The Power Of Product Placement Over 40 Years


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Why Product Placement Marketing Has Become A Must-Do Marketing Strategy

As an entertainment marketing specialist who has worked in this field for well over 2 decades now, I have an insider perspective after daily living and breathing the changes that have happened in entertainment marketing practices over the decades.   And there have been massive changes – and also at the same time – no changes at all.

Product Placement isn't new - brands have been part of films since the first black and white movies were shot.  What has changes is that product placement is now (finally) truly becoming a mainstay in brands' marketing mixes, with brands leveraging streaming, television, feature film and music videos that has changed. In this blog Hollywood Branded discusses the evolution of Product Placement, and why this marketing practice is a hidden gem for so many brand categories.

The History of Product Placement

Through The 80s

In the 80s product placement agencies had a reputation as simply (often negatively) being ‘prop warehouses’ where product was available for the picking by productions.  Brands eager for exposure on screen are often referred today to having provided (a lot) of product to productions without requiring contracted guarantees. 

There was certainly a ‘wild west’ feel to the practice, and a discount of considering these practitioners advertising professionals.  And some brands got burned when product didn’t show up on screen and shied away from the practice in ensuing years.


The 90s

Through the ‘90s agencies became true partners to their brand clients, brokering not only placement loan or larger trade outs (water for the cast and crew anyone?) as well as dollar deals in the 4 to 5 figure range. Neither productions nor TV ad networks had the clout at the time to command higher dollars, or a strategy in place to do so. 

This was the time that I began my career in product placement - in the mid '90s when no one knew what "product placement" really was. Even my mother thought I'd gotten a job in a grocery store arranging product towards the front of the store. Despite my telling her that the job ad was in the Hollywood Reporter. :)

Creating promotional partnerships leveraging brand’s media dollars and retail point of sale space became a standard practice for some of the more strategic agencies. And both brands and productions benefited from the agency's assistance, as they still do today.  These partnerships are symbiotic – with both the brand and production partner benefiting.  The brand from the on screen usage and ability to rub elbow with celebrities – organically. The production as they offset costs whether that be their own department heads (props, sets, transportation, wardrobe) from having to do the outreach and source the products themselves, through actual savings of hard cash dollars, or through leveraging a brands’ media to reach more eyeballs with release date tagged in advertising and a higher box office resulting return.


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After 2000

In the first decade of this century, a massive change happened.  Media agencies suddenly realized the power of product placement and started launching their own specialty divisions of entertainment focused practices.  This was initially driven by the TV ad networks who wanted to get more ad dollars.  The new practices meant it became known as “brand integration”.  In exchange for paying a premium media rate for content, the brand would be written into the script.  This resulted in viewers often being hit over the head with brands inserted into content that wasn’t always an organic platform for messaging. 

Agencies including ours persisted however, still creating partnerships beneficial to both parties – just often at a much lower cost than that which their media agency counterparts offered. And these partnerships commanded a major price tag – often into the millions. 

And media agencies have realized product placement agencies can be their BFFs, getting them onto sets and behind closed doors that only decades old relationships bring.  

As the years have progressed, brand integration has been massaged and evolved, and the term ‘branded content’ now exists as an ultimate target for brand marketers to obtain.  Whether a co-produced production owned by both a production house and a brand, or simply a highly evolved partnership where the brand payment ensures themed scripting to support key marketing messaging, this has been considered by many as the height of the evolution of ‘placement.’  The end goal. 

Yet it’s not.  Brands are evolving just as productions have – and technology has brought us the benefit of the digital landscape, where unique powerful content that creates chatter is the new marketing dream. 

how your product placement program works

How More Productions Can Win With Unique Partnerships

Productions need to start thinking outside of the box, and find ways to bring brands to the casting table and behind the scenes of the productions themselves. 

And productions have the opportunity to step up.

  • To create stories that extend beyond the content. 
  • To create content that shows what happens behind closed doors, and have the public be able to interact with it. 

Strategies need to evolve to create content that can be shared or re-purposed for digital and social channels.  From offering filmed backstage brand experiences with the cast and crew  customized vignettes created and prettily packaged, which also benefit the production by bringing some extra PR and attention – and starting strong word of mouth marketing.  Create a hashtag for the film and brand and watch conversations soar.  Have the unit publicist help the brand get some on set attention.  Go beyond the media push, beyond the branded on screen chyrons, beyond hitting the consumer over the head with that hammer.

