PRODUCT PLACEMENT AND BRANDING
When someone mentions E.T. what immediately comes to mind?
A boy, a bicycle, and a loveable creature silhouetted against a magnificent full moon.
Think of your favorite film and chances are the image that pops into your head comes straight from the film’s one-sheet, that coveted poster that once graced the walls of your favorite movie theater.
The silhouette of a lone fireman emerges from a background of searing flames. “Silently behind a door, it waits. One breath of oxygen and it explodes in a deadly rage. In that instant it can create a hero… or cover a secret.” (Backdraft)
The hands of a child and adult loosely entwined against a charcoal background which bears a faint typewritten list of names and numbers. The scene is cast in subtle shades of gray with the exception of the child’s red sleeve. (Schindler’s List)
From the hundreds of applications I read a year, the ones that stay with me are the ones that include a picture, or one-sheet, representing the film’s concept. Instant association; this is what you want from the very first day you start to work on your film. You will spend the next two or three years working to develop your ideas into tangible images that will project your message.
Brand these images. Put your message into one identifiable picture that will promote your vision and then go out there and capture your audience. Use some of your seed money to commission an artist and create your very own one-sheet. Quick Print Works of L.A. does this for the winners of my grants. Contact George Benitz at firstname.lastname@example.org and see what he can do for you.
I have my very own one-sheet, but I must go back a few years to tell you how I got it. I was blessed to have my great-grandmother with me for the first thirteen years of my life. Every day I would race home from school and beg my Gigi to tell me stories about my great-great grandfather, Christopher Edward “Tobe” Odem. After Tobe’s mother died, his father quickly remarried, but according to Gigi, Tobe and his father’s new bride didn’t exactly get along. One afternoon after watching a band of cowboys ride through town, Tobe decided it was time to spread his wings. He rode out to join them and never looked back. He was 12 years old.
Tobe Odem was an American cowboy. One of those indomitable Texas spirits, who rounded up longhorn by the hundreds, branded their hides then drove them across Indian Territory forging the Chisholm Trail. As I sat and listened to Gigi’s stories I would stare out the window and try to imagine what it was like to cross hundreds of miles of open prairie for months on end without running into one barbed wire fence. It must have been heaven!
I was always full of questions: “How did they find water? How did they find the trail? How did they know which way to go?” Gigi smiled and told me that “Old Tom” showed them the way. Old Tom was not your ordinary steer. Once a fellow cattleman offered to buy Old Tom for $3,000 which was a virtual fortune back in the mid-1800s but Tobe wouldn’t think of parting with his prized possession. Why Tobe was so proud of that crazy old steer that he decorated his horns with gold rings!
I listened wide-eyed as Gigi told me about the various outlaws who rode into the Tobe Odem Ranch for some conversation and a bite to eat. According to the law of the Old West, when you had lunch outside visitors were always welcome. Outlaw or lawman, it made no difference. Amnesty always prevailed at lunch, once you hung your gun belt on the fence post. No one judged around the big Odem table as hired hands, bandits, and the Odem family partook of the grub and lively conversation. As soon as lunch was over the outlaws would mount their horses and set off, most likely in the direction of the next train or closest bank.
Gigi’s wonderful stories stayed with me long after I left Texas for the bright lights of Hollywood, but as the years flew by I found myself longing for a piece of my past. I decided an oil painting of Tobe Odem would serve to capture the spirit of my roots so I commissioned one of my favorite artists to do the job. Tobe couldn’t oblige me by sitting for the portrait but I was confident the artist could capture his spirit if I introduced Tobe through the stories I had heard as a young child. I wrote them all down, then searched through the archives of Dallas newspapers and through volumes of dusty old books to find more. When I had the vision I was looking for I gathered everything together and sent it off to the artist.
I know this is a long story to drive home the importance of a one-sheet but what can I tell you? I’m a Texan and telling tall tales runs in my blood! I could have sent the artist an old photo, but the point is it takes more information if you are going to project the right image. Through my research I learned things I never heard from my dear Gigi. I learned that Tobe lived with a mysterious American Indian woman, that he was a great friend to Chief Quanta Parker, and that his favorite horse was a beautiful Appaloosa. Tobe Odem, 1858-1913. What an amazing life. I sent all this information to the famous authentic painter of Texas history; Bruce Marshall and I waited 18 months for him to create a collage of Tobe’s life. And now it’s all there in a magnificent portrait of Tobe sitting astride that beautiful horse.
