Our dashing hero, the accountant

The profession has a starring role in a new movie, and it's all down to product placement. Helen Jones reports
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The Independent Online
"Coming to a cinema near you soon: a romantic comedy featuring a handsome, dashing, funny ... accountant."

It may not be the scenario you would expect from a major new British film - accountants are not exactly renowned for their glamour - but the lead character in The Sea Change, now in production, will be a hot-shot accountant from KPMG embroiled in a complicated romantic situation.

KPMG has signed up with the product placement specialist Environment Marketing, which aims to get the firm featured in 18 films over the next two years. It will provide its offices around the world, staff as extras and even KPMG branded products such as mugs and umbrellas to film makers and in return hopes to increase public awareness of the company name and boost staff morale.

The Sea Change producer, Billy Hurman of Winchester Films, says: "We are making a contemporary romantic comedy and the lead male character has to be a successful businessman. We could have made him a lawyer or something in advertising but KPMG is offering product placement and so we have made the character an accountant. It means for example that we can use their office building as a location. It isn't a problem in terms of the storyline and it makes sound financial sense for us."

Product placement in feature films is nothing new. In the latest James Bond movie Goldeneye, our hero drives a BMW Roadster, wears an Omega watch and Church's shoes and drinks Smirnoff. Alex Gulland of Environment Marketing says: "There was a film produced a number of years ago called Fire, Ice and Diamond. It was terrible and seemed to be funded entirely by product placement. The hero wore a ski suit so emblazoned with logos that it was laughable. But if used properly, product placement can be a very useful tool for building brand awareness and that is what we are trying to do for KPMG."

The firm's chairman of international marketing, David Murrell, says KPMG has become involved in the film business because it is an international way of getting noticed. "We have got offices in 142 countries and many film releases are shown all around the world and turn up in the most unexpected places." He adds that another reason is that four fifths of the staff are under 32 and are therefore part of the biggest cinema going age group. It's as much an internal staff morale boost as anything else.

Mr Murrell says that KPMG will place itself in films in a number of ways. "We have some wonderful buildings around the world which would be great for location filming. We can also provide statistics, act as extras in office scenes, and we could get the odd name-check in a film if it is artistically appropriate. At a more basic level, mugs calendars and notepads with the KPMG name could be shown."

He adds that there are some provisos about the sort of films in which the firm wants to be placed: "We don't really want to be associated with excessive violence or a lot of sex but swearing is OK. We live in the real world and have to be realistic - we are not looking to feature in Mary Poppins."

Unsurprisingly for a firm of accountants KPMG has explored the minutiae of costing. Ms Gulland says: "In the US to get your brand into a Hollywood blockbuster we are talking about fees of anywhere between $10,000 and $60,000. In the UK costs vary. It can cost very little if you are dressing the hero for example, but on average it is between pounds 5,000 and pounds 20,000, depending on the nature of the placement."

Mr Murrell adds: "Given the potential exposure - not only with the cinema release but also on video and eventual TV showings followed by repeats around the world - I don't think it is expensive. It's a mixture of money and making our facilities available. If a film company were to use our reception area as a location apart from the disruption involved it wouldn't cost us anything."

But what about the return on its investment? Mr Murrell says KPMG is taking a portfolio approach. "Of course there is a risk involved, six out of 10 films lose money and only one in 10 is a real success. We are spreading the risk across 18 films. Of course it's possible that we might pick 18 duff ones but on the other hand we might get a Four Weddings and a Funeral, and it will be fun checking their progress."

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