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Product placement is the use of recognisable, identifiable brand name products in cinema.
It is a controversial method of advertising that nevertheless sees a lot of use in both studio films and indie productions. It comes in many different forms, but the common thread is always the obvious inclusion of a real world product. Many people view product placement as negative or distracting. It’s true that poorly-handled product placement can have deleterious implications on the quality of a film. However it carries some advantages that many overlook.
The first and foremost advantage is funding. The primary reason for product placement is to provide the film with additional monetary resources. In this way, it works very similarly to traditional advertising as viewed on television, with a company paying a certain amount of money for a certain amount of exposure. Unlike traditional advertising, however, product placement is more nuanced. It allows a company to sign onto a director’s vision of a film and associate themselves with the thematic content. This contrasts heavily with television advertisement, where advertisement will be the same regardless of the context provided by what is being aired at the time.
Additionally, product placement provides lasting, residual impressions of the brand. A television advert will only air a certain number of times before growing tiresome and easy to overlook, at which point it must be phased out and replaced. Product placement remains fresh in every subsequent viewing of a film. All in all, product placement can be an excellent investment for any longstanding company that has a lasting, identifiable brand.
It isn’t a short-term promotion tactic, but a long-term insurance of the brand. As a result, product placement can be quite lucrative for a movie studio that can properly place a product.
A secondary advantage product placement can grant filmmakers is recognition. People accustomed to seeing a particular brand or product will often feel some connection to the product if it is presented in a scene. It can be used to help certain demographics bond with characters. This is generally weaker than presenting strong thematics, but it can be an additional element that carries benefit if you are deeply concerned with audience engagement.
As ever, of course, the key is in knowing your audience: getting product placement wrong can leave your audience feeling alienated, instead of related to. While these are very powerful advantages, there are a number of potential disadvantages to product placement. In fact, there are more potential disadvantages than there are advantages, making it a difficult calculus of risk to determine whether or not product placement will be the right choice for your film.
The first risk is creative abuse from the brand owner’s creative department. You can almost guarantee that you will be pressured to make creative decisions you would ordinarily avoid. They will want their product to be prominent, positive and own whatever scene it is in. They will be more immediately concerned with their product than the quality of your film, so it is up to you to mitigate this.
It will require nuance and an even hand; if you are too forceful and unwilling to compromise, you may lose the deal. Be wary of any contracts you might sign in seeking product placement, particularly if you are a smaller studio. You may find yourself contractually-obligated to place a product in a certain fashion. You do not want to find a contract restricting your creative options.
The next possible disadvantage is the stringency that you may be required to adhere to in product placement. As mentioned, creative and advertising departments will require you to place their product in a certain fashion. These standards may be far tighter than you can actually work into your film without detracting from the overall quality of your creative work.
Finally, you must be wary that your product placement be ultimately positive. If you aren’t protected by the appropriate contracting, you may find your advertising partners seeking reprisal if your film does not perform as they expect, or if they assess that your film has done their brand harm. This is a relatively-minor risk; few departments are willing to be this bold. However, it is a risk that you owe it to yourself to mitigate as best you can.
In summary, product placement can be a very useful tool, but it is far from without risk. If you think it may be appropriate for your film, most advertising agencies will be willing to work with you to cut a deal, but do everything in your power to maintain creative control.