Sunday, 19 June 2011 02:30
By Avonelle H Pole
When I first saw the scary but endearing Stephen Spielberg film ET: the Extra-Terrestrial, I had no idea then that the Reeses Pieces the young star Elliott used to lure ET into his home was part of a clever marketing ploy the filmmakers had pre-arranged with the makers of the candy.
Another example of this in the film is Speak & Spell, the handheld electronic toy created by Texas Instruments used as part of the makeshift communication contraption Elliott attaches to a maze of wires and an empty can of MJB 100 percent Colombian Coffee to help ET phone home.
This is known as product placement - a marketing device where brand name products or services are embedded in movies, the storyline of television shows, or news programmes that started gaining popularity in the 1980’s.
Nowadays, product placement in film and on television is commonplace, and is designed to create immediate and long-term brand exposure. Product placement is an investment for brands trying to reach a niche audience of consumers or to focus interest on a particular product, believing that this will increase awareness and enhance brand attitude.
Incorporation of products into the actual plot of a film or television show is also called brand integration. Some products simply appear in a movie, while others are important to the storyline. Today,
product placement in online video is also becoming common.
If you saw the new HAMA film The Skin, and were paying attention, you could not miss the pack of Cottonelle toilet tissue strategically placed in the bathroom when one of the leading characters, Lisa Fenton (played by Aisha Ralph), went into the bathroom to take a pregnancy test. The Cottonelle and the pregnancy kit are just a few of the brands sold by AS Bryden and Sons Ltd, and included in the film as part of a product placement agreement. There is also a scene in the kitchen where Lisa unpacks groceries, including a container of Ceres Orange Juice and other Bryden products from a shopping bag carrying the company’s logo.
Most often, product usage is negotiated for promotional and publicity value, rather than the exchange of dollars. Some placements provide productions with below-the-line savings (such as props, clothes, and cars). As marketing and publicity consultant for The Skin, I was also successful at convincing retail clothing outlets Exotic Antigua, Noreen Phillips Couturiere, Gingerlily, Stitch by Stitch, and Zion South Clothing in Heritage Quay, to come on board by providing clothing for the main characters to wear during various scenes and to be featured in a montage and fashion show.
The beautiful two-piece turquoise bikini worn by Lisa Reynolds (Yazmine) as she suntanned on the yacht Antillia moored in English Harbour was provided by Sunseakers. Incidentally, the yacht is owned by Graeme Knott, who lives part-time in Antigua and the UK, and is the author of a suspense novel, Exclusion Zone, set against the volcanic- ravaged landscape of Montserrat. Again, if you were paying attention, Lisa Fenton is seen reading Knott’s book as she relaxes at home. Big Banana, where the crew was entertained for lunch during the shoot in St John’s, was also featured in the shopping montage.
Sometimes service deals, providing cell phones for crew use, for instance, are also common practice. And since most film production requires travel, airlines are willing to provide this service in exchange for a logo or a shot of their aircraft taking off or landing. Talent, crew, and the two lead characters flew to Barbuda courtesy of WinAir for some beauty shots of the sister isle. Producers may also seek out companies for product placements as another savings or revenue stream for the movie, with, for example, products used in exchange for help funding advertisements tied-into the film's release, a show's new season, or other event.
So what is the process that decides which products are placed in a movie?
The script is first broken down into categories listing characters, props, wardrobe, etc. Sometimes, actual brand names are written into the script; sometimes the process is driven by demographics. Companies are sometimes reluctant, and may express concern about how their products are used, and rightfully so, as they may not want to be associated with certain genres of film, controversial subject matters, or films using explicit language, violence, or nudity.
When The Skin script called for a security service to come to the house where the film’s main characters live to install a security system after a break-in, I contacted three or four of the top security firms on island. Special Security Services did not hesitate, and jumped at the opportunity. You will see the camera stationed on the van advertising the name of the company and the services it offers. And when a scene involving a traffic accident required several cars, a Subway delivery van was wedged right smack in the middle. The cast and crew enjoyed delicious Subway meals during the production stage in exchange for the promotional opportunity.
Likewise, Quin Farara, local fine wine and spirits merchants, had to be called in to re-create the bar at Abracadabra where a night scene and live performance was being filmed. The club had already been closed for the summer, but the owner, Angelo Caputo, was leaving island the next day. I immediately recruited dozens of extras to play club patrons, and two Quin Farara employees doubled as bartenders. Most of the brands seen in the shot are sold exclusively by Quin Farara. Had the filmmakers had to pay for this, they could have been
looking at thousands of dollars.
Which brings me to the new documentary film PωM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, directed by Morgan Spurlock. Pωm Wonderful is the pomegranate juice that markets itself as an antioxidant that is supposed to have a potent effect if you drink enough of it. The documentary is as much a celebration as it is a critique of product placement.
For $1 million, Pωm Wonderful earned the privilege of having its name on the marquee in front of the title of this $1.5 million film, and small bottles of the juice were distributed in gift bags with other items from sponsors at the film’s premiere. For Spurlock to get his million, his contract with Pωm Wonderful stipulated that the movie must gross $10 million at the box office (high for a documentary), sell 500,000 DVDs and downloads, and generate 600 million “media impressions".
Though opportunities for product placement in film in Antigua & Barbuda are limited, when the opportunity does present itself, do not hesitate. Your product or service can play a starring role that will reach audiences you never imagined for a very long time.