26 September, 2009

Product placement in TV and movies: Mr Spock’s Nokia

Melbourne Herald Sun, 26th September 2009

You’ll be surprised to know that in 2250 there will still be Nokia mobile phones and Budweiser beer, along with Captain Kirk and Mr Spock. Can these products last another 240 years? Well in the world of brand placement they can - they were seen in this year’s Star Trek movie.

Brand Placement is a $180 million business, which compared to the billions spent in advertising is pretty small fry - but it’s enough to affect almost every movie and TV drama you will see in the next year.

It’s 30 years since the business was born, when Christopher Reeve smashed into a giant neon Coke sign in Superman I.

Since then, those sneaky little product shots creeping into the actors’ hands have gone from occasional, to regular, to a pain in the eyeballs. But the producers insist that they are a necessary part of financing today’s film and TV business.

The British have always been stand-offish about the practice, even pixillating the logo on Simon Cowell’s drink when American Idol is shown there. But this week their culture minister, Ben Bradshaw, has permitted the practice “in order to help save the TV industry”.

He has been hit by a public storm that we in Oz, being already contaminated, would find surprising. But in Coronation Street they have their own brand of beer, and in Midsomer Murders the packets and bottles are always turned away from the camera. So allowing a logo to be seen is a scandal.

America, of course, has the most sophisticated system. And its champion user is Ford, who in the 2008 Product Placement Awards was clocked to have featured in 60 percent of the top box-office movies. They’re still up there this year.

If the movie shows a New York taxi it will be a Ford. They were in Transformers (1 and 2), I Am Legend, American Gangster, 17 Again, Hannah Montana - and of course that glorified motor show on celluloid, Fast & Furious. They have a Global Brand Entertainment Team whose job it is to stick Fords into movies.

Last year, of the 20 films to have a number-one weekend at the box office, each placed an average of 22 brands. The only clean skins were Harry Potter and Pixar’s Up. Inglourious Basterds was almost clean with just one product reference - to Walther pistols.

It’s only human to take things too far and so you’ll see cases where the tail starts to wag the dog. NBC has a TV comedy called Chuck, where a CIA agent works undercover in a shopping mall. The new season will only be made through the support of Subway sandwiches. So I wonder where the agent is going to work?

In these days when advertising income is being syphoned off by the Internet and new media, is this sneaky advertising the only alternative to endless, cheaper, reality shows and panel quizzes?

Maybe we’ll get used to it, as we have in sporting coverage. Will we see actors with Samsung logos on their shirts? Billboards in every external scene? Beam me up, Scotty!

I’d just like to conclude by assuring you that I received no payment for the mention of Coca Cola, Ford, Budweiser, Subway, Walther, Samsung, or Nokia in this article. More’s the pity.


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