I couldn’t help but send the following information to Bruce to enable him to feel the essence of the man.
One of my favorite stories of Tobe is about the night when Tobe and his men had just arrived outside of Dodge after three months on the trail. Yearning for company, they invited some of the town ladies to visit the camp. As the ladies sang and danced, the cowboys gave them all nicknames as was customary.
The ladies stayed for a few days and begged Tobe for a chance to see a stampede. Toward evening on the second day, Tobe took a squint at the sky and said, “Get ready, gals, there’s a bad storm coming and they will surely run tonight. I’ll give each of you a partner, so the boys can tell you what to do.”
The storm came fast, whipping the dust and blackening the sky. When the lightning crackled and sizzled, the steers were on their feet, running with tails over their heads. Latigo Liz, Maud Ketchum, Frog Lips Annie and all the other ladies began to holler and yell. What a sight to see, thirty-five hundred Texas steers racing the wind, horns a-popping and crackling, hoofs churning the Kansas plains. Every time the lightning spit, you could see the steers crowded close and racing along like the devil was after them.
When Tobe Odem made the tally, he was short over 100 steers, a mighty expensive stampede that he might have been able to stop if Tobe hadn’t wanted to give the girls a treat.
The point is, please take the time to produce a one-sheet that represents the spirit of your film. You might have postcards made with your vision on one side and use the other side for the log line of the film. These PR cards can go on top of your proposals or in the mail as postcards. Use them as greeting cards or calling
cards, leave them on desks and counters, and you can pass them around at film festivals. Be creative, don’t leave home without them!
People retain information differently. People who are visual tend to store information in pictures, while people who are auditory seem to retain information better through listening. Then there are those who are tactile or kinesthetic. These people seem to absorb information easier through moving, doing and touching. Strive to reach people on each of these levels. I printed my one-sheet on heavy textured paper so family and friends could feel the Old West as well as see it.
You need to create the PR on your film before you even start shooting. I once heard the story of a producer who went through her entire budget before she even stepped foot in the editing suite. However, she managed to scrape together $500 and guess what she did with it? She hired a publicist to do a write-up in the New York Times. She sent this article to everyone she knew — friends, donors and associates — to let them know that her project was alive and well. This producer generated so much interest with that one article that she was able to raise the balance she needed to get her film completed. People who had donated to the film wanted her to finish it, so they reinvested in the film with more donations and grants.
Publicists are not just for the rich and famous. Use a publicist to do write-ups in the trades. Do this early in production and use these articles in your proposals and your portfolio. Publicity gets results. Xackery Irving did his own publicity and he used his articles when he asked for discounts and donations. These articles are always prominently placed in his funding packages. It’s not always the circulation of the paper, it’s the fact that you are in the paper. People will read the article and won’t always notice it may just be the local Hollywood paper and not the L.A. Times.
Never underestimate the power of publicity. Include advertising and promotion in your film’s budget and start your campaign from day one, even if production is slated to last five years. The time to start advertising is yesterday.
A Conversation with Entertainment Professional Patricia Ganguzza, a Pioneer in the Product Placement Field
Patricia Ganguzza started in the TV Spot Sales department of NBC-TV in New York and later moved to the network’s Los Angeles affiliate. Today Patricia is the President of AIM Productions, a full-service entertainment marketing company where she oversees the business and development of product placement for over fifty corporate clients including Verizon, The Unilever Corporation, M&M Mars, Kraft Foods, Blackberry, and Cadbury Schweppes. Patricia’s branded entertainment success these days includes product integrations on primetime and daytime television. Brands she represents have enjoyed featured roles in shows like The Apprentice, Ellen, Megan Mullaly, Tyra, Crossing Jordan, Dancing with the Stars, Queer Eye, and more. She also brings partners to studios with brands for tie-in promotions with their feature films from Universal’s Jurassic Park to Disney’s Enchanted.
Patricia’s schedule would make the most driven adult beg for mercy, yet she took time out to sit down and talk to me about product placement and branding because she cares about filmmakers like you and she wants you to succeed. So sit back and learn from one of the most knowledgeable, well-respected people in the industry.
What do you say to young filmmakers who are perhaps a bit idealistic about the marriage between corporations and the film industry?
