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Direct Response Goes Hollywood

1 Jul, 2011 By: Pat Cauley Response

From reality TV to scripted shows and feature films, more brands and DR products are finding specialized placement can work wonders.

Of late, most DR professionals will tell you they’re investing in social media ventures, but a few bold marketers have decided to join the conversation by integrating directly into entertainment content through product placement. While product placement has been around for years, it’s evolved and become a distinct, surefire way to brand and stand apart from the pack.

Getting Started

From 2006 to 2010, product placement has been on the rise with more than 5,300 occurrences across 12 major U.S. broadcast cable networks in primetime, according to Nielsen. In a progressively more fragmented media landscape, product placement is a unique alternative for opportunistic marketers looking to distinguish themselves from the clutter. In fact, MGI found that 60 percent of television viewers felt more positive about brands they recognized in a placement, with 45 percent saying they would be more likely to make a purchase. However, product placement is the farthest thing from a “one-size-fits-all” marketing strategy.

“Marketers need to have clearly identified goals and objectives for the brand integration. Is it eyeballs in terms of exposure? Are you looking to alter the image of the brand by associating with a property that perhaps has some appeal to a certain target audience?” says Linda Goldstein, partner at Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP.

For example, brands that may be well established with an older demographic could refresh by teaming up with a hipper entity to reach a younger audience. “It may be that the brand has gone through some difficult times and become somewhat tarnished, and if you can associate with a property that has a lot of cache, that may elevate the image of the brand,” says Goldstein.

Annette McArthur, owner and founder of Vancouver-based PitchaRoo Media Group, works to educate marketers about product placement and its varied opportunities. “Productions aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their heart. They don’t have to have a Coca-Cola can on a counter in a background scene in order to make their film better. They’re doing it as a way to fund projects and generate revenue to offset some of their costs,” says McArthur.

That being said, she explained that it doesn’t have to cost $100,000. “There are a lot affordable ways to have your product seen. It doesn’t have to be a blockbuster film,” she adds. A lot of times she’ll look for smaller or up-and-coming productions, like independent films, that are looking for just a little injection of cash.

“Independent films are huge. They’re not getting the funding that they used to because investors don’t have the money that they did. So it does create a win-win situation for the marketer and independent film producers to then promote the film,” says McArthur.

Once an integration project is chosen, Goldstein advises marketers to insist on as much control as possible over the manner in which the brand will be portrayed. “That is difficult and there’s a natural tension between the brand and the property owner because the producers want the freedom to integrate the brand in whatever way they wish. You as the brand want to make sure that your product is being portrayed in a positive light,” she says.

Even if you can’t get complete creative control, you want to be sure to have some sense of the creative context in which the product is going to be integrated. “Is your product going to be associated with the hero or the villain? Is it going to be portrayed as a product that provides value, or are they going to make fun of or ridicule the product?” says Goldstein.

And, coming from the DR world, Goldstein warns that marketers need to be hypersensitive so they don’t wind up the butt of the joke. “You should be able to negotiate for absolute approval over the segment that your product or brand would be featured in,” she says.


BJ Global scored a deal to place its Kymaro New Body Shaper ad on a TV screen during the feature film "Pure Country 2: The Gift"

Placement Experience

BJ Fazeli, founder and CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based BJ Global Direct, employed pioneering creative control when integrating the Kymaro New Body Shaper into the recent film “Pure Country 2: The Gift.”

“For us, the product placement makes sense because we’re branding our logo, our trademark, our line of products. Any promotion is good promotion for us, so that’s why we decided to do the product placement in that particular movie — because of the audience. Plus the fact that there was an opportunity in the scene to put a live URL and phone number as the Kymaro New Body Shaper played on a television screen,” says Fazeli.

While Fazeli’s placement in the film was unique in that it actually displayed his ad on a TV screen during the film, he didn’t go into it with an ROI-specific mentality thinking people would actually write down a phone number while in the theater. However as the film enjoys a mass-market release digitally and on DVD, the product integration has an opportunity to subliminally engage consumers without hammering them with a direct sales pitch.

“The consumer is in their comfort zone and they see Kymaro coming up and it refreshes their memory. For us, it’s not so much about measuring the ROI, but getting our brand name out there in front of consumers in a unique way,” he says. Fazeli is already looking forward to featuring Kymaro in the upcoming “State of the Union” remake that begins production this fall.

Goldstein contends that product placement works best when the product fits seamlessly into the creative as a natural fit given the plotline, versus trying to put a square peg in a round hole. That’s exactly what Kevin Harrington, chairman and founder of TVGoods Inc., established with “Father of Invention,” a film that centers on an eccentric inventor played by Kevin Spacey. “It was cool concept and great tie-in to the script because the character makes his fortune and comeback from a product called the Air Cutter,” he says.

Harrington got into product placement through attorney Jordon Yospe who helped powerhouse producer Mark Burnett with product placement on “Celebrity Apprentice,” which currently has more product integrations than any other primetime show according to Nielsen.

“The biggest downside of product placement is the lack of control that you have across the board — what they shoot, how they use your product, what gets filmed, how it’s used,” says Harrington. But furthermore, while making an investment on the front end of a production, marketers must also be concerned about not only the release and distribution of the film, but also its box office success.

