Product Placements

Think about E.T. and Reese’s Pieces. Smirnoff and James Bond. “You’ve Got Mail” and Starbuck’s.

Product placements in film and TV, depending on whom you talk to, are considered a critical brand building or reinforcement tool. There are some, however, who see it as low impact — it’s ok if you don’t have to pay for it.

In doing a little research on the subject lately, I’ve come across some interesting information.

First, consider this from a study on the subject: (Link)

“…the type of product-placement an advertiser opts for should depend on their marketing goals. If you want to build awareness … it’s probably best to opt for a placement that plays a role in the story itself. But if you just want to reinforce preferences for a well-known brand (say, “Coke” versus “Pepsi”), it’s probably not necessary to go to that expense. Just having your brand in the movie works just as well.

Second, I spoke to Joel Henrie who runs Motion Picture Placement, a leader in the field and an old friend who informs me that the upcoming Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (the sequel) had adult beverage companies tripping over themselves to pay for placement. We’re talking big bucks here.

My first exposure to product placement (albeit from a distance) was shortly after I joined Seagram. It was on behalf of Herradura Tequila.

Based on film industry connections, the company had an opportunity (which I believe turned into a mandate) to place the brand in a film called Tequila Sunrise. Aside from the title as a perfect fit, the placement involved brand exposure galore — verbal mentions, bottle exposure on the bar and consumed by the actors, signage, even a bus passing by with a Herradura ad on the side. So, there was a role for the brand in the story, not a central role, but the title alone made the brand a key element.

Even more, Tequila Sunrise was star studded and sure to have target audience appeal. Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell starred; Robert Towne wrote and directed the movie. A sure thing, right?

The movie sucked and never lived up to its promise. A Variety review summed it up nicely: “There’s not much kick in this cocktail, despite its mix of quality ingredients.” Roger Ebert wrote, “It’s hard to surrender yourself to a film that seems to be toying with you.”

The small number of people who saw the film agreed.

I’ve always been a proponent of product placement and integration. To me, it makes good sense as a brand-building tool. But, I’ve learned the following:

  • Positive impact on a brand is not a foregone conclusion. No matter how well the product is shown and integrated, sometimes, the only winner is the TV or film producer. But, that’s true for all media.
  • For adult beverages, how the product is portrayed is as important as the portrayal itself. Enough said.
  • If the story doesn’t click with audiences, the brand becomes “collateral damage.” Unfortunately, there’s no real way to predict it, but worth the shot.

Have you noticed what E.T. did for Reese’s Pieces? As I’ve been told, it was first offered to Mars on behalf of M&Ms and they turned it down. Hershey said yes.

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Absolut Tales

The Gulfstream took off from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport with a full load of executives, all of whom had the satisfaction of knowing that the global distribution rights to Absolut were signed, sealed and delivered.

If you’ve ever flown on a corporate jet, you know how great it is. You board quickly and easily, take off on time (or even ahead of time) and generally are met on the tarmac a few steps from the plane and off you go.

Despite this great convenience, I’ve heard people complain about the absence of frequent flier miles, which always makes me laugh at the silliness of the thought. For me, however, this particular flight had one disadvantage — it was full of Seagram brass. Every one of the 14 seats was taken and there was no place to hide. And, every one of the 14 had 5 or 6 ideas about marketing and how best to grow the brand further. After all, we were taking over the brand from the legendary Michel Roux who grew the brand with a series of innovative and effective marketing actions.

While getting the brand elated us, we were also mindful of the daunting task ahead. Especially the marketing guy…me.

This was best summed up by the owner who, after laying out his thoughts and vision, said, “Arturo, I have four words for you — don’t f**k it up.”

Michel Roux was indeed a hard act to follow. Carillon Importers was part of a large corporation, but he ran the brand entrepreneurially, with vision and resources to take this fledgling brand to renowned marketing levels.

There is a great story about Michel’s brand champion efforts that I recently asked him to confirm. I wasn’t sure if it was true or a booze business myth.

It seems he was in the Detroit airport waiting to depart when he noticed a man wearing an Absolut t-shirt. Alarm bells went off in his head for two reasons. First, there were no Absolut t-shirts and he and didn’t want them, so clearly it was counterfeit. Second and most important, the man in question (according to Michel) must have weighed over 350 pounds and despite the triple XL size, it was a very snug fit.

