Tony Stark may be a man of mystery, but one thing we know about him is that he drives an Audi. That fact comes to us courtesy of a long and lucrative association between the luxury auto brand and Marvel Studios, whose films can sometimes resemble the Home Shopping Network when it comes to featuring products and logos onscreen. Ditto with Stranger Things, the hit Netflix NFLX series where a reported 75 different brands shared screen space with our intrepid gang of kids and extradimensional monsters.
The sly-but-not-too-subtle art of product placement has been a staple in the marketing playbook for years. In 2017, one firm estimated that 75% of original content on “ad-free” subscription video on demand (SVOD) platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime AMZN featured at least one paid product placement. Now this mode of advertising may assume an even greater importance in the post-COVID-19 era as studios scramble for new sources of revenue and brands seek to retain relevance and visibility among consumers habituated to in-home entertainment.
Product placement offers a couple of advantages that can come in handy for producers and studios. At the base level, placed products contributed by sponsors can offset the costs of props, wardrobe, sets and locations, generating some savings to the bottom line or freeing up resources for other production expenses. Brand partners can also participate in marketing campaigns, generating more visibility and sharing some of the campaign and media expenses.
Finally, there’s the matter of cold, hard cash. Some brands will write big checks to get their logos on screen or have their products play a meaningful role in the storyline. Brands exposed in this way can get big screen face-time with audiences that are hard to reach through traditional channels, particularly younger GenZ consumers.
All those factors were in play before COVID-19 brought Hollywood productions to a standstill, but may loom larger as both brands and studios realize that life, at some point, will go on.
Stacy Jones is the founder and CEO of Hollywood Branded, an agency specializing in product placement, influencer marketing and branded content. She says she saw an immediate slowdown as the full impact of the pandemic and the regulations went into effect, with many deals cancelled, put on hold, or pushed out pending renegotiation. However, as the industry has had time to take stock of the situation, new opportunities are starting to open up.