“It’s one thing if you know you’re going to be in a movie that’s going to be a huge success, a franchise,” says Harrington. However, he took a bet on an A-List Hollywood cast in “Father of Invention” that has yet to hit theaters, since another one of Spacey’s films was getting Academy Award buzz and any projects that would get in the way of that were temporarily put on hold. “So if you’re planning a big retail launch around a movie — don’t. It should be something you do as above-and-beyond icing on the cake as far a promotion goes,” says Harrington.

However, Harrington smartly inked the deal with the film’s producers so that he talked them down some on upfront, with forthcoming payments for the product placement hinging on the film’s box office success. Additionally, he worked out a deal that would allow for Air Cutter product launch PR-style events at “Father Of Invention” film premieres worldwide, which obviously have the potential for huge, global press and viral buzz for the product. Building this marketing aura around the launch of the film and the product tie-in to it was especially enticing to international product distributors. “We negotiated product mentions on the movie trailer and also mentions on the movie posters,” he says.

Moreover, should the film gain positive traction, Harrington will look like a genius. He has footage of Spacey doing the infomercial within the film for the Air Cutter, which he’ll be able to use to help promote the product upon the film’s release. Harrington tested the actual product in the DRTV market during production, and while it wasn’t a bomb or a huge success, he anxiously awaits the film’s release schedule to see if the generated buzz warrants a full rollout of the DRTV campaign.

McArthur utilizes a less conventional approach. PitchaRoo has attempted to allow marketers who can’t afford the million-dollar sponsorships in primetime to get a piece of the product placement pie. “Go after the low hanging fruit, it’s not all about the biggest budgets,” she says. “These are the ones that are more likely to show growth, return in customers and referral business.”

McArthur adds, “PitchaRoo looks for opportunities for products to have a face in a market or avenue that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to on their own to increase awareness and sales.” For example, she proposed that if someone had a new line of hair care products and shelf space is already overflowing with established brands, it’s difficult for companies to break in.

“So what we do is find some other creative ways for you to get a name for yourself so that they’re saying, ‘I’ve heard of your product, let me find some shelf space for you,” she says. McArthur will place products in celebrity gift bags at Hollywood events and get pictures of celebrities holding their products. Or she’ll introduce a product to the right person on certain shows, for instance, a hair stylist on “Dancing With The Stars.”

“This gives companies’ bragging rights and ammunition to go back to their sales team and say ‘Look at all the cool people who like our product. Let’s use this to help sell our product,’” McArthur says.

This route could become increasingly lucrative given the fact that reality shows continue to gain headway on scripted shows in cost, development and product placement deals. Reality shows possessed the most product placement occurrences for the current year, accounting for more than 50 percent of total product placements in Nielsen’s study. Moreover, product placements on reality shows had stronger viewer impact in terms of opinions about a brand than other types of shows, according to Nielsen.

That’s a Wrap

PitchaRoo’s next big happening is a gifting event exclusively for the crews of television’s top shows called the Behind-TheScenes Showcase, coinciding with the Emmys in Los Angeles in September. “The crew always gets left out. This is for the camera operators, gaffers, grips, hair, makeup, wardrobe — all the people actually making the Hollywood magic,” McArthur says. “They never get invited to the celebrity gift rooms, so I’m doing an event specifically for them.”

Her goal is to take companies with new products that want to get into this circle and get them in front of people who will actually use and appreciate the products, which is especially important given how tight knit the crew is with the trendsetting celebrities since they’re their actual co-workers and friends on a daily basis.


Sherri Shepherd wears a piece from Take To The Sky Jewelry's Illuminaria collection at the 2011 Oscars, thanks to a product placement deal struck by PitchaRoo.

From a legal standpoint, Goldstein thinks marketers should keep their ears close to the ground moving forward. “The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is about to come up with some new rules about product placement disclosure that may have some impact, but right now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has applied the Endorsements & Testimonials Guidelines to a more stringent view of product placement in terms of requiring any disclosure that it’s paid for; they recognize that most consumers assume that. The one possible difference, and the FTC has warned about this, to the extent that the placement implies some performance characteristics about the product. If it was being demonstrated in a way that could not be supported by the advertiser, the FTC might take some action but we haven’t really seen that happen yet,” she says.

Government agencies aside, as direct response continues to gain more widespread notoriety, Goldstein offers some words of encouragement for industry peers. “Don’t be star struck! I think sometimes product owners lose some of their bargaining power they might otherwise have because they become overcome by the excitement of being featured in a film or TV show,” she says.

From an innovation standpoint, Harrington, who recently acquired, is partnering with San Francisco-based media E-commerce company Delivery Agents to take the site to the next level and flipping the entire concept and marriage of product placement and DRTV on its head. They’re positioning to be the destination consumers would go to on the Web to purchase faux products they’ve seen on their favorite TV shows, for example a True Blood energy drink from the HBO smash hit “True Blood.” “I’m ready to take the direct response world to the next extreme. People will be able to buy these products from their favorite TV shows from their remote controls,” he says.

Whether it’s the Cash4Gold Super Bowl spot, Snuggies at the Oscars, TELE-Brands’ A.J. Khubani on the morning talk show circuit, “Pitchmen,” “Shark Tank,” or even Response Magazine’s recent segment on “The Today Show,” all are glaring indicators of how ingrained the DRTV industry has become in mainstream culture and entertainment. Provocative, innovative and fun ways to further these inroads are DR marketers’ for the taking.

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