Having first appeared on the silver screen in the 1920s, the concept of product placement is not a new one, but with the frequency and brand count per film rapidly rising – to the point where some modern films have over 50 brands paying for the privilege – it all points towards an increasingly important part of a brand’s marketing mix.
Naively, before doing some research on the subject, I was unaware of the extensive history and usage of product placement in film. Personally, I could only recollect a few examples that still stick firmly in my mind – Marty’s futuristic Nike sneakers from Back To The Future Part II (1989), the Wilson volleyball from Castaway (2000) and then there was the more tongue-in-cheek ‘I bow to no sponsor’ sequence from Wayne’s World (1992) featuring Pepsi and Pizza Hut among others … and the post modern satire of the whole business model in The Truman Show (1998). Another recollection I have of brand/film association is the McDonald’s conversation in Pulp Fiction (1994), and although this was not paid for by the brand, I was again surprised to find out that this technique was commonplace in the film industry, in fact in some cases, the dialogue is even dubbed to target foreign audiences and market specific brands according to that country’s taste.
To the point of measurement then, as has been grossly covered in the media recently, the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, has integrated several brands within the film, even to the point of inflaming the wrath of loyal fans by dropping 50 year old staples. Bond now prefers a Heineken beer over a vodka martini, proving that if the money is right, we could see Bond’s of the future driving a VW Passat or returning his suit to Moss Bros. Joking aside, today’s multi million pound contracts include a great deal more than a mere background shot while Bond shares a drink at the bar (like in Dr. No, below) – today they are fully integrated within the film and the plot, they are accompanied with TV ads, product search optimisation & social media marketing, making the ‘placement’ a whole lot easier to measure success.
Take Sony for example, as well as featuring their new Xperia T smartphone in the film & 007 Legends video game, they have inspirationally named it ‘The Bond Phone’, given it its own website, its own Twitter and Facebook account, it tops the Google search rankings and has an all action TV advert, which is of course virally doing the rounds. All of which adds up to highly measurable digital marketing mix, that does more than just support the cinema, TV & print activity … it measures consumption & amplification, provides valuable competitive intelligence, enables optimisation, identifies and engages with influencers to build brand values.
While I don’t wholly concur that product placements are essential in order to cover the costs of production – Casino Royale (2006) made over $1bn from box office & DVD rentals alone – but they are a key revenue line for film makers and, when done subtly and sensibly, can remain both unobtrusive to the viewer as well as acting as a key and measurable tool to the marketer. So, to all the Bond fans out there, whilst we should acknowledge the value of product placement don’t get an inflated opinion of yourself!