Who Moved My Product

Updated: Jul 27 2002, 05:30am hrs
Starting with De Beers draping divas in sparkling diamonds in the early 1940s, product placement in movies has always been a subtle art: that of inconspicuously piggybacking on the story thread and connecting with the audiences mind. It still is an artbut no longer subtle. From cars and cell phones, to mouth fresheners and branded tea, our heroes and heroines are the ultimate consumers.

Till about the 1970s, most people believed that product placement was unethical, but the realities of advertising and movie-making has spurred Hollywood, and now Bollywood, into this. Demolition Man featured dialogues to the effect that Taco Bell is the only restaurant chain left in the world in the 21st century. And they changed it to Pizza Hut in the Japanese release! And its not just cola and pizza that are being placed. In Analyse This, one is treated to an entire TV advertisement for Merrill Lynch investments! AOL was the heart and soul of Youve Got Mail.

Bollywood isnt far behind. Industry sources say that Mr. Subhash Ghai made 20 per cent of the Taal production budget just from one of the soft drink manufacturers.

But product placement in Indian movies is much older than Mr. Ghai. In An Evening in Paris, Sharmila Tagore was seen sipping delicately from a 200 ml bottle of Coke, with the logo being visible. You might remember the Mafatlal hoarding in the middle of a song in Maine Pyar Kiya.

If you remember Awwal Number, the Dev Anand film starring Aamir Khan - every time our hero hit a four, the ball bounced off a poster of Garware! Coincidence In Prem Diwane, an entire sequence with the then Ms Dixit was shot inside the famous Benzer stores of Bombay. A lot of people unrelated to the story line are shown carrying Benzer bags.

In recent times, McDonalds India has been quite visible. In Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, the hero strategically holds a ball with the Mac M on it.

It wasnt so under-stated in Kaho Na Pyar Hai, when the oh-so-stranded Hrithik Roshan flexes biceps and asks irritably, McDonalds ka burger laaon kya

Products- brands actually-make a movie more realistic. It is that much more easier bond with the stranded actors when Hrithik Roshan mentions McDonalds burger. Because that is probably what wed say ourselves! Like Dil Chahta Hai, movies are getting as close to real life as possible.

Alternative financing
Producers need cold cash. If they are going to get it by featuring Mafatlal hoardings, they would. You cant blame the poor producers! Money eternally being in short supply, this is a great way to finance the film. Recently, Naseeruddin Shah admitted that hes shelved most of his dream projects due to lack of finance.

Film industry being as unorganised as it is, genuine above-the-board funding is hard to come by, and product placement is a golden opportunity. Some tie-ups also help in promoting the movie.

The average marketing budget for a Hollywood film is estimated to be about $ 25 million. Most of this is spent in the 3-4 weeks before the release of the movie. Tie-ups mean that the movie is getting that shot in the marketing arm that could probably make or break the movie.

An Emmy award-winning serial Horatio Hornblower had a marketing budget of $1 million. They spent half of that getting successful PP contracts and went on to become a rave series and the rest is that hateful subject - history.

What do the marketers think

Its cost-efficient. Pay once, and keep reaping the benefits at every show of the movie, or every time the kids get together and rent a CD, or the oldies celebrate their anniversary with a video, or a college movie club holds all-night movie shows. It also reaches a phenomenal number of people. The North American movie audience is about 1.42 billion. Another factor the marketers bank on is the powerful influence of the medium.

Movies have been typically blamed for most sins of society - violence, sexual abuse, drugs, smoking - you name it, we have a politician who can link it to the movies.

By subtly weaving a product into a scene, marketers hope audiences will connect their brand with the glamourous stars or story theyre seeing on the screen. Its a commercial of sorts - without the obvious hard sell of a commercial. It might not sound very nice - but quite obviously, the aim is to catch the consumer unawares, to sneak into her memory in her moment of vulnerability.

Lots of Product Placement agencies have also cropped up. These are business-savvy people who make a B-plan out of their glamour connections. A Los Angeles agency Norm Marshall & Associates, is credited with tying up BMW with the Bond.

While some of them are genuine and in for good, there are many more fly-by-night operators. Globally, many companies attest to bitter experiences with product placement agencies.

Research shows that 98 per cent of the total audience remembers at least one brand name after the movie. So brand recall is definitely there. But does it actually boost sales

There were a whole host of branded toys featured in Toy Story. One such toy company Slinky, which had folded, was back in business and sold $ 27 mn after the movie release. Sales of Red Stripe beer increased by 53 per cent, after Tom Cruise was seen slugging it in The Firm.

Industry sources estimate that BMW made $ 240 million in advance sales alone, purely due to the Golden eye placement. Reeses Pieces - the Hersheys candy featured in ET - saw a phenomenal sales growth of 66 per cent. But the same cannot be said for every product. Primarily because it hasnt been researched well to date. Unless marketing majors analyse the sales figures purely attributable to product placement, theres no saying if this works.

Personally speaking, the idea that one would go out and buy a product just because it is the objet de lamour on screen is quite funny, if not downright ridiculous.

Some experts agree with me, but they have more meat to their argument than personal opinion.

They argue that given the multitude of products seen in a movie, and the usual tying-up-with-the-storyline, audiences do not register the brands separately. That is, in their opinion, product placement does not push the consumer from the awareness to the trial stage of the marketing life cycle. But as with experts, there are others who disagree.

They feel that certain age groups and market segments are more vulnerable to this kind of advertising.

Placing captures the essence of a new kind of selfhood. Okay, wait dont go away. I didnt make that statement. Check out a site called www.placing.com

Theyve taken 26 brands (one for every letter of the alphabet) and worked them into imaginary scenes.

Now is the dawn of placing. People live with brands, brands that are a part of their day-to-day life. If they dont, its up to you, the marketer to place your brand in their life... to twine it in so cleverly that theyll never know.

To explain it better, I quote from the site: Just as most of us spend more time with our co-workers than our families, its even more true that we spend more time with products than with people-and the relationships we build around these products are worthy of attention. Its the interaction between the product and the person that we call placing. Ahem!

No doubt its a powerful idea. But powerful ideas are like stem cells. They need to be grown and nurtured if you want to make something of them. Product placement has to go beyond a mere 10-second shot or even a 5-minute exposure on the silver screen. It is no longer enough to see a brand on 70mm.

Marketers need to take it beyond that. Also, marketers would do well not to shoot in the dark, and place their brand in some film as a kind of me-too thing without a definite strategy and without knowing what exactly the association can do for them.

(The writers are students of IIM, Kolkata)