Rachel’s wearing Nike

Branding is the current golden goose of the entertainment industry. And today the goose likes its feathers perfectly preened while she lays those million dollar eggs. Product placement is the age-old tactic practitioners and advertisers use to keep their businesses tied to things that people care about so much-entertainment- once only movies and in these days the sports arena and music videos. The allure of the silver screen is wed to the product which results in an almost incestuous marriage as both are at the end of the day commercial entities.Styling pages in premium magazines are being sold to fashion houses for lofty sums, after a vicious bidding war that is. Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein are however two brands that however lost their designer standing because of product placement over-dose. Their overexposure have caused them to be more identified as high-street brands rather than premium-designer. Most of commercial cinema has succumbed to the phenomenon, and in some cases compromising on the screenplay. We will not see a movie these days without coming across a recognizable brand in the most mundane(a kid wearing Converse shoes) and not-so-mundane settings(like a BMW/ Aston Martin in a chase sequence in a Bond movie). OK…historical epics and documentaries not included. But I am sure placement agencies will resolve that somehow. Such branding of entertainment… is a symbiotic relationship between movie studios and business houses. Product placement is especially relevant when new technologies like TIVO and Sky HD on Demand makes advertising obsolete as you have the option of not watching them. Through product placement the audience has no way out but watch the product in the settings Nature (the placement practitioner) intended.

As the tag line would suggest the evergreen comedy series Friends had serious and obvious funding from Nike. The same goes for the over flowing coffers of Sarah Jessica Parker, producer of Sex and the City and the Gossip Girl series, albeit laden with luxury labels the likes of Prada and Gucci. The Gossip Girl set has a prominent Prada backdrop in many of its scenes. In today’s star obsessesd culture, where in spite of high levels of education, we worship the “idol” of the celluloid. Carrie Bradshaw (all the while providing sexy escapist fun) laughs her way to the bank and some more Jimmy Choos. Wouldn’t you be able to relate to a Carrie weeping in Manolos and Dior (with whom most women used to spend half hour a week on prime time TV) rather than some waif-thin model peddling a similar product on the side of a double-decker London bus.? And she and her friends will live into posterity through a movie-series and on Blu-ray/DVD. The series has successfully glorified a piece of footwear into the ‘holy grail’and made several lesser known brands of their time, iconic as we know it today.

Deborah Bowker who writes for the Economist says “ A brand’s value can be judged by an organisation ‘s performance and that depends on interconnections….”. Brand placement speaks volumes about the direction a company wants to move in and is a form of an interconnection with the world especially when according to Thomas L Freidman “The World is Flat”. Most top brands can be recognised across continents and across markets. Hollywood nowadays generates most of its revenue overseas. Hollywood cinema is a language everyone understands and dubbing into a local language like Mandarin or Hindi doesn’t remove the brand from the film. So brands like Coca- Cola have it easy. It is an American company that is identified by most of the world and finds a special place in Hollywood movies except maybe for fantasy and historical epics. It has also become one of the biggest brands in history. ,

The whole of idea of Product Placement combines my two greatest hobbies-Hollywood and luxury brands.Hollywood exists one more than the one media of the 70mm screen. We have pay-per-view TV, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray and even through pirated downloads the visibility of the brand is not compromised. So the afterlife/shelf life of a Hollywood movie and TV series is infinite. And is a win-win situation for the product owners.

John Murphy in Brands: The new wealth creators says that “ modern sophisticated branding is concerned increasingly with a brand’s gestalt with assembling together and maintaining a mix of values, both tangible and intangible which are relevant to consumers and which meaningfully and appropriately distinguish one supplier’s brand from that of another.” And “ product placement is a fail-safe method to carry your brand across the masses.

In the same book stress on packaging is laid because the visual medium relies on the physical attractiveness of the product and most “placed” products do not have much screen time. The secret is to maximise the impact in the short while. Just like the personalities of actors in the movie or TV series are not just about their looks “but also how they behave their attitudes and values and how they fit into society. In the same way although the brand’s visual identity is not the whole brand, it is a vitally important building block in its identification and communication. There is of course more to brand packaging than just communicating the product features and benefits; brand packaging also needs to express the values inherent in that brand to potential customers( it will be supported in this of course by advertising and other publicity.). The brand needs to convey a clearer and more appealing brand personality than any other brand in its sector.

Packaging is today a part of everyday life; packs that we buy in the supermarket make their way into our lives and onto our breakfast tables. As a result many of us grow up to associate a particular packaging with a particular time and place, as its most simple, this can result in sentimental attachments to brands. At its best it means that packaging can become a powerful means of achieving brand loyalty. [Packaging here can also mean choosing the right movie vehicle to place your brand on.]

Packaging is a permanent and constantly visible expression of the brand and clearly therefore has an extremely important strategic role to play in brand building”. Even better if your screen idol is in the same kind of packaging that you are in, as in the case of clothing.

Janet Wasko’s seminal book Hollywood in the Information Age has an interesting chapter entitled Hollywood Meets Madison Avenue- The Commercialization of US Films provides an interesting perspective on the business. Wasko claims that the vast majority of Fortune 500 Companies are involved in product placement activities and that 15 to 30 companies exist whole sole purpose is to secure placement for their client’s products. Product placement companies use a computer software which searches scripts and screenplays for product placement opportunities. The opportunities are immense, if one assumes 20-50 placement promotion opportunities then the producer can realise a large portion of the budget. Verbal mention of a product also is considered product placement. There is also solid and convincing evidence that product placement works—the most cited example being Hershey’s Reese’s pieces when sales increased 85 percent after ET:-The Extra Terrestrial . Bollywood director Karan Johar’s romantic saga Kabhie Alvidaa Naa Kehna had obvious product placement,with the Radisson hotels and Louis Vuitton clutches popping up frequently. The movie was followed by a surge in sales and awareness of the LV brand in India, as the brand was no longer seen as “alien”, and perfectly sensible on the lithe arms of Preity Zinta.

A little more soul searching would result in one most likely finding that the biggest brands of today owe their success primarily to their placement agents . It is almost as if better you position your brand in a movie or popular TV series the bigger sales you generate and also considering the target audience; most of today’s blockbusters are aimed at young well heeled individuals who SPEND! But a lack of regulation in the business has seen issues on either side of this business bridge. We have companies making unnatural demands on the filmmakers without taking into account the relevance to the script and also the filmmakers chopping off the relevant scenes carrying the product at the editing table. There have been ugly lawsuits in the past. And if you are certain that you haven’t been on the receiving end of this subliminal messaging, think again. Open up your wardrobe.You are sure to find something you were “inspired” to buy.

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