Getting the likes of Tom Cruise to drink your brand of cola, talk
on your phone or drive your car may seem out of reach, but this summer’s
blockbuster, Mission Impossible 2, sees him using a whole host of
products placed in the movie following tie-ups between manufacturers and
the production company.
The film is billed as an action-packed thriller. But for firms such as
Motorola, Porsche and Audi, it is also a platform to imbue their brands
with some Hollywood gloss and glamour. For the filming of MI2, Porsche’s
product placement team in Germany provided production company Paramount
Pictures with a string of specially manufactured and modified 911
Carrera Cabriolets for Cruise’s character, US secret agent Ethan
Big budget movie projects are a major investment for brand owners, so
it’s essential to reduce the element of risk when placing products.
McDonald’s and Coca-Cola learned the hard way when they poured millions
of dollars into the 1988 box office flop, MAC and Me. Set largely in
McDonald’s over a Coke, it pushed the ’boy befriends alien’ formula too
far and became a lesson in how not to succeed at product placement.
According to John Barnard, chairman of both industry body the
Entertainment Marketing Association and New Media Group, the UK’s
largest film placement agency, there are three routes to effective
product placement. ’There are the mega-corporation sweetheart deals,
which are getting more popular because of globalisation,’ he says. These
tend to be long-term partnerships of the McDonald’s-Disney variety,
which involve big bucks.
’Then there are the product placement agencies, where you buy the
expertise, experience and contacts,’ adds Barnard. ’Thirdly, you can
deal directly with film companies, which is what tends to happen with
James Bond, but it’s very unusual and highly risky,’ he warns.
Reducing the element of risk is not only a matter of choosing movies
that will score well at the box office. It is also vital to ensure that
a film matches the brand and user profile.
For instance, Kevin and Perry Go Large, which was released in the UK
last Easter, scored product placement from a range of brands, including
JVC and the Boots Company’s teen make-up range, 17. JVC lent the
production team a selection of its Boomblaster ghetto-blasters, while
Boots recognised an opportunity to get involved in the storyline and
Elizabeth Draper, head of distribution for UK independent Icon, which
distributed the film, says: ’Boots had a good understanding from the
start about what the film would be and how it fitted with their
On screen, 17 got a namecheck and its products featured in a hilarious
makeover sequence in which a gaggle of girls got dressed up to go out
clubbing. More importantly, Boots followed up with an in-store
promotion, featuring a Kevin and Perry Go Large cosmetics bag, and
co-sponsorship of the film’s UK premiere. The Boots 17 brand also gained
positive editorial coverage, generated by press releases promoting its
association with the movie.
The partnership originated from a simple product request from the
production team and was not a cash deal. But Draper adds: ’It was an
important part of the marketing plan, so if 17 had not guaranteed an
in-store promotion, we probably would have talked about paying for the
The problem for many organisations considering product placement is that
the technique still retains an aura of dirty money. But deals are being
struck on the back-end of a movie through the marketing budget.
Smirnoff, for example, is rumoured to have spent pounds 5m in the UK
alone promoting its product alongside the Bond movie Tomorrow Never
Dies. In the US, third parties such as Smirnoff, Omega and BMW spent
dollars 77m on marketing tied to the film.
Product placements in Bond movies tend to be a poke in the eye for
audiences, surrounded by PR hype. But according to most product
placement professionals, the best placements are more subtle.
’You are trying to sink messages into consumers’ minds subconsciously,’
says Barnard. ’If you are too obvious, the danger is that an audience
may feel it is being plugged, or just see the deal.’
This lack of finesse is most startlingly displayed in films such as Back
to the Future 2, where practically every scene has a Pepsi tag. But some
brands have positively thrived and reinvented themselves through product
placement in film.
Ray-Ban, formerly owned by Bausch & Lomb and now part of Luxottica, has
consistently positioned itself as a cultural icon in movies from
Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 through Easy Rider, The Blues Brothers
and Top Gun to 1997’s Men in Black.
In addition, products such as alcohol and cigarettes, which are legally
restricted in their advertising, face only nominal regulation by the US
Federal Trade Commission in film. Since 1945, when Joan Crawford first
poured a tot of Tennessee whiskey in Mildred Pierce, Jack Daniel’s has
optimised product placement in film to portray glamorous ’hard drinking’
messages around its brand.
But as product placement becomes big business, with tie-ins, point of
sale promotions, competitions and themed advertising, deals are very
rarely set in stone until the last minute, after the final edit.
’The viewing public tends to be aspirational and generally you are
borrowing the imagery of a movie and its stars,’ says Joe Keenan,
managing director of Production Profiles, which helped Peugeot to place
cars in the 1999 hit Notting Hill, and which has several potential deals
on the table for the forthcoming Bridget Jones’ Diary.
’But scenes can be edited out at the last minute or, for example, you
might find that a car has negative associations, such as drink-driving,’
When it works well, product placement is a very fast, shorthand way of
communicating brand imagery in a fashionable, sexy format. But without
the experience of judging script content, the cast, the director and the
distributor, it can also be a risky business. Just ask McDonald’s and
BRITISH AIRWAYS GETS RUSSELL CROWE INTO BED
Some of the most expensive and hard to organise location shoots centre
around air travel. Negotiating with airport authorities and individual
airlines on tight flight schedules can be a frustrating and
Last summer, British Airways opted to cash in on the growing number of
requests from movie makers and appointed Entertainment Marketing to
implement a pro-active approach to product placement in films.
Entertainment Marketing account director Nikki Rosenbloom says the first
six months were spent setting up the account. ’Initially, BA was quite
nervous,’ she says. ’But since then, it’s been full-steam ahead.’
Film buffs will see Concorde in Guy Ritchie’s new film, Snatch, which
stars Brad Pitt, and glimpse in-flight shots of Robson Green and a
BA-branded hostess in Blind Ambition, a feature-length TV drama due to
be screened this autumn.
But BA’s highest-profile project is Castle Rock’s Proof of Life,
starring Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan. Due to hit UK screens at the start
of 2001, the film is expected to appeal to an ABC1 audience - the target
market for BA’s new Club World service. BA facilitated filming using a
Club World mock-up in an aircraft hangar and, in conjunction with BAA,
organised access to Heathrow’s terminal four. Rosenbloom says no money
has changed hands, but in return for its help, BA has secured around 20
seconds of branded film time, featuring a departure lounge, air-to-air
shots of a Boeing 747 and Club World sleeper beds.
BA advertising executive Abby McGowan says: ’As this comes from a third
party, the film and the characters are almost endorsing our brand and