In March 2005, PQ Media, which has been tracking product placement spending since 1974, valued overall product placement in 2004 at US$ 3.46 billion (a 30.5 percent increase over 2003). While most of this value stems from television placement, the report noted that film placement value climbed to US$ 1.26 billion. PQ Media forecast that film placement values would grow 13 percent to US$ 1.42 billion by the end of 2005 (with television values up to US$ 2.44 billion).
With such numbers, product placement has solidly established itself and is now looking to new challenges. Tom Meyer, president of Davie-Brown Entertainment, a product placement agency, says the practice's largest current challenge is "accurate measurement of the quality of each product placement with respect to brand awareness, increasing brand equity, and intent to purchase."
It's a challenge echoed by Ruben Igielko-Herrlich, founding partner and co-president of product placement group Propaganda GEM: "For product placement to gain recognition and be considered as a strategic communication activity, there must be some kind of accountability beyond gut feeling."
Some of that accountability is now being quantified, and the results show exactly where the weaknesses are. An August 2005 Simmons National Consumer Study showed that while 46 percent of audiences do not mind product placement in movies, only 20 percent remembered the names of brands that the characters either used or spoke (51 percent and 24 percent, respectively, for television).
These numbers show that a placement isn't enough. To capitalize on an onscreen role, brands must employ additional measures to increase recall. Anthony Huneycutt, director of international placements and licensing for MoviePlacement.com, advises, "A cross-promotion is the best way to follow up a product placement. Cross-promotions allow brands to use the movie's artwork and/or characters in the brand's advertising. This tells customers the brand is affiliated with the film and the customer is more likely to notice the brand's product placement when they see it."
This is especially important for brands that are not immediately recognizable onscreen. It's a paradox that products suffering most from low recognition have some of the highest potential for placement success. One such example is sunglasses.
As products, sunglasses represent a perfect candidate for placement. Unlike a car or computer, sunglasses are relatively inexpensive and can be impulsively purchased with little forethought. They are also "right now" style products and consistently require updating, which contributes to high turnover; people tend to own several pairs, as opposed to cars or computers. Best of all, when placed in a film, they are not background props but directly linked to the star wearing them, often going as far as to communicate something about the character. When Tom Cruise wore Ray-Ban sunglasses in "Risky Business," sales immediately jumped by over 50 percent.
Yet fans often struggle to figure out the brand of sunglasses in films. Online message boards light up with postings from curious potential consumers. Perfect examples are the glasses Brad Pitt wore in "Mr. And Mrs. Smith" and this online query for the glasses from "The Island." Attempting to combat this problem has proven difficult for filmmakers who eschew clunky (and often pointless) tight shots of glasses. The over-the-top Arnette sunglasses scene in this summer's "Fantastic Four" produced comments such as a facetious observation from a CHUD.com discussion board: "This movie was pretty lame... blatant product placement (love that close-up of Johnny's Arnette sunglasses!)." While watches and cellphones suffer a similar dilemma, they do enjoy more opportunities for plot-driven close-ups.
"Products that are not immediately recognizable, or that do not have distinctive branding, need to communicate via PR channels their presence in films. Some do a good job, but a lot do not," says Igielko-Herrlich. "Product placement should not be in a vacuum, but should be a component of a comprehensive marketing mix."
While such cross-promotions can take the form of expansive campaigns, such as Audi's in "Transporter 2" or AOL's for "Cry_Wolf," smaller brands still have options. Simply creating a website page to highlight your brand's feature film roles may be all it takes. Both watchmaker Panerai and bag and jacket manufacturer Belstaff have done this. A "key" to getting the most out of this approach is to be sure to use the film name, the general product name and your brand in the page's keywords. This helps ensure search engines will locate your site when potential customers search for them. An easier and more cost-effective measure is to post the information on a discussion board or well-trafficked film website such as the Internet Movie Database. A simple posting for a Siemens S65 cellphone on the IMDB trivia board for "Ocean's Twelve" produces perfect results for a "cell phone" + "Ocean's Twelve" Google search. There are even product-specific sites such as the Internet Movie Cars Database.
Another product that appears often onscreen but is commonly unrecognizable by brand is the office or home telephone. One brand that takes a unique approach to maximizing its product placement exposure is Avaya.
Avaya brand manager Elise Amorosi explains: "We have logos designed specifically for product placement opportunities that enhance the Avaya brand. These are not newly designed phones but rather stickers on the base or the handset so it is more obvious onscreen. Our product placement firm adds these stickers to the equipment. In some cases the prop men will keep them on the phones, and in others, they remove them if they are interfering with the script."
In the recent Number One film "Just Like Heaven," Avaya's approach paid off. Playing a prominent role in several scenes, the phone brand was visible without being obtrusive.
Saying what brands should and can do depends on the type or category of a product. Davie-Brown's Tom Meyer suggests "creating an activation program with an online, measurable component. Extend the awareness of the integration by planning a sales promotion around the airing with a watch-and-win or sweepstakes. Introduce or re-label products with 'as seen in' messages." Meyer also suggests that any PR program timed to coincide with the placement should target not only consumers but your employees and their trade customers as well.
The vital point is that just showing up isn't enough. Terrence Coles, executive vice president of sales and marketing at product placement technology group NextMedium Inc., says, "Brands must use the attention to create a call to action and activate the placement. By utilizing the placement they can activate the consumer to respond." Just some of the tactics Coles recommends include websites, toll-free numbers and anything that draws attention to individual products. Coles adds, "It's important to think about the placement lifecycle. Think about aligning your brand objectives with the placement property from the time it's placed to the time it's seen."
Is showing up onscreen beside Will Smith valuable? Absolutely. But just as Will Smith has publicists, brands need to start making the most of their starring roles. Creative, even simple, low-cost solutions can turn a throwaway placement into valuable exposure.