Branded entertainment: product placement in the entertainment business

Origins of and reasons for product placement: history of product placement in the cinema, sponsored shows. Factors that can influence the cost of a placement. Branded entertainment in all its forms: series and television programs, novels and plays.

Рубрика Менеджмент и трудовые отношения
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Язык английский
Дата добавления 16.10.2013
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Branded entertainment: product placement in the entertainment business


The expression `product placement', or `brand placement', essentially describes the location or, more accurately, the integration of a product or a brand into a film or televised series. It is also possible, however, to find com-mercial insertions within other cultural vehicles, such as songs or novels. In the visual arts and entertainment world, these brand or product placements are grouped under the banner of `branded entertainment'.

For some, seeing brands everywhere is a source of irritation. Other people derive amusement from spotting them. There are those who blank them out as little more than part of the consumer backdrop of life. Love them or hate them, product placements are nonetheless increasingly a part of our daily lives. In future, they will be the principal piece of a progressively more sophisticated communication strategy on the marketing chessboard that is `branded entertainment' - or, quite literally, entertainment by or in con-junction with a brand. This is a world in which a brand is able to get closer to its target audience via a film, a television programme or series, a play, a novel, song, or show, indeed even a video game, using lines of communication quite different from those employed to date by the three main families of above the line, below the line and internet marketing. Hence the broader concept of `entertainment marketing', sometimes used to describe the experiential consumption stemming from these many and varied brand and product placements.

Branded entertainment is an Anglo-Saxon term, but it does not follow that the method is the exclusive province of US marketers. It is certainly true that the United States was the cradle of its early development. For this reason, many examples from the United States will be used to illustrate the pages that follow, in order to fully understand the lead that this country has over others in this area, and the lessons that can be learnt from it.

Brand management and communication are evolving at lightning speed. Product placement in the cinema is still often only associated with the adventures of James Bond. The directors of these films are even criticized for their apparent subservience to the despicable merchants of the Temple. And yet is it not logical to suppose that if this refined and distinguished character chose to drink champagne, it might as well be Bollinger? That if he chose to drive, he might as well drive an Aston Martin Vanquish? That if he wore shoes, they might as well be Church? That if he travelled, he might as well carry a Samsonite suitcase? That if he drank vodka, it might as well be called Smirnoff or Finlandia? That if he looked at his watch, it might as well be a Rolex, or perhaps an Omega? However unique he may be, perhaps even that remarkable character James Bond needs brands, to recreate a link to reality. We shall, however, be analysing many other examples beyond the case of 007: despite being so often cited, the British secret agent is not always the most representative example.

All alert marketers are now on deck, trying to make out as best and as quickly as they can the contours of this new shoreline. Variety magazine recently compared product placement to cocaine for television networks, the infatuation is so strong. But as soon as the demand to seize all available opportunities becomes urgent, prices rise rapidly and steeply. Yes, the possible media become more numerous and diverse every day. Nonetheless, the `good' platforms for the development of a pertinent and performing branded entertainment policy are not exactly legion. Despite the very high prices, in 2005, for the successful series Desperate Housewives, the three or four supplemental product placement opportunities available saw applications from 250 potential advertisers. What yesterday was a simple agreement, even just an ordinary handshake, today appears increasingly as a complex communication process that must be established, if a precise goal is to be attained.

1. Origins of and reasons for product placement

1.1 History of product placement in the cinema

cinema show television program

When marketers study the origins of product placement, they generally think of the pioneering, often hesitant applications that were to be found in cinema more than a hundred years ago. Yet a more meticulous study of the history of communication quickly makes plain that well before the cinema, cabaret and actors of all genres used product placement for brands that also used them occasionally as advertising spokespersons. To cite only one famous example, before ever a camera had been cranked into action, Sarah Bernhardt appeared on stage wearing La Diaphane powder. Any reader who is a lover of impressionism will perhaps recall a famous motion picture by Йdouard Manet, titled Bar at the Folies-Bergиre in 1881. Passing over the placement of the brand name of the establishment in the title of the work, many people will undoubtedly have noticed the presence of numerous bottles on either side of the bar. On each side of the picture is a beer bottle, which, although shown in profile, bears a label whose shape and characteristic red triangle allow it to be identified as Bass beer [1, p. 74]. It is useless for us to wonder whether the painter had found an extra source of income, or whether he simply aspired to a consummate realism, for which he is still credited today. In order to exist, a brand must be known: not necessarily by everyone, but in every event by those who are likely to buy its products. For this to occur, it must be placed in all the strategic locations that will enable it to connect with this potential audience. Owing to the mania that it soon stirred up, the cinema was quickly perceived as a vector of huge potential, and one to be prioritized.