Productions can provide sneak peak content that is distributed through brand partner’s digital channels. Engage the brand to helping sponsor stunts that gain both the brand and film publicity.   Productions need to figure out what they can offer that will provide the brand exposure through the content that makes sense and speaks to the same targeted consumer.  Brand marketers are looking for ways to differentiate and stand out from competitors.  Entertainment and celebrity still offers that option! 

It's Time For Productions To Wake Up... 

Networks, productions and studios need to start realizing that they are asking the brand for just as much as the brand is asking of them – and that this is a mutual beneficial relationship.  Some personal advice to producers & directors… offer the ease to the brand of creating a professional looking content piece during production for them… it makes it all the easier to get them to use it – even if through social media only.  It’s the big picture of eyeballs gained versus the costs of the time and editing.  Start thinking outside the square box.

Agency teams like ours glide from production set to production set and are in the ‘know’ of opportunities that happen at a moment’s notice due to a script rewrite or new scene addition.  And what we are know for is being  powerful at leveraging relationships and offering benefits to production – which namely is the ability to make the lives of the production crew easier and save them time from having to source brands themselves. The network execs often don’t even know about deal potentials – it’s a separate world that both studios and networks have had a hard time bringing together.

product placement guide

The Product Placement Agency

An entertainment marketing agency like Hollywood Branded connects the brand and production partner together.  We are masterminds at getting things done without often spending too many dimes.  Whether a cohesive entertainment marketing strategy is built – with a brand being interwoven into dozens of scripts to become top of mind to viewers, a celebrity partnership that grows wings, or a single powerful partnership where the brand stands on screen just as a co-star, creating a phenomenal opportunity to build substantive marketing and advertising legs to extend the on screen exposure, agencies like ours are a brand marketer’s best friend.

Because we make magic happen. And when it happens it is MASSIVE. But it doesn't happen every time.

And that's the problem. It's hard to sell magic, because it is lighting in the bottle, and it doesn't strike every time.  Which is why we so highly encourage brands to create a strategic plan to become part of Hollywood's biggest supporters - where you choose to not work with just one production a year, but with dozens and dozens throughout the year. These on-going product placement retainer driven programs - where the product placement agency acts as a PR media, securing both earned and fee based opportunities, is what powers that magic.  When a brand proactively creates a product placement program, where inventory is dedicated, and it is a true element of the brand's marketing - that is when the magic happens.

Where your brand begins to appear in film after film, TV series after TV series, and on streaming platforms that are watched globally.

Just like our client FLIR has.  Check out this interview I did with Vatche Arabian on FLIR's produt placement program with Hollywood Branded.



Our product placement program for BlackBerry lasted for over a decade, across 3 different corporate brand owners.  Through our product placement program, we secured over 4,000 product placement exposures across television, film and streaming in over 1,600 productions.  That is a lot of content reviewing I will tell you, and clipping, and grading and reporting...

And it was worth it.  We secured over $76 MILLION DOLLARS of Return on Investment based on what the program cost were - inclusive of agency fees and product inventory and shipping.  In fact, we secured over 6.5 BILLION impressions through BlackBerry's product placement program.

Yet to this day I still hear from so many brands and agencies that discount product placement.  And I think it's because they don't really understand it.  It's relationship driven, and it's scratch my back and I'll scratch your back in nature.  It's I'll be a hero and help you out, when the prop master's 5 year run on the hottest show on earth ends, and they are cast back into an unknown pilot that that they need brands to help make the story more real.  And then there are some brand marketers are hesitant to try any alternatives that don’t come with impression or minutes on screen guarantees.

Entertainment content is prolific.  And it is only going to continue to grow.  The opportunities are endless for brands. There are production partnership opportunities around every corner.  And for those brands wanting to reach their targeted audiences who love Amazon and Netflix and Disney +, product placement is the ONLY way to get in front of them, as they don't take advertising dollars.

Check out some of our other agency blogs that talk about best marketing practices for product placement and brand integration partnerships:

Are you interested in integrating brand integration for your entertainment marketing mix, but simply don’t know where to start? Watch this video below to learn more about how this marketing practice works, what brand categories it works for, and the results brand marketers see! 

Watch the video to learn what is Product Placement