I have spoken and taught classes at NYU Tisch specifically about the business of filmmaking. It certainly is a business. I meet a lot of young filmmakers who think the only business part of filmmaking is the financing. I educate them about the role corporations play in the production and marketing of the majority of films today. Hollywood and corporate America shook hands a long time ago. Although filmmakers come with all of these ideals about not compromising the creativity of their film by having any influence by corporate sponsors, I always tell them it is nice to hold the ideal vision and not have to sacrifice your creativity, but if you remain too rigid in that vein of thinking, your films may never get made. There is a creative way to involve corporations and their products without sacrificing your creative endeavor or compromising the creative vision.
There was a young French girl in one of my classes who said, “I would never compromise by putting some brand name product in my film,” and I said, “Well, enjoy your film career, whatever that is.” I am telling you that this is the reality of Hollywood today. Regardless of whether you ever see a brand name in the film or not; there has been one or more companies and brands assisting that film.
How did AIM get into this business?
My background was in advertising, I was an account supervisor and a supervisor of media planning at different ad agencies. I really was able to see how clients spend their money and what they get back in return from the traditional media spending. Commercial advertising was always the halcyon of marketing where corporations spent the bulk of their money. Having been supervisor of media planning, dealing with networks and all the fees associated with it, I was in the perfect space to analyze return on investment and how much it takes to get a brand name and product into the consumer psyche.
One agency I worked with was the first company to produce a mini-series. The mini-series concept was produced as original programming for independent stations in the television markets that had to compete with network programming and found it hard to sell their commercial spots against such strong programming when all they had to offer up were reruns. All of this experience gave me the background I needed to begin to explore a new field that was in its infancy; but offered the opportunity to leap frog over traditional marketing and right into the consumer’s line of sight. At one of the ad agencies my accounts included Walt Disney Pictures. Being responsible for new ideas in film marketing, we became immersed in the world of creative content and how best to reach the consumer with it.
Then I met my business partner, Joyce Phillips, who had a young product placement agency. She and I instantly saw the opportunity to merge our experience and expand the company to a full-service entertainment marketing company, specializing in product placement, branded entertainment, and entertainment promotions.
For the last twenty years we have remained a trendsetter and leader in the industry. Of course the pitch to the corporations continually changed because it was an evolving business and there were no textbooks about it and certainly no measurement of what this delivers, which is what corporations want to know, what is the return on the investment?
What is the difference between product placement and branded content?
It is really the same thing. There is an evolution that product placement made over the last twenty years. Products were appearing in films by the natural cause of selection or the creative process and some people were becoming friends with editors and when they saw the product in the films they would think, “Gee, this is a great idea. I should just go tell the corporation that I can get their product in this movie and charge them for doing that!” Actually, the product was placed there by a production person in order to satisfy a set need or a prop need, but people began to see the immediate tie in with corporations. So product placement was really meant to be something that lent authenticity to a set or a scene.
The advantage to getting a product placed by design instead of accident is that it also came with the legal clearance necessary to permit its use. It became a legitimate business when it became a legal practice to authorize the use of a product. With this came the inherent desire by each and every brand to have their product and brand name protected from inappropriate use as well. When you are working on the film the reality is that if you want the viewer to feel like they’re immersed in this storytelling, you want the environment to be as familiar to the viewer as possible.
We are a branded nation so the brand names lend authenticity to a character and/or to a set. Product placement agencies actually began popping up to be the intermediary between the studios and the corporations working in the best interests of both; providing the product and also protecting the brand from any placements deemed to be in bad taste or damaging to the brand name. Then it became competitive, because when you’ve got a placement like Coca-Cola in the hands of a major actor and Pepsi saw it, of course Pepsi wanted to be there and then other soft drinks began vying for the same opportunities. It had the instant ability of making a brand “cool,” “hip,” and “relevant.”
The business sprung up really just to service productions and in the process all of us at young agencies realized it was a money-making proposition. Every agency basically created original models. What we knew we needed to do of course was represent corporations and service productions and during this process make a lot of friends along the way who would facilitate the process: producers, directors, writers, studios, networks, and production people.
A major contribution that we make is that we facilitate the legal clearances for the use of brand name product for the studios, but it is really the producers who benefit from the work we do because through the loan of product we defray their production costs as well. There are a lot of young filmmakers who come to me and ask AIM for funding. A lot of these independent films can be made on a shoestring. Their entire budget may only be from $25,000 to $75,000.
Because product placement has taken a major spotlight roll in feature film marketing, most independent filmmakers who are just coming up see the major films with these large product placements, and they assume those corporations are financing that film.