A famous marketer Jay Newell's research showes that certain films made by Auguste and Louis Lumiиre in 1896, at the request of Franзois-Henri Lavanchy-Clarke, representative of Lever Brothers in France, represent the first cases of product placement on record. Others see these films as merely the first steps into advertising films [1, p. 149].

The studios understood very early the advantages that could be gained from associating with brands. From the beginning of the 1910s, the famous Model T Fords were frequently found in the credits of Mack Sennett comedies [2, p. 34]. At the beginning, it was not necessarily a matter of placement of the brand's name, but of its products. This was for the simple and very good reason that it was not about making the advertisers pay, but above all benefiting from accessories, vehicles, services for free, the quid pro quo being that they are allowed to appear onscreen. In his autobiography, the director Robert Parrish tells of the choice of automobile brands dictated by the producer because of a contract with a car maker.

The famous historian Kerry Segrave recounts how at the same time, brands made short ads, generally only one reel long, dedicated to their products, in order to offer them to cinema operators under advantageous conditions. In 1931, Variety observed that more than 50 per cent of cinemas showed advertising programmes. At the dawn of the talkies, towards the end of the 1920s, the phenomenon was so remarkable that the cinema had become the place of entertainment. The brands even organized factual communications operations in cinema lobbies. However, advertising films, as well as the commercial direction of cinemas, eventually succumbed to their opponents. In contrast, placement in films resisted opposition and evolved. Cinema is a captive medium for its audience and therefore particularly interesting to advertisers.

The whole history of cinema is marked by representative examples. In 1916, the Universal studio produced a silent film with the explicit title, She Wanted a Ford. In 1929, Alfred Hitchcock subtly used a luminous sign for Gordon's gin, in order to dramatize the dark thoughts of the murderess Alice White, played by Anny Ondra in Blackmail [3, p. 132].

The interpretative and evocative power of the cinema also allows it to take a great many creative liberties. Although she had never smoked a cigarette in her entire life as a comic character, in Superman II (Richard Lester, 1980) the character of Lois Lane conspicuously smokes Marlboros. The brand admitted to having paid the sum of US$42,000 for 22 placements throughout the film. In one of the film's fight scenes, Superman was even thrown into the side of a truck in the brand's colours, situated in mid-screen. Bearing in mind the target audience for this film, the association with the heroic world of Superman was very important for the advertiser in order to relegitimate the consumption of its product [3, p. 112].

All of these examples illustrate how placements have always been present in films, but for reasons that are sometimes very different, as we will examine. They confirm, in fact, that there is no one placement, but multiple possibilities for stage direction, satisfying different objectives.

1.2 Sponsored shows

Marketing and entertainment have always been allies, particularly in the United States. From the beginnings of radio, then television, until today, many programmes have been produced or simply financed by major brands. In 1929, more than 55 per cent of radio programmes were financed or directly produced by advertisers or their agencies. Among the famous examples we may note, over the decades, Little Orphan Annie, sponsored on the radio by Ovaltine, General Electric Theater, The GM All-Car Showdown, Nike Training Camp and The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show [4, p. 174]. For each of these sponsored programmes, the boundary between the entertainment itself and the advertising content was fragile, even nonexistent. Televised shows of this type still exist in certain countries, of which the United States is one, since the explosion in available media has generated such competition that profitability dictates that products and brands cannot always be prevented from appearing in the programmes themselves.

These shows have one considerable advantage: their length, which the infomercial sought to reestablish in the late 1980s. In the case of a sponsored show, it is possible to escape the straitjacket of the 30-second advertising spot. Not only are these few seconds of screen time expensive, but also it is sometimes difficult to make the consumer understand how a product is used, or what its benefits are, in such a short space of time. For technological goods, product placement offers the following advantage: during a film or a television series, it is possible to place a product in the hands of a character and show explicitly how it is used. For both a series and a film, it is also advantageous to be able to use the latest fashionable gadget or to benefit from the latest technological advances, sometimes even before the product has gone on sale, as was the case with the very latest Nokia mobile phone used in David R Ellis's film Cellular in 2004 or with the telephonic video security systems designed and built by Cisco and visible in the television series [5, p. 74].

In historical terms, three elements contributed to the evolution of the system of shows where the sponsor was the only advertiser. First were the manipulations of which various sponsored game shows were accused during the 1950s. Second, there was the increasing independence of the major television networks, which allowed them to group the majority of advertising discourse together in specialized commercial breaks. Third came the fact that these same networks realized that it could be much more profitable to sell spaces of 30 seconds to several advertisers in commercial breaks, rather than one or two hours exclusively to a single advertiser. The all-powerful 30-second television spot quickly became the reference of modern advertising communication, and, above all, the principal source of finance for free-to-air television channels.

