Product placement in film may be about to have a renaissance, but is it the most effective use of a brand's budget, asks Julia Hutchison.
The recent release of Australian director Baz Luhrmann's film, The Great Gatsby, has drawn a tide of column inches. Surprisingly, however, this has not solely been for its screen-play and sumptuous cinematic experience, but also because it appears to have set a new benchmark for promotional tie-ins with luxury brands.
Visit the ‘Guide to style' on the film's website and you'll find a string of content which sees the film's stars enthusing over everything from the Tiffany props and Mac make-up to the Brooks Brothers costumes. On top of this the press has been littered with pictures of the glamorous premiere party in Cannes, brought to you by Moët & Chandon. Meanwhile, Fairmont Hotels' flagship New York property, The Plaza, which features in both the film and the original novel, is celebrating its own tie-in to the film with a Moët pop-up bar and a weekly ‘Gatsby Hour' delivering an immersive Gatsby experience. Also, the group's iconic London hotel, the Savoy, has launched a special cocktail in its American Bar. Even Harrods has got in on the act with its Gatsby-themed window displays.
Of course, these sorts of tie-in are nothing new, but to have so many luxury brands so heavily involved in one feature is a first and for Hollywood the belief is that this approach understandably represents the future. As Stacy Jones, chief executive of Hollywood Branded, who secured BlackBerry's role in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, explained in a recent article in London's Evening Standard: "Product placement is as old as Hollywood itself. But I think we're about to see its heyday. You've got a fragmented audience, a tight financial situation, and producers realising that they need real partners - not just someone who writes them a cheque so the Chevy logo features in a scene."
Indeed, as more and more content producers - from musicians to film producers - turn to brands to help them deliver quality content to their audiences, these types of partnerships are only going to become more common across the screens of ourvarious devices.
The problem for brands is that as Hollywood seeks to form more "partnerships" to help fund their vast budgets, the more those brands are going to fight for air in what willbecome an incredibly crowded environment. And the film industry hardly has an exemplary track record in terms of product placement; we don't need to look back far in Hollywood's history to see films that have been panned for their gratuitous product placement.
Two examples that immediately spring to mind include the "Sex and the City" movie that set the standards at possibly an all-time low when it unapologetically promoted 67 different brands, and the James Bond film Quantum of Solace's partnership with Omega watches, where in one scene Daniel Craig looks at his wrist and you get a less than necessary full screen shot of the Omega Seamaster.
Undeniably these ventures will be important to Hollywood's future, but one would hope the film industry sees fit to raise the bar a little and incorporate brands in more tasteful and interesting ways. The last thing you want as a brand partner is to find yourself battling for airtime with 66 other brands or to find your brand image tarnished by some injudicious placement. Yes, everyone wants to be involved with the medium of film, but there are more effective ways of doing this. At the end of the day this is still paid-for media and do you really want to be clinging to the coat tails of someone else's success?
As the internet opens up distribution of video content to bigger and bigger audiences, brands like Chanel and Jaguar are now leading the field by working to create their own long-form video content. Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld's association with Keira Knightley on films such as Once Upon a Time explores the brand-owned possibilities for sumptuous cinematic content to reinforce its positioning and strengthen its bond further with its target audience. Jaguar, on the other hand, teamed up with Ridley Scott Associates and Golden Globe winner Damian Lewis to promote its new F-Type with a mini-feature entitled Desire that sets the car against an intriguingly dramatic backdrop.
Product placement will always have its place, but as video becomes an increasingly important tool for consumer engagement, the chance to actually own your own film content rather than just piggy back someone else's opens up a whole world of opportunities for brands that they perhaps never thought was possible.
Posted by: Julia Hutchison, Head of Content, Group FMG