That is not the case. Generally, they are simply defraying costs by contributing product that would otherwise have to be purchased or rented, and with the fee placements they are securing exclusivity for their brands. With both types of commitments, if it is substantial enough — the value of the loaned goods, or the fee paid — they may receive guarantees from the studio that the product will be featured. The value to the marketer is that their product has the chance of high visibility in a feature film with worldwide distribution.
They are defraying costs.
Yes, take a product placement in a major picture, like a Tom Cruise film, Minority Report. Even films of this type do have placement fees for participation that normally can start at $250,000. When you are talking about a film like Minority Report and you add all those placements up it comes to one to two million dollars worth of placement and it is only a tiny dent in the budget of that film. So while $250,000 would be a windfall for an independent film, it is a token fee for exclusivity on a film of this size. And on the flip side, a smaller film could not ask for $250,000 for a placement because those fees would only be considered by a company if it is an A-list blockbuster film with a an A-list actor, and a national distribution.
On a smaller scale with a smaller film, these filmmakers will come to me and say, “We have this great opportunity and I can take a product like Snapple and the whole story can be about Snapple and we are only asking for $12,000.”
Our clients are spoiled; they are not used to paying for placements when they don’t have to. Because I have a soft spot for these young filmmakers I tell them, “I will get you goods and services to keep your costs down and help you with crafts services, which I don’t do for large films.” However, on a small independent film I will sometimes provide product for craft services because every donation helps.
What do you ask for in return for these donations to independent filmmakers?
If I give beverages and food products, things that you can use for craft services, I will ask them to place the products in the film as well and provide me with a finished copy of the film. I may be able to get them locations for nothing, or I may be able to hook them up with wardrobe or with electronics, or if they need a gym, or exercise equipment. These are all things they would have to put into the budget below the line for sets for props. They always appreciate any assistance I can provide. They must promise me however that they won’t forget who was there for them when they started — when they hit it big! I’m always rooting for them.
I can tell you this is a hard sell for me to sell corporations on these independent films because they want to be in the films that have wide distribution and yet I can tell you that more than five of the top ten films at Sundance every year are the films that I helped. In fact some of my clients came back and said “AIM Productions’ name was all over the place!” I think that is great. I didn’t ask for credits but they gave them freely.
Do people who are looking for product placement need to send you a script first?
Every single project starts with a synopsis so I can take a look and see if the content is something I would consider working on. It is impossible for me to get product into an R-rated film that is full of sex and violence. Remember these are companies that have spent millions of dollars to create a brand image and you can kill it in an instant with a bad placement.
The synopsis is my first glance; then I read the entire script and do my own breakdown scene-by-scene, set-by-set. On a studio property I will provide them with a complete list of what I can provide the production with and which placement opportunities are of keen interest to me for one or more of my brands. From there on it is a negotiating proposition with the studios. Smaller independents, as I said, work differently.
There is a responsibility that we take on and there is a responsibility on the filmmaker to insure that there is not anything damaging or disparaging to a brand. Some films I will give them the product for craft services and I will say, “I can help you with your costs, but please don’t place the product in the film anywhere.” It is just basically a gift.
On the reverse side if it is a great little film, then I want to see the product used in a manner where I would see the brand name in at least one scene. It doesn’t have to be seen more than once to satisfy my placement requirements.
Can independent filmmakers get cash for their films from corporations?
Usually if an independent filmmaker comes to me and they have credentials then I might be able to get a small fee for them, but generally speaking the ones that call me are new directors. For example when Hebrew Hammer came to me they didn’t have any credentials for me to sell them, so I basically gave permission and I gave them product to use from my clients because I thought it was a good project.
I didn’t get my clients too involved in it because in my primary contract with my client I have the authority to place their product wherever I see fit, so I didn’t really enlist them to say, “Oh, you should really do this film and if you like it, maybe give him some money to promote it at Sundance.” I didn’t do this because they would want to know why I was recommending this film when these producers did not have any credentials. Now, this producer has credentials and that I can talk about to my clients.
Is it easier to get corporations into films with celebrities?
We also worked on Pieces of April, which had some celebrities in it. I love the independents. I can certainly say that in some instances I can assist them with funding on a small level but not on a level where a corporation would put up the money to actually produce the film, because my clients are not in the business of film financing, and if they were they would have a better way to measure a film as an investment. Everything in the corporate world is measuring return on their investment. The film business is very risky and it doesn’t fit their business model.
Do you find product placement for documentaries?