2. Product placement

2.1 A highly variable price, a relatively low cost

In 1975, Clairol is a personal-care-product division of Procter & Gamble apparently paid US $10,000 to have its goods appear in Michael Ritchie's film Smile. Ten years later, the California Raisin Board is thought to have paid US$25,000 dollars to be seen in Robert Zemeckis's Back to the Future in 1985. In 1992, France Tйlйcom apparently disbursed Ђ450,000 for a divine telephone call in Claude Lelouch's La Belle Histoire. Ford apparently had to out-bid BMW by several million dollars to see an Aston Martin reappear in the adventures of James Bond, in Die Another Day in 2002 [6, p. 119]. In the final account, however, these prices have no meaning. The price of a placement is impossible to determine in absolute terms, at the risk of falling into the deepest incoherence. At one end of the scale, a sum is paid by the studio to the brand for some placements, because the screenplay requires a certain specific, and indispensable, prop or product. This was the case, for example, for access to a high-speed train from the French national rail company in Mission: Impossible. In the middle of the scale, there is no payment but simply provision of goods by the brand, as with Virgin Cola in the film La Boite [6, p. 199]. At the other end of the scale, certain very favourable placements, planned for very large productions, can represent an investment of several million dollars for a brand wishing to participate in the project. To establish an average would not be very relevant when there is such variation.

It is therefore not possible to give exact prices for a standard placement, given that there simply is no standard placement. However, the following mathematical formula is often quoted by certain experts: if initially a classic visual placement costs X dollars, the same placement with the spoken mention of the brand name will cost on average twice X dollars. As for the same placement, but with the product being used by one of the actors, it is safe to assume on average three times X dollars. However, this rule is not so much simple as simplistic: these same experts are often incapable of providing a precise calculation method, because the price will depend on so many variables.

Furthermore, the figures given in the press are often overall sums: this allows the media to exploit the shock effect. In reality, these sums bring together numerous items that are complementary, but differ widely one from the other, and are not necessarily linked to the placement itself. It may be a question of a logistical service, of a contribution in kind of products and props required for filming, for example: computers, cars, jewellery, audiovisual equipment and so on, of preferential conditions for a loan of materials, of tie-in advertising when the film is released, and other issues. The multiple meetings carried out for this book with placement professionals brought to light that among the principal elements influencing the price are the factors listed below. Naturally, the disclosure of a possible surcharge should be considered, all other factors being otherwise constant and comparable.

2.2 Factors that can influence the cost of a placement

1) The brand's fame. The bigger this is, the higher the entrance fee will be. The strong awareness of an international brand, for example, can naturally legitimize a higher cost than a placement for a small local brand, for which sometimes only permission to use trade marks, if necessary, is requested. The University of Nevada, mentioned in Dodgeball, directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber in 2004, does not necessarily have the same renown as MIT, mentioned in National Treasure directed by Jon Turteltaub in 2004.

2) Identification of the brand. Certain products are placed or used without, however, the brand being readily identifiable. This is the typical case with stealth placements. The more the brand is identifiable by name, the higher the cost can rise. In the film Paycheck directed by John Woo in 2003, cars, motorcycles, the name, the logo and a dealer for the BMW brand are seen and mentioned.

3) The film's budget. Here again we find the small production/big production contrast, with at first glance a higher cost for the latter. Large-scale productions, already richly endowed, would not be inter-ested in a budget supplement from a placement. This is partly true, but they are always interested in placement contracts that will bring reciprocal promotion operations to support the film's release. For several years now, the promotional budget offered by brands partnering a James Bond adventure has been equivalent to, if not greater than, its production costs.

4) The type and genre of the film. Placements can also sometimes be found in small, independent productions. The Windex27 cleaner by SC Johnson is almost a central element in the comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding directed by Joel Zwick in 2002 [7, p. 115]. Naturally, however, even if some of these films achieve major international success, the initial financial ambitions of the producers can hardly carry the same weight as those of an extremely large international production. After the success of the first film, Spider-Man 2 directed by Sam Raimi in 2004 was almost guaranteed a warm reception from the public. Result: Bloomingdale's, Burger King, Nike, Rolaids, Columbia University, D'Agostino, Dr Pepper, eBay, BMW, Fritos, Joe's Pizza, Canon, Mercedes, NASA, Steinway & Sons and Bloomberg, among others, placed their brands there [7, p. 117].

5) The film's credits. The producer's name, as well as that of the director and the actors, has value. It is linked to his or her past films, salary, or simply his or her fame and image. Moreover, it is often capitalized on to promote the film. Consequently, it is understandable that this value comes at a price, and can in some cases contribute to raising the cost for a placement. The chance to appear alongside Denzel Washington, already an Oscar-winner, and in a Tony Scott film to boot, in Man on Fire in 2004, attracted notably Puma, Coca-Cola, Mercedes, Motorola, Casio, Chevrolet, Tabasco and Brother [7, p. 134].

