A Look At How Brands Make It On Top TV Shows
When you watch a TV show you may notice a brand or two making an appearance on the screen. And in some cases, like in Silicon Valley's Hooli-Con episode, you may notice dozens. So how does the production get all those brands to come together?
It's not magic - it's product placement. It's all about relationships with key decision makers on set, and knowing what the opportuntiies are. In this blog, Hollywood Branded walks you through a product placement case study and takes you behind the scenes of Silicon Valley to see how a fictional trade show comes to life.
About The Show
Now about to shoot it's 5th season, Silicon Valley is one of HBO's most popular Sunday night shows. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of this hit comedy . The sitcom follows four nerdy friends on their quest to strike Silicon Valley gold, and make it big in the tech industry.
In this particular episode, the group’s struggling business, Pied Piper, invests in a booth at the iconic HooliCon tradeshow, which is where we come in…
How It All Began
A few weeks before its taping, our friends in the set decorating department at the HBO hit comedy Silicon Valley, reached out to let us know that an upcoming episode would feature a fictitious tech convention, and they were looking for some real brands to feature in it. The convention, known on the show as HooliCon, is supposed to mimic something like Las Vegas’s CES, so think big, dramatic brand booths... AKA alotta work, but also alotta exposure! So, naturally we jumped at the opportunity.
When we say a few weeks before, we truly mean a ‘few’. We had about three weeks to create, ship, and build a 30’x30’ booth (unfortunately, due to shipping timeframes it wasn’t possible to use the client’s already created trade show materials).
How It Happened
The Hollywood Branded team is constantly working with both the prop and set decoration departments of every TV show. Many of these people have been in the industry for years (like us!). For many, their fathers and grandfather's were in the business, and they joined the props and sets local unions as their very first jobs.
They jump from show to show to show, moving from TV show to film and back again, and we make sure to stay in touch with them with every move. In the case of Silicon Valley, one of our contacts in the set dec. department was a friend of ours who we used to work with at Comedy Central’s hit, Workaholics. When that show ended, she moved on to Silicon Valley, and took our client list - and our speed dial - with her.
When she reached out to us for this convention scene, we knew immediately that one of our retainer product placement clients would be a perfect fit. We discussed this brand with her and the rest of the Silicon Valley team, and they couldn’t have been more on board. Sure enough, the second we reached out to the client to gauge their interest, they were just as excited!
After a fast hour of back and forth emails and conference calls, our client FLIR officially had a booth at the 2017 HooliCon.
FLIR: The brand name is an acronym for its technology, Forward Looking Infrared, so think thermal and night vision. They are THE leading brand in their field – known for their thermal imaging systems, visible-light imaging systems, locator systems, measurement and diagnostic systems, and advanced threat detection systems. Their products improve the way people interact with the world around them, enhance public safety and well-being, increase energy efficiency, and enable healthy and entertained communities.
So, given their incredible reputation, there was no way we were going to let their TV booth look anything less than spectacular. Now we were just tasked with the slight job of replicating their standard $300k 50’x50’ booth on about 1/300th of the budget and two and half weeks.
Here is what FLIR’s real trade show booths look like.
Creating The Booth
Our first task was to look at the HooliCon layout and choose a booth that we thought would get FLIR the best exposure. This decision came as a result of countless questions to production about potential camera angles and different signage opportunities for FLIR. We decided on the booth right at the entrance of the convention, on good faith with the production team that there would be a great shot of the main characters entering the conference.
We then had to design this booth from scratch using FLIR’s traditional CES booth as a model. Here's a photo of the convention blueprint we recieved from production (FLIR's booth circled in red).
The goal with this booth is not only to emulate FLIR’s original trade show booths, but also to get the client as much exposure as humanly possible. We started by gathering all the signage we could get our hands on and designing a booth that has FLIR’s logo clearly visible from any angle of this convention center, and we do mean literally every angle. We had standing wall signage, ceiling signage hung by professionals using a rig, table top signage, products on display, pop-up product cut outs of their best selling products, and of course FLIR-branded t-shirts for us FLIR trade show employees. And yes - our staff works on set during filming too, and we staged ourselves as extras. Even the client sent down some very enthusiastic helpers from their team.
After a few (aka a million) emails back and forth between the production and FLIR, we got final approval on the look of the booth, and were ready to get this thing set up!
Here’s our booth!
Load-in was on a Tuesday at the LA Convention Center and production was scheduled to shoot from Wednesday-Friday. We arrived early on Tuesday ready to build (with some very necessary help from production). The signage we created was all fairly easy to put together so we were in business in about 3-4 hours. In fact, when we created the signage, we very specficially chose options that coudl be easily folded back down, to store in our warehouse, and use on future sets. Any materials we create for TV or film are always repurposable.
The two days of set up and then the three days of the shoot were a mix of excited silence as the cast shot scenes directly outside of our booth and also utter boredom as production captured all the action on the complete other side of the convention center. The show gave us a permission to invite the client for the three-day shoot, so together we all hung out in our FLIR t-shirts constantly ready for our close-ups.
On the final day of the shoot, the cast members weaved in and out of the booths stopping by those that interested them. Silicon Valley leading man, Martin Starr, lingered around our booth multiple times, stopping for a photo with the client and our booth.
The last few scenes weren’t near our booth so we were able to walk around, capturing really cool images of the set and cast using FLIR’s thermal technology.
Here’s a photo of lead characters Richard Hendricks (played by Thomas Middleditch) and Jared Dunn (played by Zach Woods) shooting a scene. We captured this shot using FLIR’s T1K camera.
For four months we impatiently waited to see what would come of this five day field trip to the LA Convention Center. On June 18th when the episode aired on HBO we were not disappointed. Within minutes of the episode, the four main characters made their way into the convention center, walking in slow motion directly towards the FLIR booth. In later scenes, even those shot on the complete opposite side of the trade show, our trusted ceiling signage was clearly visible.
Here’s how it looked on screen.
FLIR shared in our excitement, saying, “Well, when it comes to branding, it doesn’t get much better than that!”
Ready To See Your Brand At The Next HooliCon?
And THAT is how a fictional tradeshow comes to life with the help of a product placement company and excited client! It's all about having the relationships to know about the opportunities, and the ability to move very very quickly. Having some extra budget to apply to these types of opportunties that can be very last minute is also something key for brands to keep in mind.
Our team at Hollywood Branded has created a short video that walks you through the exact steps and processes we go through in order to make brands like yours get on screen star-studded exposure through product placement. Check it out below!