Product Placement in Cinema: TLG talks to Darryl Collis, Founder of Seesaw Media
Product placement has been considered by some as the black-sheep of advertising and yet the industry is bigger than it has ever been. Seesaw Media is one of the leading agencies in product placement and brand integration so we sat down with the company founder, Darryl Collis, to learn more about the intricacies of this often-misunderstood industry.
How did you get into the film industry and more specifically, how did you get into product placement?
My background is in advertising. I was a copywriter and creative hand with a little bit of account holding at an advertising agency based in London. I worked there for about five years until just before the year 2000 when I started to see the writing on the wall that people were now fast-forwarding through commercials with the rise of DVRs. It began with TiVo in America and soon took off around the world.
At this point, even though I enjoyed my work, I realised that there would be no fun in it if people skipped through the commercials. I started to understand that the key was in the content itself and I had heard of product placement in America, but at the time there was no agency over here that would facilitate it specifically for feature films. Along with a colleague in New York, we set up Seesaw Media in 2001 and we pooled our contacts and resources together.
For those who are unaware, what’s the difference between product placement and brand integration?
The overarching term used in the industry is product placement, quite simply because people understand what that means. The official meaning of product placement is when a brand has paid a production company or a production company has benefited financially from a brand’s involvement in a project.
Prop placement is where no money is exchanged and a production company simply asks a brand if they can loan their product to be used in specific way. There’s no contract in place here except for a few guidelines to prevent the brand from being misrepresented. Brand integration is when the brand itself is integrated into the script. For instance, Samsung might ask if they can be part of a specific scene and then become integrated in a seamless way.
Is it largely at the pre-production stage that companies contact you, or can it happen at any stage during production?
For prop placement, we’re almost always in touch with the production while they’re in the pre-production stage (4-8 weeks out). Sometimes a new scene might be written in to a production and they’ll reach out to us, asking for a new jacket for Tom Cruise for example.
Are there any dos and don’ts that production companies should bear in mind before contacting a product placement agency?
There must always be guaranteed distribution, whether that be theatrical, digital or terrestrial. Netflix and Amazon are important to us but we don’t really go for projects that stay on the film festival circuits because they don’t have enough reach. This industry is still about advertising a brand and they want to put themselves in front of the biggest audience possible. We also need to make sure that it has a guaranteed cast as opposed to the production company saying: “we’re in talks with someone”.
In the past, we’ve gone after a film called I’m Not There that had a confirmed cast but no distribution. It was a Bob Dylan biopic with Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger and Christian Bale starring and with Todd Haynes directing. Even though it had no distributor, we knew that the film project wasn’t going to sit on the shelf with that cast. We figured that a place like the Weinstein Company might pick it up and sure enough they did. We worked with Belstaff to dress Cate Blanchett in a very iconic 1970s Bob Dylan-esque jacket, and we also dressed Heath Ledger in a Belstaff jacket from a different era.
One other thing - while we can do brand integration we’re more interested in whether or not the script dictates for it. Sometimes product placement can stick out like a sore thumb and if the audience is taken out of the experience because of it, then it leads to bad press and people start talking about the film for the wrong reasons. If a character needs to drink a bottle of whiskey, wear a certain jacket or travel on a certain cruise then that’s where we come in. If it doesn’t work then it doesn’t work. We have a saying: Director are Directors, Brand Advertisers are Brand Advertisers and one can’t be the other.
Do you have locations reach out to you for placement in productions?
Absolutely, that’s a massive aspect of our job due to the knock-on effect of film tourism. When we first started out we represented Conran Restaurants (now D&D Restaurants) and we would ensure that a lot of filming took place at those locations. We currently represent Princess Cruises.
We’re also in talks with a lot of tourist boards because of the potential in terms of film tourism. The Mexican Tourist Board for instance negotiated a very big deal for the last James Bond flick, Spectre. The opening scene takes place in Mexico during the Day of the Dead festival, but the interesting thing there is that beforehand, the festival never took place in the square that the film was shot in but to cash in on film tourism, it does now.
How can brands measure the impact of placement?
We have an evaluation method to figure out how many people saw your brand by ticket sales, duration on screen, etc. That all comes together with a media value and DVD sales to quantify it all. When we were working on Mission: Impossible 3, we supplied Tom Cruise with a Belstaff jacket to wear which ended up on the poster. I remember being in the Belstaff store not long after the film was released and someone went up to the counter and said: “do you have the jacket that Tom Cruise wore in Mission Impossible 3?”
There is definitely a direct correlation in sales and while you can give something a media value, you’re an advertiser who’s here for sales. It’s all about brand recognition and brand recall.
What’s the strangest request that you’ve had?
We were approached by a production company and the guy told me that he wanted to recreate London Fashion Week, which we were more than happy to do. They asked for lots of mini Moet’s and signage to go around the catwalk. Naomi Campbell was set to appear in the film, and it had even secured distribution which is great news for us. I asked what the film was called and he responded: “Fat Slags”. It was based on the comic strip from Viz magazine. Because of that, we said thank you but no thank you.
And what about the most successful?
We worked with the costume designer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt. There was a moment in that script when we were able to dress Brad Pitt in a scene when he’s riding an old Indian motorcycle – wearing a pair of Ray-Bans, a pair of Levi’s and a brown leather Belstaff jacket which was one of their most iconic products. In terms of having the hottest actor starring in one of the major productions of the year and bringing all of those products together, it was the perfect storm. That Belstaff jacket became completely sold out on the back of that film.
How has the industry changed with the rise of social media?
Before social media, the reaction to the placement would take a much longer time to reveal itself whereas now, the reaction can be monitored as and when it happens. For instances of product placement in television, brands will now put out a tweet or a status along the lines of: “did you catch the show last night? You can watch it again on catch-up”. It allows the brand to be more involved than ever before. As a flipside, it gives the audience a chance to talk about product placement which the brand can then share or retweet.
We also do celebrity seeding, wherein for example we’ll loan someone a motorcycle and then they’ll post about it and that’ll go out to millions of followers on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. That’s another great way of getting a brand out there. Social media gives product placement an additional place to exist outside of the medium that it was originally intended for.
Where do you see the future of product placement in the next 10 years?
With the rise of Netflix and commercial free viewing habits, I think that product placement will become a first-thought platform as opposed to a secondary consideration of old. In terms of brand integration, the content will travel and the brand will go with it but the commercials surrounding it will vary in each territory. It’s more important than ever for brands to be within the content. With the budgets that brands spend on commercials, they could theoretically spend that on original content, which is exactly how soap operas started. While it’s understandable that audiences might be reluctant to embrace a film or TV series that is openly sponsored by a product, the brands will still have to work with Directors to consider how to effectively employ brand integration while making great entertainment.
Darryl, thank you so much for your time.
It was my pleasure.
Not Logged in
You must be logged in to post a comment
There are no comments