Licensed to sell

Published 12 August 2009 23:59, Updated 24 February 2010 11:29

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Products placed in blockbuster movies make millions for the producers and the advertisers.

People barely bat an eyelid when they see Omega watches in James Bond movies, or Mercedes-Benz cars and Tag Heuer watches packing The Bourne Identity series of films. But does product placement - also known as embedded marketing - really work?

Product placement has become increasingly sophisticated over the past few years, and is used in all manner of movies and television series. It does not automatically increase product sales, yet the big brands stick by it.

That's because it develops the brand, Australian Marketing Institute chairman Roger James says, "particularly for products at the high end of the market".

"You enhance the brand by the placement with the hero in the film," he says. "Showing an Omega with Daniel Craig in the Bond movies works because Daniel Craig is not a bad-looking bloke; he is a bit of a hero, and it would have positive associations. But one of the issues of product placement is the extent to which the product blends into the film.''

James says it depends on the type of product as to whether product placement will work. "Sometimes it may be the case the product placement is just not noticed."

The founder of celebrity management and publicity agency Markson Sparks, Max Markson, is an advocate of product placement, which rose in popularity in the 1980s. "Absolutely, absolutely it works," he says. "It works because of the implied credibility it gives to products. The James Bond movies are a classic example."

Markson also notes that, as in the case of Superman and Batman, product placement is a genuine source of income for the movie producers who might get $1 million to $2 million for each product.

However, it doesn't have to be top-gun luxury brands. The Bourne Identity features products as diverse as The Guardian newspaper and London's BT Tower. 

Markson says the concept can work for almost anyone. "On a lesser scale, take [clothing brand] Ed Hardy. Globally, their product placement is phenomenal and they don't spend money on advertising.

"When Snoop Dogg gets arrested [on suspicion of illegal drug and gun possession in 2006] he is wearing an Ed Hardy T-shirt," Markson says.

He also likes infomercials as another form of marketing. "The time I was exposed to infomercials was in the early 1990s when I did a deal for Ita Buttrose to endorse a treadmill, and we made a fortune out of it.

"It sells products. With the Ita Buttrose treadmill, we ended up doing a global deal with Linda Evangelista. People often go on about how daggy it is but it is so successful. You try and buy a half-hour infomercial at night; it is impossible, all the channels are full. You can't get in there.''

Marketing consultant David Colley has chosen infomercials to market a new hair-cutting kit costing $149.85. "We chose infomercials because I believe the product requires some explanation. It's not just scissors; it requires some sort of setting up of the story. Plus, we have a clearly defined target audience of female grocery buyers with kids at school.

"We feel we have picked the time of the market where mums are paying $30 for a haircut for their kids. This is a totally user-friendly kit. It's a time for the family to get together. It really can't be stuffed up. It really was an initiative that was an infomercial story.''

Another product selected for infomercials is the natural cleansing program Lemon Detox. Marketing manager Endree Saade says there has been an "amazing response" to the infomercials, which have been running for about two years.

According to Saade, infomercials cost more but, "the call to action on infomercials works - unlike on a normal advertisement of 30 seconds or 60 seconds - because people may not understand what the product was about".

The AMI, which represents more than 7500 members, is somewhat more circumspect about infomercials. James believes they work only if advertisers are upfront and honest.

"Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated," he says. "They soon tell if you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes. However, I think there is a role when the communication is honestly portrayed. If you do that you are appealing to the viewer ... and the consumer will have a positive and enhanced view. That is the way it should be done."

Nonetheless, James warns that bad infomercials can harm good marketing plans and make consumers more cynical. "They are not taking us forward," he says.