Marketing ninjas’ little secret: 90 minutes ads

Let’s do a quick quiz:

–          What computer Carry Bradshaw uses to write her column?

–          What shoes is she obsessed with?

–          What car James Bond drives in Casino Royal?

–          What car Mulder and Scully drive in X files?

–          What store chain sales are Will, Grace, Jack and Karen and all Manhattan characters are obsessed with?

What’s your score? If you are about my age, you will score at least 3 out of 5, and no, you don’t have to be huge fan of Sex and the City, James Bond or X files to know this, everybody knows it, and do you know why is that? Because product placement is a dirty little secret that plays with your subconscious mind, until you become aware of it and you start noticing stuff like that that start bugging you and you “couldn’t help but wonder: am I watching a movie or is this a very long ad for club soda, fast cars, high heels and air carrier”.

So, what is product placement? It is a kind of a contract that product manufacturers sign with producers (of the movie, video, song, book, etc.)  which provides them an opportunity to “place” their “product” in the storyboard with a goal to make a statement that their brand is natural and generic choice.  What is important for a successful product placement is frame, or the concept in which product is being placed: It must be significant or at least relevant for the storyline or a character.

For example, let’s say that you write a script in which you want to create a girl character who should be smart, successful and elegant. Just put an iPhone in her hand, if she knows how to answer her call by sliding a button, she’s above average IQ and voila: She’s out of your league.  So, the story goes like this: hot girl looses her iPhone, airport security dork finds it and brings it back to her at the party, she falls in love with him and to prove her love, she doesn’t answer her iPhone call when her friend calls. You got it, it’s a great brand statement, but hey, who is in greater profit here, Apple Inc. or movie producers? Definitely both, and yes, it is a cute little iPhone love story.

Talking about Mr. Jobs, here’s a good one. I recently watched “Hot tub time machine”, a bunch of guys travel back to their past and they bring some today stuff with them, one curious Karate Kid searches up their luggage and finds an iPhone:  “Look at this stuff, what is this? They must be spies or something”. He picks up iPhone and shakes it being freaked out by the technology, it’s like me seeing Dr. Spock entering Enterprise in my backyard, I get it. If my Dr. Spock was to have some communication device, I don’t think it would be fine for it to be Nokia, SonyEricsson, Samsung, Blackberry or any other boring “high quality reliable” brand.  It would definitely be Apple or HTC, it would have to scream “Future” out of it.

Product placement definitely starts to lose its charm since companies are being shameless. Some of the latest blockbusters have up to two hundred product placement contracts for 90 minutes movie. I recently watched Sex and the City 2 and I stopped counting the moment the girls entered the Emirates Airbus plane on their way to Abu Dhabi. Actually, you can visit a webpage where you can see the whole Carrie Bradshaw’s wardrobe tagged with the brand labels that she owns. Come on, give us a break, Manolo Blahnik is more than enough to rub our noses with!

So, what marketing ninjas figured out is this: You can change the channel if you don’t like TV ads, you can skip a page in a magazine, or chose no to click a banner on a webpage, but you can’t turn a blind eye on Mr. Big’s Mercedes, no matter how hard you try. That is how it enters your mind, whether you like it or not.

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6 thoughts on “Marketing ninjas’ little secret: 90 minutes ads

  1. One question that was always bothering me – Do companies always pay for the product placement, or they are maybe sometimes used just for the promotion of the character, e.g. the girl and iPod, and by that they create a kind of win – win situation?
    And also, would it be legal to use a brand w/out asking for a permit of it’s owner?

    • No, they don’t always pay for their brands to appear in the movies, sometimes, it’s just leasing out the equipment, but in last couple of years movie producers understood the amount of money they can cash in through product placement, that if they don’t get any company to pay for instance a notebook placement, they use the product, but cover up the brand. Every appearance of a brand is a free commercial, so that’s why nobody sells for free, unless they’re not in position to negotiate, but yet they cover up most of the times. Other interesting thing that is getting popular is fictional brand, such as Duff beer in the Simpsons. If no one wants to pay, then we’ll make it up!

      There is no special law which obliges you to ask a company before using their products in movies, but you’re risking of law suites afterwards, so it is better to get it ahead. For example, Slumdog Millionaire producers got in trouble when using Mercedes cars in the movie, cause “bad guys” drove it and it was bad for their brand, so they made them digitally erase Mercedes logos form the movie. In order for this not to happen, it’s better to get the permission ahead.

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