I have had a lot of discussions with documentary filmmakers and I always tell them to bring the project because this is different. If this is a documentary that will be on a cable network that has a narrow, targeted audience then maybe my corporate clients would be interested in sponsorship. Often we can negotiate a deal with the producer before they partner with a distributor and the partnership adds to the desirability of the property when securing their distribution deals, because there is so much of this out there. It is a tricky proposition though and we have to be careful what we commit to.
Sponsorship money is different than some of the independent films that come to us and ask for finance. Sponsorship money means that we want to associate the brand’s name and product with the film property because we think its theme and interest will appeal to some of our consumers.
A documentary comes with credibility about a particular topic that our clients have found out through personality profiles on their consumers that a particular field or topic interests them. For instance, someone who does a documentary on Hollywood legends might be of interest to Revlon, or Max Factor. Then I would help them get some funding from Revlon to put into the film and use it as a sponsorship.
The producers can use this money any way they want. I would negotiate an end-credit with a full screen, “Special thanks for Revlon,” and also a lead-in when it airs. It would have to say, “This program is brought to you by Revlon.” Sponsorship dollars you can make a case for because it will air on TV and Revlon will get their opening billboard, their closing billboard and the voice over with “Sponsorship brought to you by…” This has immediate value to Revlon if the show appeals to a clearly target consumer segment.
What other ways do corporations use their sponsorship money?
There are many opportunities for sponsorships, integrated product placement, and promotional tie-ins with primetime TV shows, specials, reality series and such. Fox Sports has been very active in this area and has been most creative in their ideas and execution. For example, let’s take The Best Damn Sports Show. Our clients came in as sponsor of the show and the product placement became part of the deal that we made with them for fully integrated use of the product brand name. There was a commercial commitment as well to secure this.
The structure of these deals usually involves the media commitment. If it is a series for instance, one commercial spot per episode would be the minimum required. In addition to the media dollars, a separate fee is usually charged for the integration of the product within the show. Product is woven into the production through the use of branded segments, product usage, or logo branding somewhere on the set. For Fear Factor, for instance, a brand logo can appear on a time clock. For American Idol, the branding on set is delivered with the Coke glasses that sit in front of each judge. In all cases the media commitment is predicated on the desire for guaranteed product placement with the series. Not random, but carefully planned.
You do this from looking at the script and knowing where it will be broadcast?
When sponsorship dollars are committed, the sponsor takes a more active role in the creative decisions that will determine how and where their branding, product, and message will be integrated into the show or series. There are no hard and fast rules. Each show will present different opportunities. If we are talking about a skateboarding competition, all we could do would be to show some signage along the skateboarding route. If we follow the model of sports, sponsor branding is seen in some of the most unexpected places.
When you see the players come off the court and they have Gatorade cups in their hands and Nike towels around their necks and the guys are wearing Motorola headphones, it is all branding. No one tells them they have to hold the cup a certain way or turn their head to camera so we can see the logo; it just apprehends us when we least expect it because we are so absorbed in the game. That is what we look for: integration that is organic and placed in a way that doesn’t interrupt the viewing pleasure.
I believe branded content is really, from my point of view, a more dedicated integration of the product. Branded content takes on more of the definition of sponsorship vis-`a-vis there are dollars committed beyond placing the product in the show.
For instance look at what Revlon did with All My Children. The whole storyline evolved around a small business being threatened by a larger company like Revlon. It was all a branded content deal that became a fully integrated sponsorship. There was a physical product on the show. There were verbal mentions that were fully integrated into the story line and this became better branded content than if you just placed the product in someone’s hands or on their sets.
Would you say there are two levels of branding?
Absolutely. And yet there is still good value in the passive ones. If I put cereal in someone’s kitchen on a primetime TV show, once I’ve established that this is the cereal that this family eats, for continuity purposes it will always be somewhere on that kitchen set for the life of that season. While it may not be the level of exposure equivalent to branded content visibility, you do get those impressions week-to-week and slowly it builds up an awareness of the brand associated with that character or the show.
Standard product placement in TV is not as accepted by the networks because they feel it might interrupt some bigger deals on the horizon. Networks orchestrate and are now heavily involved in many product integration deals through media commitments mostly with their reality series and in several scripted series as well. These deals help the network sell out their media inventory while giving back (at a price) the desired content integration with their deal. In Europe and abroad, however, product placement in television series is common practice because they don’t produce many films over there, so the value of product placement is heavily focused in TV shows.
You mean those product placements we saw in Seinfeld weren’t paid for?
