How to use Product Placement: Part 2

  • Film & Funding

Product placement is used to finance many a feature film or TV series nowadays. The essence of product placement is easy to set out, however, giving you as much information as possible, we have opted to release not one but two guides on the matter.

This second guide looks at the differences between product placement in film and TV, and will explain which brands and trends to look out for. The first guide on product placement focuses on the basics of explaining to you how to get in touch with brands, what to expect from a deal and what to be careful of when looking for a brand to work with.

What kind of brands get involved with product placement?

There are no real limitations. But a good reference on this subject is Brandchannel’s Brandcameo, which charts all references to products and services in films. Its research shows that brands that get a lot of screen-time include Dell, Chevrolet, Ford, Cadillac, Coca-Cola and Mercedes-Benz.

One interesting co-marketing case study saw VisitScotland, Scotland’s tourism organisation, and The Walt Disney Company EMEA join forces to promote Scottish tourism around Disney Pixar film Brave. This wasn’t a classic case of product placement but it does show how innovative marketing partnerships can be built around major movies.

When should products be integrated in films?

It makes sense to start the ball rolling early but it is also possible to integrate brands at a late stage in production. Disney, for example, had already started shooting the film Tron Legacy when it did a deal to integrate the Nokia N8 into the action. In this case, additional filming took place.

Also interesting is the emergence of MirriAd, which allows broadcasters and film-makers to insert brands digitally. Although MirriAd has mainly been used by broadcasters so far, its benefits to the film business are self-evident.

Firstly, it allows brands to delay their decision-making until they know if a film is likely to shape up as a hit. Secondly, it allows studios to do product placement deals on a territory by territory basis. And last but not least, it raises the prospect of retrospective deals, with brands being inserted into films prior to the DVD and PayTV channels.

In its April 2012 blog, MirriAd argued that: “As the popularity of digital insertion grows, it won’t be long before Hollywood et al produces its films with product placement in mind from the earliest stages. Films will be designed specifically to support digital post-production product placement, by providing the actors with items (such as soft drink cans) in solid colours, making it a simple process to overdub a brand.”

What kind of issues should brand owners be aware of?

Too many brands on one film dilute the amount of exposure each one can expect (and it will cost them more to cut through). It’s also worth keeping in mind any previous associations. When HP linked up with Sex In The City 2, some observers questioned the deal because the central character Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) used a Mac throughout the TV series and the first film.

Despite contractual protection, brands can also find that things don’t always work out as planned. It’s not unknown for sequences involving the brand to be cut before the film is released.

What are emerging trends in this field?

The opening up of China to foreign films has been significant, with brands seeking to piggyback movies into the market through product placement deals. Meanwhile, Chinese brands are using product placement to grow in the West. Branded entertainment firm Norm Marshall Associates put Lenovo in Transformers 3.

How does TV product placement compare to all of the above?

Many of the above observations still apply when exploring the reasons why brands are interested in TV product placement. Likewise a lot of the agencies that handle film projects are equally equipped to work to a TV brief.

That said, there are a number of significant differences. For a start, broadcasters are much more involved in the process. While producers may still use product placement as a way of controlling costs, the big commercial deals will typically be managed by the commissioning broadcaster (eg ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5). More often than not, product placement will be one aspect of a wider deal which also involves sponsorship credits, online activity and point of sale promotional support.

The main exceptions to this are the big entertainment franchises that are controlled by third parties. For example, ITV will only get access to a format like The X Factor if some or all of the commercial rights remain vested in the format owner. There’s a similar dynamic at work with access to star talent. For example, a celebrity chef like Jamie Oliver would expect his production company Fresh One to participate in product placement revenues from a show he is in.

How do the rules compare in TV and film product placement?

In film, the only real limitations concern the commercial logic of placing a product on screen (i.e. will it kill the movie?). In TV, there are rules laid down by media regulator Ofcom. Historically, paid-for product placement in UK commissioned programmes wasn’t allowed. On 1 March 2011 however, Ofcom relaxed its rules.

Under the new regime, broadcasters can charge for product placement as long as they don't transgress three key rules. Placements can't be promotional, they have to be editorially justified and they can't be too prominent. Clearly, this leaves a lot of room for interpretation – and the best way to understand what’s possible is to ask a specialist like Krempelwood.

Has the rule change led to a lot of product placement?

It’s on the increase but not at a rapid rate. Advertisers have been careful not to rush in for two reasons. Firstly, because they don’t want paid-for product placement to drive up their costs. Secondly, because they don’t want undue prominence to lead to viewer disenchantment with brand communications in general. That said, a good example of the new kind of deal came when Channel 4 placed Uncle Ben's Rice and Yeo Valley Yogurt in Jamie's 15 Minute Meals.

Are there any financial insights into this business?

The numbers are hard to come by because product placement deals are often part of wider commercial agreements incorporating TV and online airtime. In terms of the overall value of UK paid-for product placement, NMG analysed the market one year after the Ofcom rule change and said it was between “£9.7m and £29.1m”. NMG’s full analysis can be found here. In October 2012, NMG did a useful follow up which provides further insights into the UK market.

Which TV genres are best suited to product placement?

Again there’s no simple answer. But audiences don’t seem too bothered by brands appearing in instructional programming such as cooking, travel and DIY shows, because they are looking for guidance.

Placement in high-quality dramas is probably more risky (but works for hero brands if they play a meaningful role in the narrative of the show).

Any Further Reading?

There’s a good series of product placement thought pieces at Brands & Films. It deals mostly with the US side of the business but has some interesting insights for international companies.