Panel: Product placement is paramount

THR hosts discussion on added revenue through branding

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HONG KONG -- A panel of product placement pioneers discussed how integral the practice has become to the financing of blockbusters Tuesday during a "Brands or Bust: Added Revenue Through Film Branding" session.

After opening remarks and introductions from The Hollywood Reporter publisher Eric Mika, the discussion was kicked off by Norm Marshall, CEO of NMA, explaining how product placement can be used to develop a character's image in the short two hours available for a movie.

Marshall went on to point out that destroying four Hummers during the course of shooting a film added a lot to the budget without GM as a willing sponsor on board to replace them.

Chris Lee, executive producer of "Valkyrie" and "Superman Returns," described the difficulties involved in arranging product placement when it was impossible to guarantee to sponsors, prior to production, that a picture would be delivered exactly as written in a script.

Other panelists were: Mike DaSilva, CEO of MDSA Promotion Marketing; Kellie Belle and Emily Wood, co-founders of Bellwood Media; and Reiko Kunieda of Dentsu Japan.

The panelists agreed that putting a figure on the dollar value of product placement is key. NMA has been developing a formula to do exactly that, and Marshall pointed out that it has to take into account the recurring future value of a film that will be watched for decades after its release. He gave the prominent placement of Dr Pepper in "Forrest Gump" as an example.

The tie-in between Samsung and the "Matrix" film franchise was acknowledged to be a ground-breaking venture in the field backed by a $100 million global ad campaign that helped reposition the brand of the Korean electronics giant.

The digitalization of movies has provided further opportunities for product placement, allowing branding to be inserted into pictures during the postproduction process when the situation requires. Placement can also be localized for different territories far more easily with digital technology.

With films now regularly costing more than $100 million, placement has become an essential part of budgeting, one that begins at the earliest stages of project planning, the panelists said.

There are limits even in the digital age, however. "For 'Valkyrie,' we had a lot of Mercedes and great uniforms by Hugo Boss in the movie, but nobody wanted to be associated with Nazi Germany," Lee said.