Product Placement: Finding A Balance
Product placement, brand integration—whatever you choose to call in-program marketing and advertising—is something brands of all sizes throughout disparate industries have in common, in films and series of all types.
While product placement in film may not face the same constraints as television (for instance, the U.K. more strictly regulates brands in television than the U.S.), the philosophy for brands and agencies remains basically the same. Regardless of the medium or the rules to navigate, the objective is relatively simple: to organically weave brands into storylines. But that simple concept requires a more complicated day-to-day undertaking to do well.
The work behind every placement/integration really is different, but primarily, the goal is finding mutual benefit: knowing what a production might need, and knowing your client’s priorities, resources, sensitivities and guidelines.
In some ways, it’s all just about maintaining relationships. A lot of them. The best work is done by agencies who know showrunners, studio executives, producers, actors, and, vitally, the various production departments and crews of people who work long hours to physically build and transform words on a page into moving images: The below-the-line people who turn writers’ ideas into pictures and sound, who help make entertainment into memories while never appearing on-screen, are a product placement agency’s best friend.
From inception to execution of a placement, ideas and conversations begin with any of these various stakeholders on parallel paths. Agencies may have an interest in a project on behalf of clients, or productions/studios/networks may pursue brand involvement—whether to help offset production costs, ensure realistic portrayals, or just to make money if a brand is willing to provide it.
Successful, prominent placements never result from interfering with creatives’ work or making surprise deliveries of stacks of product that no one requested. Ultimately, unless a brand develops and funds a production, the approach should be one of collaboration rather than ownership.
It may seem like a dizzying number of factors to consider, but really, just a few simple ideas should be kept in mind when pitching or reviewing brand integration opportunities: Does this make sense for the client? Is the placement good, and is the brand able to provide what’s needed to coordinate the placement (inventory, travel costs, etc.)?
Would a placement entertain or contribute anything to the world on screen? Or does the brand just look desperate for relevance, narrative momentum and everything else be damned?
Distracting or annoying audiences by pulling people out of a story and ruining the experience of a $17.00 movie isn’t going to endear anyone.
That shouldn’t escape anyone who works in product placement: We were all viewers first, and still are. There are placements and integrations that are done very, very well: memorable without being what we most remember about a movie. The Big Lebowski wasn’t about a trip to In-N-Out.
What works is authenticity, and you can’t be the life of the party if you’re not a welcome guest.