A quantum leap in product placement

If there was an awards category for the best use of advertising in a feature-length film, the forthcoming James Bond movie Quantum of Solace would be a shoo-in.

The Bond franchise has long been known as a cash cow for its producers, not least because of how much it grosses at the box office, but also how much revenue it rakes in from advertisers wanting their brands strategically placed in the movies.

It has been claimed that since 2002’s Die Another Day was dubbed “Buy Another Day” by some critics, Sony Pictures has cut the number of product placement spots in Bond films. The line-up for the latest Bond vehicle includes Ford, Omega, Sony, Virgin Atlantic, Heineken, Coca-Cola and Smirnoff, despite a lack of consensus over whether such brand integration works.

In the UK, the Government is reviewing the ban on product placement on TV, but the practice has been commonplace in movies since the 1980s.

Today, movies are littered with big brand names. Films such as Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, are awash with marketing messages from brands such as American Express, Reebok and Gap. Spots were even created by the advertising agencies of some of the brands, and were featured as part of the background in the movie.

Andrew Challier, managing partner of media measurement company Billetts, says that “iconic” brand placements, such as Aston Martins in the Bond films, can provide brands with a powerful form of communication.

“But, like most things, if you get too much of the same thing people tend to choke on it. Just as too much ice cream can make you feel sick, too many brands can spoil the viewing experience, and there will be a backlash if consumers think they’re being manipulated,” Challier says.

Placement spreads its wings

And it doesn’t just happen on the silver screen. In 2001, jewellery brand Bulgari paid author Fay Weldon to liberally dose her novel The Bulgari Connection with mentions of the brand, while numerous music artists have made Faustian pacts with commerce to bankroll their endeavours. But placements such as these are few, and more often lead to suggestions of “selling out”, something that has not unduly worried film makers or their audiences.

“The danger now, with the internet and blogs, is that people are a lot more savvy and so placement needs to be done in a more subtle way,” says Challier.

Carat managing director Neil Jones adds it is also about creating a “natural fit” between the movie and the brand, something watch brand Omega should have borne in mind.

According to a Millward Brown study into brand awareness in the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale, an exchange between fellow MI6 agent Vesper Lynd and Bond about what brand of watch Bond wore didn’t have the desired effect for the featured brand.

Watch for the pitfalls

Four out of five respondents remembered Rolex as Bond’s watch, and only one infive recalled Omega – the brand that was actually worn by Bond – despite the clumsy exchange.

Millward Brown communications research director Dan White says/ “Omega had supported its presence with TV and print advertising, but according to 18% of people, the brand just didn’t fit very well with Bond. Omega might have aimed to build prestige from its placement, but by comparing itself to Rolex, the brand most associated with Bond, it overplayed its hand – and lost.”

Phd Drum Screen executive producer Simon Wells says his advice to brands considering product placement is to think about whether it is the “right creative film opportunity”, though he admits this is a difficult call to make. Even with the best cast and director, a movie can still be a flop.

Wells warns: “With the Bond films there is more guarantee for success, because it is a long-running franchise. But when there is too much product placement clutter, the producer is the loser and, by default, the brand.”

Camille Alarcon

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