6) The location of the placement. As with a shop, not all scenes of a film, or all areas of a cinema screen, necessarily have the same potential for impact. If the placement takes place in a scene of great intensity, and likewise if the brand name is close to the centre of the screen, there may be a placement premium added to the cost. In Sideways directed by Alexander Payne in 2004, wine is a central element of the screenplay, and tasting sessions often provide the opportunity for a central close-up on the beverage [7, p. 152].

7) Contact with the principal actors. Integration can reach the point of use by one of the principal actors. Main actor John Cena chooses Coca-Cola from a fridge at a gas station, in The Marine directed by John Bonito in 2006. This contact often provides the opportunity for a testimonial that usually unspoken by the actor, and the placement is therefore more expensive in most cases, since it is completed by the actor's implicit fee. In the film Rain Man directed by Barry Levinson in 1998, the character of Raymond Babbitt, played by Dustin Hoffman, refuses to travel by plane unless it is with the Australian airline Qantas, whose planes never crash [7, p. 164]. In certain cases, the testimonial is matched with a specific payment to the actor, particularly if his or her image is to be used later by the brand. For example, in film Someone Like You directed by Tony Goldwyn in 2001, Ashley Judd confines herself to eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream onscreen. In another case, like Daniel Craig now, Pierce Brosnan wore an Omega watch in James Bond, and the Swiss brand used the actor simultaneously for its advertising communication. Such a case justifies the drawing-up of a specific parallel contract.

If we suppose that a film achieves a box office of 3 million spectators in France, which would make it a success, its success in cinemas would generally attract a large number of viewers on pay-per-view channels, then on video on demand, then on its transition to general channels, then on reshowings. Eventually, there will be tens of millions of viewers who have seen the film at least once. It is easy to see, therefore, what the same exponential multiplication might mean for a successful US film with a starting base of several tens of millions of viewers, associated with an international exploitation on a large scale, and this over a period of years. It is clear that if we had the means to precisely relate the total cost of the placement to the number of persons exposed to it, the net profitability of this vector would not be in doubt.

Of course, not all films are successful, and the profitability ratio is not always so high. Many conducted studies show that the perception of brands placed grows on the second exposure, for example, watching the DVD after having seen the film at the cinema. This may be explained by the fact that viewers already know the film, and consequently the intrigue of the storyline absorbs less of their attention, allowing them to give more of their time to other elements, such as the props, including notably product placements.

2.3 A possible influence on purchasing behavior

Product placement offers marketers an alternative approach for communicating with their target audience. The theoretical marketing model illustrates a causal chain, from learning and recall, to persuasion, to purchase intention. The factors within causal chain can be influenced by the nature of the placement: prominent or subtle. As such, it is evident that the nature of a placement can impact consumers' cognitive, affective and behavioural processes. Prominent placements achieve high awareness, but result in negative consumer attitudes and thus low purchase intention; whereas the effects of subtle placements are typically opposite. Marketing researchers have examined the effectiveness of product placement in terms of brand recognition and recall, and consumer attitudes, no known studies have examined the impact of product placement on a consumer's conative responses, such as purchase intention. It is therefore suggested that future research should extend the current literature, examining the impact of subtle and prominent product placement on purchase intention. The results of the proposed research will provide marketers and business decision makers with a further understanding of product placement, identifying whether it is a worthwhile promotional strategy instead of traditional media becoming saturated.

For the Stephen Frears film Dirty Pretty Things in 2002, the set designer bought a Staples wall clock in a London flea market, on the instructions of the chief set designer, Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski. The aim was to contribute to the US style of a room. There was no placement contract, just a prop intended to guide the viewers imaginations. Some months later, the clock, which sold for $8.98, became one of Staples best-selling products [8, p. 24].

Following the release of Sideways in 2004, in which two men at a crossroads in their lives go on a trip through the wine-growing valley of Santa Ynez in California, business increased by 30 per cent at the restaurant The Hitching Post which appeared in the film, bringing a general increase in tourism in California. More importantly, sales of pinot noir wine leapt up 22 percent on the US market in the months of December and January. As for the pinot noir brand Blackstone, it was rewarded with an increase in sales of almost 150 percent [8, p. 46].

Of course, a single case has never been enough to construct a theory, and certain studies carried out by the marketing agency tended to show a lower effectiveness, in terms of influence on buying behaviour, of branded entertainment in general compared with classic television advertising. Even if the exception does not prove the rule, however, it is fairly easy nowadays, based on the numerous cases of successful placements, to convince an advertiser of the considerable potential influence of product placement on the buying behaviour of a segment of the audience.

