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How do branded products and services end up in movies? Who puts the stars in their cars and the beer at their barbecues? What are the benefits of product placement, how much does it cost and who controls what ultimately ends up on the screen?

N THE business of product placement it’s important to make a distinction between the steady pipeline of content coming out of Hollywood Studios, and the more piecemeal nature of independent film financing — the world in which European film producers typically operate. Where Hollywood is concerned, the existence of an ongoing slate of big budget productions means studios, brands and other stakeholders — ad agencies, media buyers, talent agents and product placement consultancies — can maintain a dialogue about product integration, confident in the knowledge that the film or films under discussion will get made and released. By contrast, product placement discussions in the independent sector are more fluid. With rare exceptions like Bridget Jones (a proven franchise, seen in 2001 and 2004) or The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) — a known quantity with a TV track record — a brand isn’t going to be actively interested in a specific film until the financing is in place to guarantee its viability. Even then, as the hold up with the third Bridget Jones has demonstrated, things don’t always work out as intended. Second: product placement doesn’t always come with cash attached. While there are a few high-profile exceptions (see panel), the offer on the table is usually free goods and services — plus some marketing muscle. In other words, it’s a way for producers to control costs and amplify investment, rather than to greenlight production. So next time you read that a car brand has invested $50m (£31m) in a Hollywood film, keep in mind that most of this is money used to leverage the partnership (making ads, buying airtime), not a contribution to the studio budget. Sarah Curran, business development director at Pinewoodbased product placement consultancy NMG, has worked with brands on a number of titles including, recently, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), One Day (2011), Johnny English Reborn (2011), The Iron Lady (2011) and Prometheus (2012). She says exaggerated expectation is one of the mistakes producers make: “Some filmmakers, particularly the newer ones, think big brands have money to blow,” she says: “They don’t.” Curran says NMG gets inundated with scripts and enquiries from producers. And one of her first pieces of advice is to be clear about what the production has to offer: “Some producers underestimate the care marketers take,” she says. “Companies won’t do anything unless they are certain the production fits their brand criteria. Then they want to see the producer’s track record, the names of the cast and director and the likely release schedule. A film has little value for a brand if it doesn’t get a cinema release, even if going to DVD.” These tough criteria explain why some leading agencies don’t go near films. In 2008 Mark Wood, formerly head of sponsor-


ship at BSkyB set up Krempelwood with Blair Krempel, for the purpose of representing producers, rights owners and others in the media business, to brands. “We don’t work with movies because the brand doesn’t know upfront if it will end up as The King’s Speech (2010) or go straight to the DVD discount box in ASDA — or even worse, sometimes, on the cutting room floor as part of a discarded scene,” Wood says. “At least in TV you know the audience average of the timeslot and channel a show is being made for.” But assuming that film producers sometimes do have a project that appeals to brands, the next step for an agency like NMG is to identify specific opportunities in the script, and then to set up a contract covering what the brand will supply and how many visual and verbal references it will get. While this part of the process is managed and policed meticulously, Curran stresses that the goal is to find a creative connection. “Brands need to be noticed,” she says. “But we aren’t looking for intrusive product placements that draw the wrong reaction from audiences. Much better and more natural is the scene in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) when Gary Oldman (as George Smiley) is holding a bottle of Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Black Label; or the scene in Inside Man (2006) when Denzel Washington leaves a Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit wrapper in a safe deposit box. The brand is very visible but it has a natural role to play as a clue within the narrative.” The process described by Curran isn’t that different in Hollywood, though the higher volume of movie production means that professionalism on the brand side is generally matched by professionalism on the studio side. This has given rise to companies like Hollywood Branded, a product placement consultancy that works on behalf of both sides, via two divisions — Productions Branded and Hollywood Branded. On the studio side, says company co-founder Stacy Jones, a typical task would be when Productions Branded was called in by Paramount Pictures to oversee all product placement and brand integration for the film No Strings Attached (2011), starring Ash-

“PRODUCTION WAS ALREADY UNDER WAY AND WE ARRANGED ADDITIONAL FILMING TO ACCOMMODATE THE BRAND” CHARLIE COLEMAN ton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. “When a production company hires us, we focus on four main areas: props, set, wardrobe and transportation,” Jones says. “We’ll break down the script and look for all the ways in which we can generate savings.” The value of such activity can run into “hundreds of thousands of dollars”, Jones says. “It’s not just the products, but the servicing. Think of the labour costs involved in running a fleet of cars during a major movie production, for example.” Why, though, would a studio like Paramount use an agency rather its own production resources team? “Sometimes, they might do that,” Jones says. “But one reason for working with us is logistics. No studio wants to be left with all of the product afterwards — so our role is about much more than sourcing — it’s about shipping, servicing, stock management and so on.” Productions can also take advantage of an agency’s expertise in building relationships with brands, Jones says. “It’s what we do all the time. We represent clients like Beam Global, BlackBerry, Morgan Motors and Philips and see about 500 scripts a year. It is not a reactive business and it is not only about product placement — it’s about the wider benefits. If a brand can help raise the profile of a film during its launch, it is adding value to the studio’s marketing dollars.” The movie industry product placement bible is Brandchannel’s Brandcameo, which charts all references to products and services in films. Its research shows Apple-branded products are most used, having appeared in more than one-third of all number one films at US box office between 2001 and 2011 (129 of 374). Other brands that get a lot of screen time include Dell, Chevrolet, Ford, Cadillac, Coca-Cola and Mercedes-Benz. The most sophisticated examples of brand integration come q

Location UK 2012  

Location UK showcasing the UK film production industry.

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