In the 2000 film Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ co-star isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio, Meg Ryan, or some other A-list actor.
It’s a volleyball, courtesy of Wilson Sporting Goods.
Throughout the film, the volleyball enjoys 10.5 minutes of screen time worth an estimated $1.85m+ in advertising value. And for this exposure, Wilson paid a grand total of $0.
Each year, hundreds of brands — cars, computers, clothing, kitchen appliances, and lawn chairs — grace the silver screen.
Sometimes brand appearances are overbearing (think a 30-second-long glamour shot of a Lexus driving down the coast); other times, they’re so subtle you might miss them if you blink.
But how do these brands end up in major motion pictures? What do the economics of these deals look like on the back end? And is this an effective form of marketing?
A mutually beneficial exchange
A frequent misconception is that all brands pay a fortune to appear on the silver screen. In some cases this is certainly true:
- Harley-Davidson paid $10m to get its electric motorcycle featured in Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015).
- Heineken shelled out an estimated $45m for 7 seconds of screen time in the James Bond film Skyfall (2012).
- BMW plunked down ~$110m to supply cars for GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and The World is Not Enough (1999) before Aston Martin outbid them with a ~$140m offer for Die Another Day (2002).
- More than 100 brands (including Gillette, Nokia, and Carl’s Junior) offered a combined $160m to be featured in Man of Steel (2013).
Heineken’s $45m James Bond deal came with the rights to cross-promote the beer in commercials starring the leading man, Daniel Craig (via Heineken)
These big-money deals include a slew of other elements, like verbal cues written into the script (“Boy, I sure could go for a nice, ice-cold Budweiser!”), a guaranteed amount of screen time, and the rights to run cross-promotional advertisements with the film’s leading actor.
But in the majority of cases, there is no cash exchanged at all between the brand and Hollywood: Producers need props, and brands are happy to loan them out at no cost in exchange for exposure.
The rationale for these arrangements is simple: Movies are pretty damn expensive.
On average, a major studio film costs around $65m to produce, not including marketing and distribution. The largest chunk of that is general production costs, which include set design, props, and wardrobe.
For action films, the prop budget alone can stretch into the millions.
The Fast & Furious franchise, for instance, wrecked a total of 1,487 cars over its first 7 movies. Even at a modest estimate of $20k/car, that amounts to $30m in prop costs.
Property masters (the folks in charge of props) are on a constant quest to cut down budgets — and product placement can be a lifesaver.
By getting free stuff — hotel rooms, cars, fancy clothes, kitchen appliances — a big production might trim its budget by $250k to $5m+, according to industry insiders The Hustle spoke with.
That might not sound like a lot in the context of a $65m film, but it’s money that can be reinvested into better music, special effects, or other details that improve the quality of the final cut.