The sale of Milk Duds confectionery rose unexpectedly after Marlon Brando offered them to George C Scott in The Formula directed by John Avildsen in 1980. The sunglasses brand Ray-Ban is said to have experienced difficulties in meeting demand, following a sudden 50 per cent rise in its sales, the year following the release of the Paul Brickman film Risky Business in 1983, in which Tom Cruise sports the classic Wayfarer model. Never have as many berets been sold to US women as at the end of the 1960s, following the release of the film Bonnie and Clyde directed by Arthur Penn in 1967, where Faye Dunaway proudly sports her beret throughout the length of the film. In 1995, after one of its models had appeared on Pierce Brosnan's wrist in Martin Campbell's GoldenEye, Omega is thought to have registered a 40 per cent increase in its watch sales [8, p. 70].

The influence of a placement is sometimes spontaneously generated without the help of a brand, and for products that, on the face of it, no one would even have troubled to do a marketing feasibility study for. In 1999, Edward McAvoy was chief set designer on the filming of Mike Judge's Office Space. Since many scenes took place in offices, multiple props and office furnishings were necessary. The screenplay specified that one of the characters, Milton, was deeply attached to his stapler. In order to make it more original, the chief set designer had the idea of choosing one in fire engine red. Having made enquiries and called the Swingline brand, he learnt that there was no stapler corresponding to his requirements. He therefore obtained permission from Swingline to paint one of their models. On the film's release, several clients requested a red stapler, which Swingline did not manufacture. The demand was such that Bruce Neapole, president of Swingline, took the decision to produce a model in fire engine red. The Rio Red Stapler model is now an integral part of the catalogue, and has already seen collector's editions, not to mention the internet forums, indeed whole virtual communities that, since the film's release, have formed around a simple stapler.

On the classic principle of identification and the desire to look like such and such a star, a significant part of the audience is often quick to wish to own the same accessories, to dress in the same way or to consume the same products as the star in question. In 2002, the jewellery designer Mia & Lizzie was beset with requests for a necklace in the shape of a horseshoe with diamonds, simply because the actress Sarah Jessica Parker had worn one in an episode of the fourth season of the television series Sex and the City [9, p. 113].

3. Branded entertainment in all its forms

3.1 Series and television programmes

In England, in television series, until the progressive relaxing of the rules, the non-prohibited placements concerned props that were absolutely indispensable to the plot, cars and institutions such as towns or regions. In the United States, a much more permissive practice, particularly on cable channels, has for a long time permitted all types of placement. The detectives of Hawaii Five-O never drove anything but Ford cars. The Microsoft Xbox is played with exclusively in Two and a Half Men. People eat Oreo cookies and use their American Express cards in Friends. Nokia mobile phones are often present in the series Alias, as are Alienware computers in Smallville, the imposing Hummer vehicles in CSI: Miami.

Television series are increasingly courted by advertisers. There are many reasons for this. In the United States, the series produced by the cable channels in recent years have been able to profoundly revive the genre, with their more liberal tone and their more original subjects. As the result, they attract a large audience, all the more so since they have fewer commercial breaks than series on the major networks. Furthermore, an episode of a series lasts on average only 42 minutes, and this shorter format is suitable for the seduction of the modern consumer, who is always in a hurry and does not necessarily have the time to dedicate 90-120 minutes to a feature film. In addition, some of the series enjoy production budgets comparable to film budgets, and can therefore retain a high quality, so are likely to retain their audience from episode to episode, over several seasons. The use of recurring characters is the distinctive feature of a series in general. It is also, however, a certain advantage for product and brand placements. This not only acts as an aid to consumer memorization, it also enables brands to instil over time a certain proximity, even a certain familiarity between the character and the audience. The brand discourse can thus enjoy a very positive implicit testimonial, either direct or indirect.

The impact of the placement and the prescriptive effect of the characters of a series can be genuinely powerful. In 2004, an imaginary product was placed in the soap opera All My Children, shown on ABC since 1970. The brand in question was Fusion, a fictional perfume and clothing brand, used in the plot of several episodes and praised by the characters of the series: it was subsequently actually sold in shops and on the television channel's website. Finally, unlike a film, a television series offers the considerable advantage of being able to identify its audience with some precision, and therefore to know what sector of the public it is managing to attract. For any advertiser, this is essential: this is how it knows whether the audience matches its target.

Placement in a television series is, however, not without its risks. Here, too, it is important to be vigilant over the details of the placement contract over time. The intensifying competition means that television channels are now particularly quick to shift a series to another time slot, or even to cancel it if the audience figures are not as expected. What, therefore, are the implications for the advertiser, whose communication strategy may find itself somewhat altered by the decision? Placement should also be practiced with caution by the television channels, particularly when they are also producers, so as not to accentuate the very thing - commercialism - the editorial content is supposed to enable viewers to avoid. In fact, the too-obvious presence of one advertiser in a given series can rapidly lead all other competing advertisers to shun the associated commercial breaks, and thereby accelerate the channel's loss of revenues.

