A star is born as product placement hits the screen

Giving brands roles in movies will soon be a $2bn industry, reports Mark Leftly

Mark Leftly
Saturday 22 September 2012 13:51

The latest hectic 61- second trailer for the next James Bond film, Skyfall, shows gunfights, interrogations, a steamy shower scene, motorbike chases and a silver Aston Martin speeding away into the Scottish Highlands.

That car is key to the movie, not as a plot device or even a nod to the 50-year history of the Bond movie franchise, but as funding. Skyfall, which is released next month, is thought to have garnered more than $45m (£28m) in product placement – which will include Bond supping a Heineken beer – a record figure that covers about a third of its budget.

Product placement in the movies is thriving, and is fast closing on being a $2bn industry, more than double the figure in the pre-credit crunch days of 2005. Major movie studios tend to make their profits off just a handful of big hits every year, so product placement can also take out some of the risk of failing to cover the budget from ticket sales alone.

Although the concept dates back to Marx Brothers days, the industry is growing as never before. Traditional advertising, such as slots prior to a film, are considered less targeted and, by their direct nature, less likely to persuade an audience to purchase the product.

For example, in 2012 so far Coca-Cola has featured in Men in Black 3, the fourth Mission Impossible flick and Safe House, starring Denzel Washington. Coca-Cola's fierce rival was not to be outdone: a large, old-fashioned Pepsi sign was on display in Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables 2.

Sarah Curran is business development director at the UK's oldest product placement agency, Pinewood Studios-based New Media Group. It worked on this year's sci-fi blockbuster Prometheus and is also looking at getting products into All You Need is Kill, an alien invasion movie starring Tom Cruise. His earlier movie Top Gun also featured Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses – and sales rose 40 per cent.

Ms Curran says: "Brand placement is certainly increasingly popular for movies looking to raise finance. Specific products are more likely to be interested in being in a film, what we call 'hero properties': phones, technology, cars, rather than fast-moving consumer goods."

Advertising folk are trying to distance themselves from the term product placement, and instead like the phrase "brand integration". This means a product not just being a prop, but in a more central role.

Gary Smith, chief executive at Intandem Films, has just appointed an agency in Los Angeles to find a retailer to design the clothes for the two central characters in the upcoming 10 Things I Hate About Life.

When the movie is released, the retailer will sell a clothes range named after those characters, Ben and Willow, for which Intandem will receive some of the royalties.

"Companies are taking this much more seriously now than just putting a drink in the middle of a scene," explains Mr Smith.

Similarly, Chantal Rickards, head of programming and branded content at advertising agency MEC, points to the Runaway Bride.

As Julia Roberts' character runs away from her wedding, she hops into a Federal Express truck as one character ponders where she's going. Another replies: "I don't know, but she'll be there by 10.30 tomorrow morning."

"It's funny and it doesn't feel like FedEx has been forced down the audience's throat," says Ms Rickards. "When people are enjoying themselves, they are much more receptive to commercial advertising, provided that doesn't interrupt the flow of the entertainment."

With the best part of $50m of product onscreen as Daniel Craig fights Javier Bardem's blond baddie, it will take something for audiences not to be overwhelmed by the flashy cars and popular lagers on display.

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