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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Charity Follow Up

A very close and dear friend from the Seagram days told me the following story about another charitable dinner event that I’d like to share…

One of the Seagram companies in the past was Four Roses and they had a metro New York manager named Nick Cotter. Nick was not only an ex-cop in NYC but he had been shot five times in a police action/raid. He nearly died and in fact was taken for dead if not for the persistence of an emergency medic.

After months and months of recovery and rehabilitation Nick was on his feet and decided on a new line of work. Four Roses hired him. Nick turned out to be very important to Seagram inasmuch as he became a conduit to the police and fire departments when things needed to get done. (More about this at another time.)

Well, as the story goes, shortly after joining the company he was at a charity dinner. But, in those days there were no pre-meeting to announce your “gift” – you were expected to announce it publicly in a ballroom with 500+ people.

As they were going down the list, someone from Schenley was called and announced, “Schenley Distillers is proud to donate one million dollars.”

Nick Carter, who didn’t know what to expect or make of this event in the first place, was called next. His colleagues were hysterical thinking that they put one over on him.

He stood up, was very calm and announced, “I donate one million and twenty-five dollars from Schenley and Nick Cotter.”

The room erupted in laughter.

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Charity

I recently learned that the Wine & Spirits Division Dinner of the UJA-Federation of NY is honoring Charlie Merinoff. It made me think of a couple of things.

First, Charlie is a good guy and one of the brightest people in the industry. The Merinoff family has been great for this business and Charlie is a real mensch. It’s an excellent cause and they can use his support. I hope the dinner raises a bundle.

I also thought about the Seagram experience with the UJA fund raising event. It wasn’t pleasant. Here goes…

I came to Seagram as the VP Marketing Research, so I started in a senior position. That was in the spring of none-of-your-business. Three months later I received a memo telling me to report to The Glenlivet Tavern on the 5th floor of 375 Park Ave. for the UJA “meeting” of the executive group. I had no idea what to make of this gathering. The folks who were on my staff said things like “Uh-ho, they are going to call you by name and expect you to announce your contribution to the annual spirits and wine fund drive for the UJA; going to cost you lots of money but don’t worry the company will match your gift.” What?

I quickly  realized that 1) this was organized extortion 2) I didn’t want to appear stingy 3) I also didn’t want to appear obsequious and 4) it was a good cause but why do I have to stand up and publically declare my gift? I later learned that it was the “tithe” that made the family look good. (Although, in fairness, I should add that the Bronfmans always made a significant contribution in their own right. But, their gift, plus the executives’ gift plus matching funds meant that the Seagram “family” would be giving enough to sustain a small developing nation for a year.)

I came to the decision that I had to do what I had to do and decided on a number that my staff had suggested. You don’t want to know how much. It was over the top.

So I was locked and loaded and ready for the “calling of names” at the meeting. Unbeknownst to me, my colleagues had been through this many times before and knew how to beat the system. They called each other beforehand and decided on the amount that would be given by each managerial level. (Hey folks, thanks for telling me!)

Since my name begins with an S, I had ample opportunity to see what my associates were giving. My planned contribution was way out of whack. I quickly made a readjustment downward.

Lessons learned: After only 3 months I realized it was us against them. I also learned that the advice you got from some was not necessarily reliable. In short, I got the lay of the land pretty quickly.

Please forgive me if the UJA is not at the top of my charitable giving list.

Blame the Bronfman’s.

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