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Can Creative Product Placement Be A Win-Win?

March 15, 2011

[Guest post by Owen Katz, Senior Integrated Producer at JWT]

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Morgan Spurlock‘s new autobio-docu-blockbuster—screened on Sunday at SXSW—focuses on (himself and) product placement, advertising, and co-branding in entertainment. This plot-less, conflict-less picture shows him searching for, courting, and securing sponsors, then satisfying those contracts into the final piece. It all happens on camera—it’s like watching the pre-production meetings as part of the final edit.

The brands that joined with Spurlock (Mini, Old Navy, Hyatt Hotels, and others) are taking a risk here, since we know he can be a major nuisance to major brands—think the demonization of McDonald’s in “Super Size Me.” The brands acknowledge this, sometimes on camera, and dive head first into the experiment. This is an exercise in transparency, a trend in communications that brands are happy to be associated with. (Spurlock claimed to have called every ad agency and got only one answer, from Richard Kirshenbaum of kbs+p.)

Hopefully this experiment will challenge brands to demand more seamless integration of sponsorship into entertainment. What we see now is often clunky, contrived plot mentions or gaudy billboarding in TV shows and movies. It could represent a win-win scenario for advertisers and content producers. As Robert Rodriguez said in his branded content discussion (and Nike ad), “Product placement gives us a bigger budget. Bigger budget means bigger explosions.”

Spurlock raised the $1 million for production via sponsors, and as he said in the Q & A, “This will be the first major doc to be in profit upon release date.” And he defends this giddy self-exploitation: “I’m not selling out, I’m buying in.”

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2011 9:22 am

    That should be an interesting movie! I’ll look out for it.

    I suppose for Product Placement to be done right, you’d either barely notice the product or else it would be a seamless part of the plot. I can see Facebook and other social media brands used that way very easily, and of course old-world brands like Coke.

    • March 16, 2011 9:26 am

      I think success of the product would depend on how much brand reputation it has already cultivated and the extent of its influence. For example, some brands don’t have a global market.

    • March 16, 2011 10:35 am

      The one I always think about is that almost every movie uses Apples… And, though it’s an old example, the 90-minute Mac ad Hackers comes to mind.

      Tobacco is another one that gets special treatment.

      I find it interesting that we shrug off some placement in movies and TV; yet would abhor this in physical art or music…

  2. March 16, 2011 9:31 am

    Film makers have been working hand-in-hand with manufacturers and marketers for decades – and why not? In film, product placement (unless done ineptly) is win-win for all concerned. But when the lines get blurred, including branded content, advertorial and product placement in documentaries (even just as sponsorship), editorial integrity can be challenged.
    As in all things – transparency is what counts.

  3. March 16, 2011 9:31 am

    Spurlock is a genius. I can’t see how far open our eyes will become in response to this flick. I still haven’t recovered from Super Size Me … the only thing I’ll consume from McDonald’s is a Diet Coke, into which I’m convinced they throw crack.Their Diet Cokes are so much better than anyone else’s!

    Great post — can’t wait! :)

  4. March 16, 2011 9:53 am

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I will definitely be on the lookout for this movie. Also, that’s no easy task, raising 1$ million… awesome ;)

  5. March 16, 2011 10:04 am

    Even Spurlock has to suffer the indignity of maintaining a roof, a family, filling all stomachs, keeping the lights on and the rooms heated.

  6. March 16, 2011 12:41 pm

    Product placement is EVERYWHERE- even the new Britney music video has 500,000 worth of product placements…

  7. March 16, 2011 2:11 pm

    Can’t wait to see the film. Vey true that product placement is done badly; Witness the ‘hand’s of my heine’ moment in Austin Powers as the protagonist clutches a Heineken. It’s also obvious which brands push PP, like Apple and Jack Daniels, the latters tentacles spreading into every aspect of pop-culture, with mentions in songs and novels alike.

    Will the future be any better though, or will we just see whole scenes then entire films built around a brand in some kind of postmodern twist where the placement becomes the product?

  8. March 16, 2011 3:21 pm

    Seeing the car grill or the obvious soda in someone’s had has been going on for so long. I look forward to see this movie and Spurlock’s exploration of the subject.

  9. March 16, 2011 3:35 pm

    This seems like its going to be a very interesting film and I look forward to following up to see how successful it is! I have learned a lot about product placement in my advertising courses and since then have noticed that its everywhere! I agree that product placement is a win-win so long as the featured product does not compromise the integrity of the film and the editorial staff. Good post!

  10. March 16, 2011 8:51 pm

    Product placement may not be a perfect pitch for every company but it does have its up side. Companies like patron used product placement in Burlesque with Christina Aguilera. Also we should consider the possibility of product placement decreasing commercial time if multiple products were skillfully shown in any selected tv show.

  11. March 16, 2011 10:50 pm

    very interesting doc! would love to watch it. prod placements have become soo transparent that they defeat the purpose. In fact the only one I liked is the one from 30 Rock for verizon(hey-i remember the brand!). It was a parody on the product placement with Tina Fey saying “Can we have our money now?’ straight to the camera.

  12. March 17, 2011 1:19 am

    This is actually an interesting idea. It also must be good to know you are in profit before launch.

    I think the industry is running out of ideas generally (look how many sequels and rehashes we have nowadays). Fresh quirky ideas like this are going to be what provides entertainment in the future. If it does it will be really cool as it will be a move that values creativity over big budgets.

  13. March 17, 2011 4:57 am

    Greetings from Hungary! :)

  14. March 17, 2011 7:49 am

    Seems like it will be an interesting film to check out! Nice post and congratz on being FP!

  15. traditionalchinesefoods permalink
    March 17, 2011 8:50 am

    I like it

  16. March 17, 2011 8:53 am

    روعه اكيد يخرع ورهيب خخخخخخخخخخخ

  17. March 29, 2011 2:54 am

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  18. March 29, 2011 3:08 am

    I was new in the world of bloggers so please guidance yes,

  19. March 29, 2011 4:40 am

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  20. April 7, 2011 2:00 am

    I think success of the product would depend on how much brand reputation it has already cultivated and the extent of its influence. For example, some brands don’t have a global market.

  21. April 12, 2011 5:22 am

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I will definitely be on the lookout for this movie. Also, that’s no easy task, raising 1$ million… awesome ;)

  22. July 23, 2014 1:13 am

    Thank you very much!

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