In a television programme, testimonials in favour of a product or brand are of two types, both of which should be taken into consideration since the methods of placement, or simply of the appearance of the brand, differ according to type. Some programmes call on stars, others on unknowns invited or selected to participate in the programme. With the use of stars, the association gives the brand the advantage of being able to profit directly or indirectly from their celebrity. Furthermore, as in most cases the stars are showbusiness professionals, their professionalism can be capitalized on, to promote the product in favourable conditions.

If an unknown is used, this professional approach is not always possible. Some training will often be necessary, if the production and the advertiser wish the brand's integration into the programme to appear as natural as possible. If the placement is successfully carried out, however, the fact that an anonymous consumer is used is not necessarily a drawback. The remuneration stars demand for their testimonial is well-known to everyone, which can in certain cases affect their credibility. When an average consumer is used, and rarely paid because participation in the programme is reward enough, the impact may be infinitely greater among another part of the marketing target audience, if the product or brand placement is well orchestrated, or by the fact of the consumer's natural credibility. Care should be taken, however, since the public are increasingly mature and it is not a question of duping them. Hence, clearly, the impulse for thinking integration and not simply placement.

Others still sometimes use the term stealth marketing to describe these placements. They are committing two flagrant errors. The first is that if it were a matter of stealth marketing, the competent authorities would not be capable of decoding the placements, and this would not necessarily profit the brands. The second is that the public itself would have to be incredibly naive to see it as coincidence after coincidence that products turn up on certain programmes. In countries with more rigorous legislation on the subject of stealth marketing, such as France in comparison with the United States, authorities such as the Higher Audiovisual Council are quick to act and to impose a punishment if the brand has not been blurred, or disguised by digital interference

3.2 Novels and plays

Brand placement in a novel may seem logical, if it is perceived as an aid to description and to the development of a mental image to support the story. Brands have an evocative power, which the author may make use of to fuel the reader's imagination. Placement can thus allow authors a certain economy, even as it enriches the scene, or renders it more precise in the reader's mind, if he or she knows the brand. Nowadays, many authors use this method of anchoring their descriptions in reality, both in novels and in plays - whether for financial recompense or not - when their story is set against a backdrop of everyday life.

Even best-selling authors, who at first glance should not need the financial support, use brand placement. Dan Brown introduced the brands Citroлn ZX, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Porsche, Ferrari, Heckler and Koch, Smirnoff and the Ritz Hotel, among others, in The Da Vinci Code in 2003 [10, p. 98].

There is a classic showdown between two opposing camps. On one side, those who see a literary work as a sacred space that no brand should ever be permitted to desecrate (may this book never fall into their hands!), if only because they consider writing an art, and art and commercial notions are uneasy bedfellows. On the other, there are those who believe that brands are part of everyday life and that, as a result, their controlled presence can do no damage to the intrinsic quality of the work. In the best cases, they can even contribute to the plot in one way or another, or in any case, root it in a very real world. It seems in fact that the battle against the invasion of brands into literature hails from a bygone era. On the one hand, free placements have existed almost as long as brands have, and in these conditions, the author and the editor might as well profit by charging for them. On the other, if these placements are badly orchestrated, too obvious or too numerous, the reading public will not hesitate to punish the authors by not reading their books. This is without question the most important and most legitimate form of censorship.

As with placement in a film, the insertion of a brand or a product can be repeated throughout the work. The book has the advantage of time, however, since readers can pause over the brand name when and how they please. In the same way as a film, it can also enable more precise targeting. In 2004, Ford signed a placement contract of this type with the British author Carole Matthews, for her next two books, with the aim of bringing its Fiesta model to the attention of active young women. The development of this placement is original: the author had finished her last book, With or Without You, just before signing her contract with Ford. This meant that her heroine would have to change cars in the following novel, The Sweetest Taboo, abandoning her New Beetle (Volkswagen) for a Fiesta. This agreement had an unexpected effect, inspiring numerous articles in the international press, which opened doors for the author into markets where her books were not or very little known, in Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Thailand, in particular.

In a book, placement can also be skilfully used as an element of character positioning. It can spare the author long pages of description that risk annoying readers or causing them to lose track. The positioning of known brands, meanwhile, can be subtly associated with that of the character to which they are attributed. In the case of a story integrating various characters, brands that are well known, but different for each character, can also enable the reader to categorize them more easily. In Whiteout (2004), the novelist Ken Follett plays this game with the reader. To go unnoticed, the character of Kit Oxenford replaces his Armani wristwatch with a nondescript Swatch. Cars are often the vehicles used for this type of status transfer. Thus, again in Whiteout, the character of Michael Ross owns a Volkswagen Golf, whereas Stanley Oxenford travels in a Ferrari F50. While Miranda Oxenford drives a Toyota [11, p. 74].