No, I represented those companies. We placed the Snapple in there, we placed the Post cereals and we placed the Stairmaster in all of those episodes. Every time there was a gym seen in that series we would mobilize $100,000 to $250,000 worth of product and get it over to the set. We would make that gym look as authentic as possible. The scene would be shot and we would ship it right back to our storage. If they had to rent that equipment it would cost them thousands of dollars to do that. I would get it there on our own steam and give it to them for their use at no cost.
We always start by being a production resource for the television productions and feature films we assist. When Seinfeld needed East coast seaweed for an episode, we found it. This was the episode where Kramer was practicing his golf swing at the beach.
In terms of goods and services, anything they ever needed I would make sure we found it. I had to call all over the state of Maine to find a company willing to ship over a barrel of East coast seaweed for them to make that beach scene look authentic. I didn’t even know there was a difference between East and West coast seaweed at the time! I found a willing partner up in Maine to ship it for me.
On Seinfeld, the writers were always writing brand names into the scripts but even though they wrote it into the script, it was my responsibility to get companies to agree to it. Not every company thinks something scripted is funny, especially if they are talking about their brand.
A simple answer to your question is no, they did not pay to be on Seinfeld. This is the one show that brought product placement to light because the writers were just so brand friendly. Even though the networks were constantly telling the producers, “You can’t do this,” every week the producers were like, “Hey, we are your number one show. Are you really going to tell us that we can’t do this?”
The producers had all of the power because they had a hit on their hands. Most new, unproven shows don’t have that much confidence to defy the networks because doing so might get them kicked off the network. We are all still suffering from Seinfeld withdrawal. No show ever organically and consistently promoted brand names the way Seinfeld did and it was never offensive.
We do a lot for productions, sometimes on their request, sometimes on our suggestion. For instance, when Real World first started, I was the one who negotiated the IKEA deal for their show. I was talking to the producers and I found out that every series is a different house in a different city. One day I was talking to the producer who said, “I have to furnish this house.” And I said, “Why don’t we just get a furniture sponsor, then you don’t have to go buying furniture every time you go to a new house?”
I pitched the idea to IKEA and they loved the association with this show. I negotiated the end-credit with the full logos saying, “Furnishings provided by IKEA.” Even though it wasn’t an MTV produced show it ended up airing on MTV and if MTV had been the producers I would never have gotten away with that. MTV would have put a big dollar value on that. We did this deal on barter. IKEA completely furnished every house for every Real World from that point forward. The deal has never changed.
How did AIM get compensated for this?
We didn’t! IKEA was not a client of mine at the time. I just cold-called them and pitched the idea. Never underestimate the power of the pitch! It was a great way for me to establish our credibility with the producers and strengthened our leverage with them.
I talk to corporations every day about brands and you need to know about how brand marketing works to be able to sell them on an idea. You have to know what excites them and what doesn’t. You have to know what they are willing to pay for and what they are not. I read a script a day just for feature films and we work on every primetime television show as well, network and cable.
The film scripts I read are all films in production that were picked up by major studios. Of course in between the studio properties I am reading independents that we regularly help. I am just a big fan of independents. When you watch the Academy Awards, nine out of ten of those awards go to the independents because it is the best work.
We are educating our brands and corporations on getting more involved in the support of film because film entertains and communicates in a way that nothing else can. Each involvement however must be analyzed so they see their return on the investment. We can no longer simply sell the “sizzle,” we must deliver the “steak.”
Do you have any stories you can tell about documentaries that you have helped with branding?
We worked with this man who is an official explorer for Discovery. He has had many articles written about him in the science section of the New York Times about his deep-sea dives. He was the one who was diving for one of Columbus’s ships and they did a documentary on it. He called me and told me how much computers are a part of his work. He said they have special software and they map everything out and all of the findings are logged back into the computer. I represented Gateway Computers at the time, so I said I would be interested in giving him a Gateway computer if he can in some part of the documentary show how the computer assists him in this very interesting process of discovery. We would love this and I would encourage Gateway to participate.
We gave him a laptop, which he was so grateful for. In this instance his show was already picked up and financed by Discovery. It is not the distributor’s job to take care of your production needs like goods and services that companies like AIM provide.
These kinds of things actually excite my clients because they are great PR stories. They may not get a lot of product placement visibility but they get PR and that is very important to corporations.
Tell us what the corporations want from producers.
We don’t ask them to force anything that would not normally occur in their storytelling, because I don’t believe that anyone in the product placement world should be forcing creative. I believe that anything that we do for the corporations, which also is at the end of the day what studios want, is to have your product placed in a very organic and relevant way so that the character that is drinking the beverage is relevant to the character and is also relevant to the brand, meaning that this is typically a person who would drink this beverage.
