I came across an interesting item today- a column by Priska Neely from the NPR website. It addresses the issue of product placement, but includes the “down side” you don’t often see.
It is no longer a surprise to anyone that companies pay big bucks to get visual exposure for their brands in popular movies and television shows. One of the most often-cited examples is American Idol; it started with simple Coke cups on the table in front of each judge, but has progressed to the point where the show sometimes appears to be taking place inside one big, glitzy Coke machine.
It’s certainly an interesting topic. Quick quiz – can you remember the type of candy Kramer was eating when he dropped a piece from the observation balcony over an operating room and it wound up inside the patient? (First correct response wins a package of that candy from me!) What brand of vehicle did Jack Bauer drive during all those seasons of “24” ? (First correct response on THAT one will have to settle for a hearty “attaboy.”)
The reasoning is obvious; what brand wouldn’t want to be the “hero” or at least bask in the glow of a cool scenario. But what about those scenes in which the pictured products are less than heroic? As the article points out, producers are largely free to use any branded products they wish without getting any special permission from the company. Do you want YOUR brand to be the alcohol of choice for a drinking airline pilot? How about a closeup of your chainsaw brand in the next slasher movie?
I find the whole topic fascinating; I have been in advertising long enough to remember having to carefully prepare “dummy” products that looked like NO brand in particular for backgrounds in our ads and commercials. (When you are selling something, you’re a bit more vulnerable to complaints from companies who don’t want to be a party to yo ur efforts, especially if there’s nothing in it for them.)
But back to the main issue. It’s akin to that old debate about the validity of”any PR is good PR” and things like that. James Bond might enhance the image of Heineken a bit. But does a drunken pilot harm the image of your vodka brand? Hey, that is still Denzel Washington on that big screen misusing your product!
Think about yourself as consumer. How do you think product placement affects YOU? Done right, do you think it makes you feel any differently about a brand? Does a fictitious James Bond improve your image of Heineken? Would it do the same for a more blue-collar brand? And on the other side, do you think negative thoughts when a product is used for an evil or negative purpose?
I don’t have any real answers here. It does make sense, I think, to look for opportunities that might expose your product to a desirable audience and somehow reinforce your brand’s personality in the process. And I think real brands help the authenticity of a movie or television scene. (Fake airline names are common, and they tend to be obvious – which detracts from the story line just a little bit, at least for me.)
Anyway, think about that next time you go to the movies; see which (and how many) brands are obvious. Think about whether or not it did any good for that brand, or if you, as the brand manager, would be happy or not at its appearance.
Oh, and while you’re at the movies, you can probably buy a pack of those candies Kramer was eating. They usually have pretty good placements at those concession stands.