It wasn’t that long ago that product placement was viewed as a luxury for marketers, who would pay up for the opportunity to have their product appear in a movie scene or TV show for a few precious seconds.
But as consumers’ entertainment consumption patterns continue to change dramatically, a growing number of brands and organizations are starting to look at product placement in a new light, fueled by integrated marketing and more and more affordable programming options.
Stacy Jones, CEO of influencer and product placement agency Hollywood Branded, says she’s seen a big uptick in inquiries from companies that are interested in learning how to leverage product placement to raise brand awareness and drive sales.
“Obviously, a big driver is the fact that ad skipping is a reality across all viewing platforms,” Jones says. “But what is truly driving marketers to take notice is all of the content opportunities that their core target audiences are watching that don’t have traditional advertising options, namely Netflix and Amazon.”
Product placement is also emerging as a great equalizer because brands large and small can now gain sustained, cost-effective national exposure with the right product placed in the right entertainment setting.
“By being recognized by fans in some of their favorite TV shows and movies, product placement helps our brand to make an association in the mind of the consumer with their favorite show and also helps validate the importance and popularity of the brand,” says Jack Walker, VP of marketing at seasonings, hot sauce, dinner mix, and fry batters brand Slap Ya Mama Cajun Products, which works with Placed4Success on product placement opportunities. “That is something you cannot find in other forms of marketing.”
Multiple Paths for Product Placement
In many ways, product placement is a bit of a split market. On one side are the the high-profile, multimillion dollar deals between brands and movie studios, networks, and major production companies, that can result in, for example, a specific car or smartphone brand being highlighted throughout the latest blockbuster action movie or popular network or cable TV series.
“For the broadcast networks, product placement — or in their terms, ‘brand integration,’ — is often included in upfront [advertising] conversations when marketers are first making their ad-buying decisions,” Jones says. She’s quick to add: “Brands that are only looking at those big ad spends or want to go into one really big partnership are going to end up paying more money at the end of the day.”
On the streaming services side, companies such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu are providing brands with product placement opportunities in their premium ad-free content, with deals such as the one Hulu signed with MillerCoors to include its beer brands in four original series: Ramy, Into the Dark, The Act, and the reboot of Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Yet marketers with limited budget and/or niche audiences should consider daily, weekly, or monthly programming opportunities. These deals, which involve both fee-based and no-fee product-for-placement deals, are generally executed by a small set of veteran product placement specialty companies in New York and Los Angeles. “It’s definitely ‘inside Hollywood’ in that it’s a very small world that’s not easy to break into because it’s all about relationships,” Jones says.
While these type of buys involve pay-to-play fees, many opportunities arise simply because the TV series wants the show to look authentic with products that their characters are likely to use or refer to, says John Fluke, owner and CEO of Placed4Success.
Fluke, whose brand clients include Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Slap Ya Mama Cajun Products, and Rebel Green, a line of natural household cleaning products, adds: “You need to be tight with the set decorators, prop masters, art designers, and set designers, from discussions regarding the pilot, pre-pilot, pre-production, and all the way through post-production. When The Big Bang Theory was on, we were on the set pretty much every day, dropping off product and meeting with the set designers and writers.”
Because so many producers and other behind-the-scenes professionals strive for continuity in both their sets and the products on those sets, brand managers can’t just dip their toes periodically into the space and settle for one-offs.
Beth Bell, founder and president of Green Product Placement, which specializes in eco-friendly brand placements, stresses that marketers must be patient when executing product placement strategy. “It’s a long game,” she says. “Post-production and project release take much longer than online, social, or print. The brands that have had the most success keep at it for years.”