I never force product placement anywhere. I think that the best we can hope for is that we establish the brand as a desirable product. For example in the documentary we had a Gateway computer in the hands of this incredible explorer who relies on his computer to document his findings. That is a great PR story because we want people to take Gateway Computers seriously.
When I place it in TV shows basically I am not looking for the celebrity profile with the lead of the show, but with a documentary, it is another situation. He will give me an end-credit saying, “Computers supplied by Gateway,” or, “Special thanks to Gateway Computers.” Any time that he is being interviewed he can mention it. I gave him some ideas and brand attributes that will make the client happy to hear.
For instance, someone doing a documentary that ended up on Black History Month for instance, we have a lot of clients who are looking for ethnic consumer marketing. If we were sure that the subject of the documentary was uplifting and complemented the brand strategy, and someone came to me several months before Black History Month, we could potentially find the client who would be willing to sponsor that show.
The way media works in this country is that if you sold your show to the distributor, the distributor needs to make their money back through the commercials they sell. If the producers make a deal upfront prior to closing their distribution deal they usually hold back a few commercial spots for the corporate sponsor they bring in from their end. You can bring the program in as sponsored programming before you hand it over to the networks.
Let’s say this documentary gets a company to sponsor their show, in exchange for the sponsorship dollars, the producer gives the corporation a minimum of two or three commercial spots in the show, and usually a voice over, “Brought to you by…,” and then they hand it off to the distribution channel hopefully with one sponsor already in place. This will not interrupt the sales initiative of the people at that network who have to sell the commercial spots; but it will lock out competitors in that category. Or a documentary filmmaker can simply get a Letter of Interest from a company and use that for influencing their distribution deal, so the network knows that there are brands already interested in buying media when the distribution deal is in place.
Then of course the sponsor gets the opening billboard and the two or three commercial spots without having to buy them from Discovery Channel, from A&E, from the Learning Channel, etc. This is sponsored programming.
The producers can negotiate these deals and the deal they negotiate with the cable network is, “We will give you this show complete but we want to hold back two of the commercial spots.” Generally speaking in a half-hour you have 22 spots so they have 20 more commercials left to sell.
You need to make the deals when you go to the network and expect that you can sell your spots. When you go to the distributor he wants to sell all of the spots so you need to get the spots in the deals you cut at the beginning.
Tell us what types of products you can get for producers.
We represent the entire Unilever Corporation; one of the deodorants, maybe a deodorant for an action show or a personal care product; female product like Ponds or Dove on a show about women. As long as we know there is a distribution in place for the television special or film, we can sell the sponsorship concept on those documentaries.
For instance, American Idol: we worked directly with the producer from London in its first season. Verizon was the company that provided the actual phone lines for voting; but they never thought to brand it within the broadcast. Once it became a hit on Fox then every meeting Fox had to be present and the producers had to be present because Fox placed different restrictions on the deal making. The show was a hit, so the network will control everything in the broadcast knowing that the media desirability from corporations is very high. It then becomes a media play first and integration deal second. Although Verizon was first in from a service standpoint, AT&T (now Cingular) reaped the rewards with a huge media commitment the following year and the rest is history.
In many instances on a new show, if the producers can bring the program through a distributor and say, “I have Dove interested in sponsoring part of my program,” then the distributor sees a bigger value in the property. The likelihood is that the channel distributor will have an easier time selling the rest of the spots.
Generally speaking I am always asking, “Who are you speaking to? Do you have a distribution deal?” It would be very hard for our clients to put up money for a show that gets produced and never gets aired. There was a show like that called No Boundaries that Ford put up half of the money to produce the show and the show never got picked up. They then looked for ways to distribute the show through video and other distribution, so Ford could benefit from the integration and partnership for the money spent.
I heard that there were three levels of branding with Ford. One is where they will come in with a car if they like your script, the second is when they give you all the cars for the film, and the third is when they give you all the cars and some money for the film too. How does this work?
It is based on the project, the deal, and who’s selling it. In a feature film they might provide the cars and pay a fee as well if the placement in the film is a featured one. In a show like No Boundaries where they feel from a company point of view they can take that whole No Boundaries concept into the market place and really use the No Boundaries theme and build a consumer campaign off of it; they paid for the rights to do that.
