For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only: 

The unknown world of drinks product placement

Bob Jenkins

A reticent trade

In the mid-1990s, Frank Zazza was hired to read scripts, not by a movie or theatre producer but Seagram, then one of the world's biggest wine and spirits groups. Mr Zazza's job was to scan scripts into which Seagram products might be placed, rejecting scenes he deemed inappropriate for its brands. The process was dubbed "negative product placement" and the list of criteria for exclusion long.

Mr Zazza explains: "No use of alcohol in seduction. No scenes of drinking and driving. No drink and drugs. No under-age drinking. No drinking resulting in a fight. And so it went on. The result was very little was deemed appropriate. There is very little alcohol product placement in the movies, even in the US. If you see alcohol featuring in movies, it is very often the case that no labelling will be shown. If it is, it will be generic."

With a few exceptions such as the Bond movies, where vodka brands have achieved prominent placing alongside automotive and technology brands, the drinks industry has largely left product placement alone.


Exception to the rule: Heineken features in 2005's movie, Be Cool


Placement changes 

A recent EU directive, which member states must adopt in some form before December 2009, could encourage drinks advertisers to rethink. The reform enables paid-for placement in TV programmes, under certain circumstances, whilst giving national states freedom to tailor rules to their own markets.

In the US, paid for placement in TV and movies have been active for many years, though they remain a relatively small part of the marketing mix. Among EU countries, Portugal, Romania and the UK are thought to be the keenest to liberalise placement rules, and Germany one of the least enthusiastic. Combined with a more general underlying trend towards non-mainstream advertising formats, the EU reform may encourage alcohol advertisers to reconsider placements.

Ross Biggam, director general of the Association of Commercial Television in Europe, argues that if countries liberalise, drinks TV placements should be sensitive to industry codes on responsible drinking and be low-key for the first few years.

But he says: "Alcohol offers one of the best and most obvious openings for product placement, especially in (British) soaps, every one of which has at its heart a pub, offering - it would seem - an ideal opportunity for a very natural, unobtrusive introduction of product placement."


The scope for 'brand integration'

If such ideas are to take off, industry executives may first have to agree on how big an opportunity product placement affords - or even what to call the practice. For one, Christopher Carroll, global manager, brand experience at Heineken, is not keen on the term 'product placement'.

Mr Carroll says: "At Heineken, we refer to product placement as brand integration. We see brand integration as an important communications tactic for the global brand strategy of Heineken. 

"Integration in television shows and films acts as one of several marketing tools to showcase the many dimensions of the brand as well as our iconic packaging…The uniqueness of brand integration is its global reach - that is truly international." 

Similar sentiments are expressed by David Campbell, senior director, entertainment marketing, at Anheuser-Busch, the world's biggest beer producer.

Mr Campbell says: "Beer is a lifestyle product that often carries with it positive connotations, whether it's Bud Light wearing the badge of humour, fun and sociability, or Budweiser's attributes of heritage, quality and its status as an American icon. Product integration is an important part of Anheuser-Busch's overall beer marketing strategy."


Off-screen leverage

By itself, however, placement is not very interesting, warns Sean Jefferson, CEO of Performance Europe, part of the WPP Group. "What makes it an interesting proposition is how the placements are leveraged off-line," he explains.

He cites Performance's work for Ford cars in Casino Royale, the Bond movie. In addition to an onscreen movie presence, this deal gave Ford access to Bond imagery and music, behind the scenes footage, a Bond micro-site and Bond-related games. According to Mr Jefferson, this "off-line" leveraging of the on-screen placement is often where advertisers spend most of their money.


Budget estimates

However, it is difficult to get reliable expenditure numbers on placement/integration, he says, because independent auditors do not assess spending as they do television ad sales. The confusion over the market's size may be partly due to different definitions of the genre.

For example, PQ Media Research, a provider of data on non-traditional marketing, includes paid product placement within its overall figures for expenditure on branded entertainment. The latter also encompasses the much bigger category of sponsorship, as well as webisodes and campaigns embedded in video games.

Using this definition, PQ Media estimates that worldwide branded entertainment was worth $22.3bn in 2007, and could grow by 13.9 per cent in 2008. Within the 2007 figure, paid for product placement accounted for almost $3bn, having enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of 40.8 per cent between 2002 and 2007. 

iTVX's Zazza, however, values total worldwide product integration at about $40bn per annum, with the majority still from the US which he believes is growing at "between 20-25 per cent" a year. 

If EU members take a liberalising attitude to the new product placement rules, the European TV placement market might be worth about €2bn, according to some estimates. 

Other calculations put the figure closer to €1bn, whilst a projection for Germany, one of Europe's biggest TV markets, is that product placement revenues could initially be only in the "low double digit millions of Euros" per annum.


Brokering the deal

There are also different views about whether in a liberalised European market, TV production companies or broadcasters would negotiate deals with product placing brand owners. Annette Kummel, director of media policy at ProSiebenSat1, the German broadcaster, who is generally cautious about the impact of product placement, argues that broadcasters will need to retain the key role.

Ms Kummel says: "It is the broadcaster that is accountable to the regulators for what is transmitted. Therefore it will be mandatory that the decision as to which products and services will be placed, and where and how they are placed, remains with the broadcaster."

She adds: "Product placement will almost certainly work best as part of an overall package of communications solutions and only the broadcaster, not the producer, is in a position to tailor such a package to the needs of an advertiser."


Engagement

There is much more accord on other questions, such as the need to make campaigns engaging to ensure successful placements. Performance's Jefferson says: "I would always suggest to a client using product placement that this is a pull tool, not a push tool. Careful consideration must be given as to how a customer engages with the content or event into which the placement is being made, to enhance that engagement and have it transfer to your product or service."

Dominic Burns, senior vice president marketing at Fremantle Media Enterprises - the production company owned by RTL, the pan-european broadcaster which is behind the "Idol" talent TV format - agrees with the primacy of engagement in successful campaigns. Mr Burns says: "It is very important that producers and broadcasters take advantage of opportunities within shows rather than try to create those that do not naturally exist."

Like Mr Biggam, he believes that product placement of alcoholic drinks in soap operas "is an obvious" opportunity adding, "It would not surprise me to see the drinks industry leading the way."


Past placements in action

Frank Zazza points to Sex and the City, the TV series and movie scheduled for release in 2008, and the movie, SIDEWAYS, as examples of how drinks product placement can be done.

The cinematic version of SATC is set to continue the link with gin, vodka and tequila created by the TV programme. In one prominent TV storyline, for instance, one of the characters had a relationship with a male model for Absolut Vodka which created several seamlessly integrated promotional opportunities. 

Sideways was even more comprehensive in this respect. The script featured two middle-aged men on a week long tour of California's Napa Valley, prior to one of them getting married. He says: "All of the wineries and vineyards shown (in the film) paid for the privilege and then ran tours of their own, with their own experts on hand to teach customers about wine. That made the whole thing educational, utterly acceptable and a real branded entertainment coup."

One suspects that if Sideways had crossed Mr Zazza's desk in the 1990s, it would have got the thumbs up.