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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