Authors are not always au fait with the methods of setting up such placement contracts, and above all with the concrete advantages that they can ultimately gain from them. As a characteristic example, we can look at John E Mayer's noir novel Shadow Warrior in 2005, set in the clandestine world of laundering drug money. What might have been just another literary output was transformed into a veritable branded entertainment operation. Aiming to make the world of his novel more realistic, the author decided to integrate the names of brands such as the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York, Porta Bella clothing, Oakley, Jaguar, Nike, Louis Vuitton and Ketel One vodka. None of these placements had been subject to selling, much less to contracts with the brands in question. When the book was launched, the author somewhat modestly tried to contact the New York Grand Hyatt, to ask whether it would be willing to host a book-signing event, since the hotel was mentioned in the book. Highly familiar with publicity techniques, the public relations manager transformed the idea into a large charity cocktail party in aid of sporting associations, and invited several celebrities. The author then contacted Ketel One, which gave him a similar reception, and agreed to take responsibility for sculpting an ice bar in which the book's cover would be presented, for the event planned at the Grand Hyatt. A veritable branded entertainment operation had just been born.

3.3 Song lyrics and branded videogames

It is not uncommon for brands to play a part in promoting a singer or musician. In 2006, Absolut vodka offered an exclusive download of the song Breathe, by Lenny Kravitz, on its internet site, in the context of a major promotional operation, Absolut Kravitz [12, p. 211]. It is not uncommon for brands to be `borrowed' by certain singers, in particular today's rappers. This approach is sometimes called brand-dropping.

Even if the media have only recently picked up on these placements, however, the phenomenon is not a recent one. Some may recall Janis Joplin asking God to buy her a Mercedes-Benz because her friends all drove Porsches, on the album Pearl 1971 [13, p. 25].

Another forerunner, track three of the album Raising Hell in 1986, by Run-DMC, was entitled without possibility of misunderstanding My Adidas. The brand name is mentioned 22 times in the song. [13, p. 27].

The most characteristic marketing case, however, is unquestionably that of US rappers. The insertion of brands into song lyrics anchors them in the real world of society and consumption. In the United States alone, the PQ Media firm estimated that US$30.4 million are invested in placement of product or brand names into songs, whether to praise or criticize them.

In most cases they are high-end, even luxury product brands, and alcoholic drinks, cars and clothing are often emphasized. In 1999, in the song Daddy figure, Kool G Rap inserted notably Armani, Cristal, Martini, Jacuzzi, Bloomingdale's, Rolex and Moschino into his lyrics. In the original single Stylin in 2002, the rapper Foxy Brown mentions Burberry, Mark Jacob, Planet Hollywood, Frankie B and Bentley, among others.

In addition, various research works have confirmed that even if comprehension of the song lyrics was poor, the simple schematic process used by listeners usually enabled them to orient their behaviour in the direction of the lyrics. Furthermore, in relation to all other musical genres, rap has a particular characteristic in the sense that the attention given to the lyrics is voluntarily heightened by phrasing, wordplay, hidden meanings and the rhythm itself. In 2003, the research agency published the results of a study indicating that 60 percent of respondents considering themselves to be fans of hip-hop were interested in films by their favourite singers and in buying products mentioned in their songs, or for which they were spokespersons in an advertisement. This information is important when we consider that not all placements are necessarily positive. In 2004, `High all the time', from the album Get Rich or Die Tryin', was telling the always image-conscious 50 Cent that he didn't need Dom Pйrignon, Cristal, Tanqueray or d'Alize, and that he hated being in a Benz, or in other words, a Mercedes [14, p. 24].

Nowadays the palette of musical genres is so varied that placement in a song can be an excellent vehicle for reaching a specific target audience. Certain musical niches make it possible in particular to reach certain population segments, notably the youngest, who are sometimes cynical towards the content of traditional advertising messages, especially since many rappers criticize television in the lyrics of their songs. This is what led McDonald's to appoint the services of a specialist consulting agency in order to research those rappers who might be interested, for a fee, in integrating one of its brands into a song. It anticipated a placement contract that of course came with rights to control the methods of insertion of the brand name. This prudent This prudent approach seems logical for the brand manager.