Just giving cars doesn’t grant a company the licensing rights. The title “No Boundaries” was perfect; the theme was perfect, so they helped finance the property in exchange for those licensing rights as well. If I place a product in Will & Grace, my marketer doesn’t have the rights to use Will & Grace in the marketplace just because they have a product in the show. I would have to go back to NBC to say, “What would it cost for us to do a Will & Grace promotion?”
I went to a studio once to do a tie-in with a hit series they produced and they told me, “This will cost you a million dollars and 16% royalty on everything you sell.” I said, “We’re not looking for a license. I just want to do an in-store promotion around the show.” Because the show had already become a hit series, the studio would not permit a tie-in promotion without a licensing fee.
Although I always tell people there are no rules, you have to keep in mind what will excite the corporation about the project. Because if it makes sense and if there is a distribution and it fits a particular consumer profile, it will have a perceived value.
There are some natural tie-ins. Some people are doing documentaries and let’s say they are doing a film on plastic surgery and there is one big face cream that everyone uses after plastic surgery, then this may have a value to this manufacturing company to be in this documentary. What would you charge them? You have to find out what your costs are. What kind of returns would you like? What are you willing to give up for the amount of money you are asking? I always say that financing is the most creative part of the development of any film or entertainment project. Most people think it’s the story. I maintain it’s the financing because without financing, no story can be told.
When I started teaching a class at NYU film school, I realized these students come to this school at great expense, with a great time commitment, and it is the only degree at this level that doesn’t guarantee you a job upon graduation. Each year they have to produce a student film that will cost them $25,000 to make. It is mind-boggling. You have to have a passion in order to pursue this career. That passion which stems from a “state of mind” must carry through and work in every part of your development. That’s why I always tell the students; “Don’t think in the total number of $25,000, think of the ways you can chip away at the $25,000.”
I tell them to do the math and see how much real dollars you need, and how much can be defrayed with donations. You must go to every resource you can think of because the more people you talk to and the more sources you go to the more you understand how this business works. One of the ways to get people to part with their money is to be able to communicate your vision to them.
Your pitch is very important to your film. I am on the phone every single day. I cold-call everybody. Granted I represent 200 brand name companies but when I am servicing a production I am calling everybody. It is very hard to get corporations to part with their money. You have to give them a reason and you need to understand who you are talking to. My dad used to say, “Remember before whom you are speaking.”
You need to understand that the pitch for a corporation may not be the same pitch for someone who wants to get into the film business. You should just use your passion about your film to get them to take their savings and give it to you to be a producer. There are many people who want to be in the film business and they don’t have a clue on how to get a return on their money, but they want to be in the film business. Then you just want to be honest and let them know the passion you are communicating is the passion you will deliver in the film. Anyone who invests at this level knows they are investing in you, not the film. There are people who want to get into the film business and they will buy their way in.
There may be people you would never think of asking: a cousin, an uncle, someone you meet at Starbucks. Just never lose the passion for your film. I know two young men who were going to school to become filmmakers who now have a deal for a feature film. Their story is amazing. They are two guys from NYU who wanted to be filmmakers and in order to support themselves through school they started filming weddings — one right after the other — to make the money to produce the school films. By the time they finished school they figured the best story they had was the story they created! They wrote a story about themselves on how they had to film weddings to get through film school and now a studio has picked up this film and thinks that it is a funny script.
Filmmakers and documentary filmmakers have a passion about what they do, but what they don’t have is a business head. That is the only thing they are missing. The business head thinks, “How do I manifest the money? Where do I manifest the money?”
When filmmakers call me to ask, “Will Snapple give me $12,000 to make this film?” I say, “No, but let’s talk about this film and look for ways to tackle this budget.” I tell filmmakers to go to their local stores for help as most of them would love to be part of a film. Go to the businesses you frequent, and the people
you know. Go to the places you shop. Get to know the owners of those businesses and talk about what you love to do.
The way you think creatively about your project is the way you have to think creatively about your financing.
Patti, you have so much information to give to filmmakers. I am really glad you are teaching.
I think NYU has such a unique group of young filmmakers it is a joy to teach there. I love to work with the independents. I am the president of the company and I take care of them myself. Just remember, goods will translate into dollars. Every time you have to go out and buy lunch for someone — a bottle of soda, rent a light, rent a cell phone — you may be able to get these things donated and that can save you money on the bottom line.
Again the way you think creatively about your project is the way you have to think creatively about your financing. Remember, you are in the business of film. It is a business.
For current updates on product placement see www.fromtheheartproductions.com.