With the release of Spectre on the 26th October the same buzz that accompanies all Bond films has permeated news outlets everywhere. James Bond is arguably one of the most iconic movie franchises ever, and with that comes the opportunity for MGM and Columbia Pictures to capitalize on the chance to place brands and products in their film.
The financial benifits generated from these product partnerships is undeniable. For example, BMW spent a reported $3 million integrating its Z3 into the 1995 Bond film Goldeneye. The car manufacture saw a $240 million lift in sales of the model as a direct result of the placement.
In some cases, the sheer volume of products on show can be comedic. In the last James Bond film, Skyfall, brands like Omega, Macallan Whisky, Land Rover, Tom Ford, Aston Martin, Heineken, BMW and Sony all made appearances on screen with the salacious martini-sipping (or Heineken-sipping), smooth-talking Lothario. It is rumoured that the Heineken-Bond partnership alone, cost the Dutch brewery an eye-watering 45 million U.S. dollars. This is a good indication of how profitable product placement is for the film industry these days.
The fact that brand advertising is everywhere now makes me ask myself, is it really necessary in film? To me, films are works of entertainment that let us escape our lives for just a few hours. They absorb us into someone else’s perspective on the world or, indeed create an entirely different one for us to imagine. That is, of course, why we love them. So, watching our protagonist take a sip from a can of Coca Cola, while he/she flashes a Rolex before jumping into a brand new BMW (with each logo closely and carefully worked into every shot) has the potential to cause cynicism.
When a film makes a conscious effort to include a variety of different products, it can detract from the film content. If there is a bombardment of products on screen, I personally become very aware I am watching a film and find myself no longer captivated by what’s the one screen action.
On the other hand, some product and film partnerships can be magical and enhance the films authenticity. For example, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. is synonymous with Reese’s Pieces after the beloved family alien is lured out of hiding with the famous peanut butter snack. This is a brilliant use of a relevant and contemporary product in a fictional story to help the viewer believe that they are seeing is a coherent and consistent reality. Hershey did not pay to have Reese’s Pieces used in E.T. However, a deal was inked in which Hershey Foods agreed to promote E.T. with $1 million of advertising; in return, Hershey could use E.T. in its own ads.
Figures vary as to how much sales of Reese’s Pieces jumped after the film was released. Sources say sales of the peanut butter candy doubled or tripled just a week after E.T.’s release. This was not only clever business for both Spielberg and Hershey but also clever product placement. It wasn’t just a flash of the product on the screen: rather the snacks played a role in the film and didn’t just serve to increase the film’s market value.
Films and brands themselves, can be negatively affected by the over use of brand and product placement in a way that doesn’t fully relate to the film. Will it ever change? Probably not. Why? Because the amount of money and recognition that now accompanies brand and franchise partnerships is irresistible. And to be honest, do we notice it enough in a film for it to negatively affect the way we view that brand? Again, probably not.
However, brands should be wary of the attention they draw to their product. Rather than fluently creating an association between the brand, film and audience, if managed poorly, it can become a jarring element in the film which can ruin the viewing experience and potentially the viewer’s opinion of the brand. Product placement is here to stay, but why should a mutually beneficial partnership be a negative thing? As long as it’s not at the detriment of the viewers and fans who have bought the tickets, DVD or subscription to watch them then I will leave it be… for now.
Kitt Smith, Intern, Brand Marketing
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November 20, 2023
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