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Winning the accolade “Film Whore” of the year probably wasn’t top of their award ‘dream’ list, but it was the title given to the producers of the “Sex & the City” movie in BrandChannel’s 2008 Product Placement Awards. To test the merit of this win, ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine sent two reporters to a screening to count the number of brands and products featured in the film. They managed to spot a staggering 67. In amongst a profusion of designer names and leading style brands were Apple, Manolo Blahnik, Starbucks, Prada and Tiffany & Co. Both the movie and original TV show focus on fashion, glamour and wealth, so it’s easy to name drop designers and introduce brands that fit naturally into that kind of lifestyle. Having seen the film twice, on initial cinema release then again when it was recently televised, I could only remember about 5 or 6 brands off the top of my head. Good because the products were integrated sympathetically into the editorial content, or bad because I couldn’t recall them therefore they failed to make an impact?

Of course product placement has been a feature of cinema practically since its inception. From “It’s A Wonderful Life” through to the Bond films and even animation with Disney’s “Anastasia” featuring a bottle of Chanel perfume. The right product in the right film can attract sizeable advertising revenue. The prominence of ‘Reece’s Pieces’ chocolate, in “E.T” resulted in a sales boost of 65% and “Minority Report” broke records by reeling in $20 million on the back of its product placement deals.

A new documentary film, released this week, by “Supersize Me” filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, takes a probing look at this industry. Entitled “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”, it highlights the pervasive nature of advertising in movies whilst, ironically, being shamelessly funded entirely by those very advertisers. Its biggest contributor, the drinks manufacturer POM, paid $1m for the privilege of having their name strategically placed in the title. Initially, Spurlock had problems getting companies to even partake in the film. Of the 650 he asked, only 15 actually agreed to feature; presumably concerned about potential damage to their reputation.

The financial benefits of product placement in cinema have been clear to see as it has had the opportunity to evolve over decades. Television is a different story, particularly in the UK. Prior to February 2011 it was disallowed, but with Ofcom’s lift on the ban and a new set of guidelines, opportunities have opened up and this area of revenue generation, could well receive a fresh boost. With more people using catch up services to view TV programmes or watching via PVR it has become easier to bypass ads completely. For this reason, working a brand name or product into the TV show is likely to become increasingly more important to advertisers. The guidelines stipulate that the ‘P’ logo has to be displayed at the start and end of shows to alert viewers. There are also limits on the types of products featured, so no booze, fags, fatty or sugary foods, guns or gambling.  So far, only a handful of shows in the UK have actively featured product placement. These include, “This Morning” who struck a deal with ‘Nescafe’ to prominently feature one of their coffee machines and “Style The Nation”, a channel 4 show ad-funded with ‘New Look’ for contestants to take part in a style competition. This slow start is more than likely due to the fact that a number of processes around this activity, still need to be clarified; from issues such as on-screen talent being seen to endorse products, to pricing deals that can compare and be measured with those of traditional TV advertising.

Certain genres of programme will of course provide a more natural home to product placement than others. Covetable brands and luxury goods probably lend themselves most, so shows centred on fashion, technology and sport could particularly benefit. As well as being a regulatory requirement, it is vital that placement of products and brand names, is in keeping with the editorial steer of the show. A profusion of brands and logos is liable to turn an audience off so subtlety is the name of the game. Still at a formative stage, measurable data is required before its success can be gauged, but according to IHS Screen Digest, revenue earned from product placement could reach £38million by 2015. A show in the gaming & technology vein, perhaps teaming up with a mobile provider or handset leader, could strike the right balance between enhancing editorial content and delivering a lucrative return on product. There are certainly opportunities available to take creative risks and forge exciting new partnerships in an interesting space worth watching.

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