Clearly bothered by his brand portrayed in such a manner, Roux stopped the man, told him he was looking for that particular t-shirt and offered him $100 to buy it. The man accepted the generous offer. They went to a souvenir store, bought a replacement and now Michel owned it.

The man left happy with this transaction and the Absolut t-shirt was promptly tossed in the trash.

True story.

In my opinion, the Absolut brand has gone through 4 periods in its development. The first era was with M. Roux and Carillon Importers. Next came the Seagram years and further, albeit different, growth. The third period was one in which the brand began to languish despite the efforts of some (but not all) capable people. Today, the ownership of the brand is in the hands of Pernod Ricard with the difficult task of once again polishing its luster.

I plan to cover the Absolut story from these vantage points in the future.

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Borrowed Credentials or… Mention my name and it will sell

Borrowed credentials is a term I like to use when a brand “borrows” something or someone to identify with, such as a brand name or a person as the endorser.

The intent is the “approval” or “license” to give a brand some prominence. But, more often than not, it doesn’t seem to work.

Three categories will help you to see where I’m going:

  1. A brand that has licensed the name from another business or category. Godiva, for example.
  2. A brand closely identified with a star or celebrity. Such as, Ciroc.
  3. (My favorite) A brand named after a star or celebrity.

So here we go…

Licensed Brand Name

The two that come most readily to mind are Godiva and Starbuck’s, both in the liqueur category. I gotta tell you that I thought Godiva would be a crack-of-the-bat homerun. And, I wanted to license Starbuck’s so badly, I could taste it. Alas, neither has set the world on fire.

Association with a star or celebrity

This is a mixed bag best characterized by the nursery rhyme… “There once was a girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good but when she was bad she was horrid.”

So in the “good” category we have (not necessarily in order of goodness):

  • Ciroc and P Diddy (forgive me if I have the wrong name; who can keep up?). Probably the gold standard in celebrity links.
  • Crystal Head Vodka and Dan Aykroyd — talk about chutzpah.
  • Cabo and Sammy Hagar — (notice I didn’t say Cabo Wabo) good for you Skyy, it’s about the product not the star.
  • Red Stag and Kid Rock — the brand is a homerun with or without him. But he sure does help.
  • Margaritaville and Jimmy Buffett — remind me to tell how this came about. But even without Seagram and me, it’s doing well. But, Land Shark beer is doing even better.

The “not so good” entries I’ve come up with so far (let me know about any I’ve missed) include some that faded faster than a cold beer on a hot day:

  • 901 Tequila and Justin Timberlake — run that by me again? I got it but I don’t get it.
  • Sobieski Vodka and Bruce Willis — it’s the price point, dummy. It ain’t about you. Even if you’re still involved.
  • Godfather Vodka — You got to be joking.
  • Conjure Cognac — by Ludacris. I totally agree but ludicrous is spelled wrong.
  • Armadale Vodka — by Jay Z.  Why don’t you ask P Diddy how it’s done?
  • 3 Vodka — by Jermaine Dupri. Enough said.
  • Mansinthe — by Marilyn Manson. I didn’t make this up, folks.

Named after a star or celebrity

My favorites by far. Do I hear a drum roll?

So far I covered the good and the bad. Here comes the ugly:

  • Trump Vodka. He doesn’t even drink for heaven’s sake. Could be a pilot for Celebrity Booze.
  • Willie Nelson’s Old Whiskey River Bourbon. Enough said.
  • Danny Devito’s Limoncello. Close but no cigars.
  • Jefferson and Sam Houston Bourbon. Not kidding; Google it.
  • Frida Kahlo Tequila. I love her and her work but… who dun it?

And the winner is…

  • McMahon Vodka. Would have worked with a name like, “Here’s… Johnny.”

Lessons learned:

None of the top selling brands have borrowed credentials…unless you count Captain Morgan.

I would like to meet the people behind some of these efforts, there’s a bridge they might be interested in buying.

Where would the spirits industry be without brands to pour off?

What’s next…the Lindsey Lohan Liqueur?

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