Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate in The Sweetest Thing.

Placement generally spans either visual, verbal, hands on or plot. Visual placement is when a product, service, or logo is observed within a film. Verbal placement is when an actor mentions a product or service by name, and hands on placement, otherwise known as a hero shot sees an actor actually handling or interacting with a product or service.

The placement shopping list for Bond film, Die Another Day got close in size to its script. Pierce Brosnan wore an Omega watch, sipped Finlandia vodka, used a Noreko shaver, and drove a prominently placed Aston Martin. His co-stars enjoyed Heineken, wore Revlon cosmetics and drove an assortment of vehicles owned by the Ford company, including Range Rover, Jaguar, Thunderbird, Volvo and Ferrari.

The curiously defined man’s man, Bond also recruited a huge variety of products in previous episodes. The top promotion of 1995, as designated by the Promotional Marketing Association of America, was BMW's tie-in with the James Bond film Goldeneye, rumored to have been valued at $5 million.

One of the promotion’s great strengths was said to have been the involvement of a huge number of BMW dealers who keenly embraced the association with Goldeneye, and, more recently, Tomorrow Never Dies, helping BMW get maximum leverage from the deal and the Z3 Roadster to sell out in the US before being available at retail.

Beyond hawking outfits for stars at the Academy awards, the fashion industry too has its share of product placement deals, hoping to tap the charm and charisma of hi profile celebs as clotheshorses. Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix exemplified the process, both wearing Levi_s jeans throughout the film, Signs.

Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger’s Dimension label signed a $30 million joint marketing agreement with Miramax Films for its release, The Faculty. In addition to wearing Tommy Jeans apparel in the film, The Faculty's young thesps Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, and R&B singers Usher and Elijah Wood donned the company's pants, skirts, jackets and shirts for a back-to-school print and TV ad campaign.

Money doesn't always change hands when a star agrees to model a designer's creations on film. In the case of Sliding Doors, Calvin Klein approached Gwyneth Paltrow with the idea of dressing her for a movie; she suggested this to Miramax, who agreed. Yet even when their labels aren't paraded on star torsos, fashion companies are wildly keen to indirectly ride the coattails of a film by underwriting premieres, tours and festivals.

Compared to the hefty (US)$100,000 price tag of placing a single spot ad in prime time, product placement is good value. The average cost of a film placement is valued at $5,000 with average reach of a major studio distributed film in excess of a hundred million people(including all ancillary distribution), hence the average "cost per thousand" (CPM) of product placement is less than a dollar per thousand.

Unlike a paid commercial, film product placement incurs no production costs for corporate marketers. Also, a booked commercial appears only during a particular program and then vanishes unless another fee is paid, whereas product placement is embedded within the film and travels with it, giving longevity to a placement.

The placement process starts when placement agencies pore over scripts, searching for scenes where the client's product might fit. Some agencies visit production sets to ensure the products they represent are in the shot and are being used in ways favorable to the brand.

Most placement agencies provide their clients with "Product Placement Reports" detailing a placement project synopsis, divulging the type of placement, cast, network, a summary of the specific opportunity, and the number of placements and their value compared to a paid spot. They also provide photo proof of performance.

Major film studios, including Universal, Sony, Warners and MGM, have strict tight-lipped policies regards their placement activities, though the many placement agencies scattered around LA are keen to boast their wares and recount their glories.

With a company name inspired by the expression "hero shot," (not the porn definition) Julie Weinhouse, Principal and CEO of Hero Product Placement, formerly a PR consultancy, is currently reviewing a wacky range of scripts, scrutinizing them for placement opportunities. Among them, Spiderman 2, American Pie, Jiminy Snickett, a Grinch styled number starring Jim carey and Lake, a romantic comedy starring Jack Nicolson as a hip hop movie mogul? Look, that’s a 44 magnum! Or is it a Smith and Wesson?

Hero have over ten clients on their books, all on monthly retainer. Julie confides an opportunity that presents itself in the forthcoming Fast and Furious 2, when a couple of cars make their way through a gap between two semi trailers, both emblazoned with client name Lumber Liquidators. "One of the cars is subsequently crushed by the semi, though it still portrayed the client in a positive light, as the accident was due to the negligence of the driver. It’s a prominent brand name shot and Lumber Liquidators were very happy".

Asked about her more unusual placements, Julie recalls one for Kimono Condoms. "It was a scene where a school nurse was instructing a group of school children on safe sex practice with the aid of a 6 foot penis. We had to make a condom the same size, though fortunately for us the packaging was just as big".

Having recently worked on placements for Analyze That, The Matrix II and III, The Duplex, Charlie's Angels II, and The Hulk, LA based placement agency Set Resources are hoping to target the Australian marketplace and brands such as RM Williams and Fosters sometime soon, but for now its all-local stuff. Set Resources sell their services to the average client for $50k per year. "We offer them over 100 MM minimum impressions on their top shows. We rarely, if ever, pay additional fees for placements, says Aaron Gordon, CEO.

Gordon says the placement industry has changed a lot since he entered it, "In the past, you would have found brands throwing product towards a production with no guarantees of placements. Now, they want to thoroughly inspect those productions and placements to ensure they get more positive exposure," Gordan says.

"Film studios and production companies have become more savvy to the marketing benefits a company can get from that exposure," he says. "However, their are less cash deals being done and more cross promotions deals, because cross-promotions can simply save much more money on film marketing costs than cash deals can make."

Product placement agency Norman Marshall are one of the industry’s key players. According to principal Devery Holmes, "when you recognize that over 1 Billion viewers tuned in to watch the Academy Awards broadcast last year, which is a sixth of the world's population, you understand that the power of entertainment and its ability to reach your consumer."

"Film is one of the only three mediums that wraps around the globe, music, and the internet being the other two. With the introduction of TiVo and Replay TV, both of which heighten the users ability to avoid placed advertising, the desire for brands to be integrated into a production is greater than ever".

Section editor with NYC based ad industry publication, advertising age, Hank Kim agrees the placement market has matured, "At least in the US, product placement is becoming an increasingly significant component of advertising spend. Now with marketing budgets for major films being nearly as big as production budgets, placement and cross promotion offer relief".

In the 1965 flick, The Big Hunt (check), Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress play the two most attractive humans walking the Earth in the 21st century. They also compete in a futuristic, government-sanctioned game in which players kill each other for sport and prizes, they also thrive on subsidiary payments by pitching sponsors' products.

Much like the distorted extremism of The Big Hunt, it seems marketing spin doctors have only scratched the surface of potential income streams associated with product placement, with endless possibilities in sight including interactive computer games, music videos, game shows, internet projects, and novels.

According to Set Placement’s Aaron Gordon, "The future will see advertisers partnering with celebrities, high-profile directors and producers, they will potentially own their own productions and have significant say over how their products are used".

Written by Craig Stephens

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