Peter Parker, the teenage superhero in The Amazing Spider-Man, isn’t the only one in Sony’s (SNE) blockbuster summer film boasting superpowers. The movie is set in an alternate reality where Sony’s own gadgets rule and Apple (AAPL) products are nonexistent. The film’s hero, played by The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield, uses a Sony Xperia mini pro smartphone to make calls to his girlfriend, check voice mail, and listen to a police radio broadcast. In one scene, Spider-Man is even shown lounging on a web in the sewers while playing a game on his phone, shooting colored bubbles across the screen.
Sony isn’t shy about using its film distribution business, the third-largest in the U.S., to revive its struggling consumer-electronics products. “The real value for us is being able to reach an entire audience of entertainment enthusiasts who connect with these films, TV shows, music—whatever it may be—while ultimately bringing it back to the device,” explains Peter Farmer, a Sony Mobile Communications marketing vice president.
Sony’s marketing blitz for The Amazing Spider-Man began even before the film hit theaters. Last month, Sony ran a television commercial featuring the superhero to promote the Xperia ion, a new smartphone available on AT&T’s (T) network. In the Spidey movie, the Sony product placements are ubiquitous. When Spider-Man ties up a thug and hangs him from an overpass, for example, a spectator records video with an Xperia phone. When two students watch an online video of Spider-Man’s antics, they do so using a Sony Tablet S. Even the film’s villain, played by Rhys Ifans, uses a Sony Vaio laptop connected to a Sony monitor in his underground laboratory, while recording his experiments with a Sony Handycam camcorder. (A Sony spokeswoman says the product tie-ins were “consistent with the artistic direction” of the film.)
Thanks to its cool factor, Apple gear typically enjoys lots of exposure in movies and on TV without having to pay for the privilege. But in Sony’s web-slinging drama, moviegoers won’t find a single iPhone, the No. 1 smartphone in the U.S., or any other Apple product.
Sony accounted for 0.7 percent of all mobile phones sold in the U.S. between March and May and 0.4 percent of smartphones, according to research firm ComScore (SCOR). The company’s share of the U.S. personal-computer market was 2.4 percent in the first three months of the year, and its share of tablet sales during the same period was 0.2 percent, according to research firm IDC. “They need awareness, and you’re not going to get any higher level of awareness than Spider-Man,” says Claudia Cahill, an executive at Los Angeles-based consulting firm The Content Collective. “Because it’s a Sony product, they can do it easily” without complicated negotiations.
A well-executed product placement can pay off. The deal General Motors (GM) made with Viacom to unveil its new Camaro in the 2007 film Transformers resonated with the car’s likeliest buyers, young adult men, says Jeff Schuster, an analyst for LMC Automotive.
Still, results from product placement, a global market worth about $1.5 billion, are hard to measure, says Leo Kivijarv, vice president of research at PQ Media. “We kind of call it the Wild West,” he says. In that world, Sony is a sheriff: Its electronics and logos have appeared in 21 percent of movies that have topped the box office since 2001, according to Brandchannel.com, which tracks product appearances.
Microsoft (MSFT) also makes an appearance in the new Spider-Man installment: Bing is the search engine of choice for Peter Parker to look up information about his father and browse pictures of spiders. Microsoft arranged for the product placement with Sony, says Lisa Gurry, a senior director for Bing who declined to discuss financials. In the U.S., Bing was used for 15 percent of search queries in May, while Google (GOOG) had 67 percent, according to ComScore. Hollywood always did love an underdog.