A placement in a videogame offers additional advantages over the same placement in a film. The player generally pays much closer attention than the viewer. The possibility of control and the concomitant feeling of mastering the environment are greater for players. They must construct a mental map of the game space, as if it were a real space in three dimensions, each constitutive element of which is important. Unlike film, the unfolding of events within the same world may be very different from one round of a game to the next, thereby modifying the player's interactions with the environment. Finally, the duration of exposure is much longer. Admittedly, a film's life may be long and may give rise to repeat showings. A videogame, however, also allows this repetition to be concentrated in time. As with cinema, the cost of a placement falls within an extremely broad range, from a few thousand to several million dollars in the case of specific partnerships. Compared with the cinema, the flexibility of insertion methods in a wholly created graphic universe, and the possibilities for verification before the game is mass-produced, are also factors likely to seduce still-hesitant advertisers.

Videogames are increasingly sophisticated, and the production costs are rising sharply - even if production is outsourced, partially or totally, to the Asian corner of the globe - so the cost of producing a single game can today exceed US$20 million [15, p. 117]. On the other hand, successful titles that exceed the profitability threshold are rare. On the advertisers' side, the market for accessible platforms is highly concentrated, since to date only three console manufacturers Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo control almost the entire market. As for games publishers, the market comprises countless small actors and some major names such as Electronic Arts, Infogames-Atari, Ubisoft, Activision, Eidos, Konami and VU Games.

With each new generation of consoles, the graphics become closer to reality. The characters in games inspired by television series such as CSI or 24 resemble the actors of the series in every feature. The same is true for games inspired by films, such as The Godfather by Electronic Arts, The Matrix by Atari and 007: From Russia with Love by Electronic Arts, for example [16, p. 29].

The academic research carried out on this subject shows that placements in videogames can be effective, particularly when they target adolescents and young men, that they allow a relatively good memorization of brands placed, and that they can contribute to improving preference for the brand. This is particularly the case when the brand enjoys an intelligent integration, as in the case of the partnership between Activision and Puma, which saw the perfect integration of the brand's products into the plot of the True Crime series of games. In the same way as for the cinema, considering the attention that the player gives to the action, it is recommended that the placement be prominent. The range of games is now very broad: from educational games for children to war games for adults, via sport, adventure, science fiction, role playing, simulation games, platform games and police thrillers. It has reached the point where the audience constitutes a mass market: on the one hand, because of its volume hundreds of millions of players worldwide, and on the other, because the global turnover that it represents is now larger than that of the cinema. In addition, it is also possible to segment the market and to target a particular, very precise player profile, according to the game in which the product is placed.

Admittedly, as with placements in the cinema, criticism is heard from time to time regarding the possible commercial invasion of games. Too obvious, and above all badly integrated, placements will quickly damage a game's chances of success. In contrast, those games that set their story in real life would quickly lose their realism if they were free from brands. Nowadays, in an adventure game set in an urban environment in which the streets walked by the hero were innocent of all advertising, we would wonder exactly when and where the action was set. On what planet? A motor race where you could choose neither the exact brand nor the model would lose its charm and authenticity. A sporting encounter without advertising hoardings around the edges of the pitch would be unrealistic. Accessories of everyday life that did not show any brand logo, or only brands that it was impossible to identify, would appear almost bizarre. The characters are increasingly borrowing the appearance and voice of the actors from the feature films on which the games are based, as are the champions for games based on sports. Such realism should be rounded off, like it or not, by the commercial realism that the modern consumer society is acquainted with.


Some advertisers are still doubtful as to the power and the real advantages of staging the brand, and therefore of branded entertainment. Directing is a very difficult job. However, like it or not, brand managers have become the daily administrators of the brand's life, shrewd managers who direct the stages of the brand's life cycle one day at a time, permanent visionaries of the architecture of that brand, guarantors of its identity, protectors of its positioning, and orchestra conductors attentive to the sum of the individual publicity actions to which it may lend itself, in order to achieve perfect coordination.

If it may seem to some that there is only a single step between product placement and brand integration, nevertheless the whole philosophy of the process must be revised, so that the brand can be inserted into a world of entertainment as naturally as possible, arousing emotions and desires on its own account. Strategic thinking about the brand is therefore even more crucial since the goal, the role and the attraction of a brand integration will also vary widely, according to the communications medium under consideration and the characteristics of the environment in which the operation is envisaged.

More than a hundred years of traditional above-the-line and below-the-line communication have inevitably left traces of a natural resistance. Even if the elements set out in the previous pages might be thought to provide an objective legitimacy to the argument, however, the economic and social conjunction must also be taken into account. The roles, and even the justifications, of brands are being reappraised by consumers who we know to be more mature, more sophisticated and therefore more demanding. The choice that marketers are presented with seems incredibly simple. Either we leave brands, or in any case the majority of them, to complete their metamorphosis into a simple element for designating one good in relation to another, whereupon hundreds, if not thousands of them will disappear; or we decide to curb the impoverishment, to struggle against the suicidal erosion of brand capital and to give the brand back a genuine legitimacy.

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