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March 8, 2006
Product Placement: a Marketing Phenomenon

It’s Christmas 1990,  and Kevin’s mother (Catherine O’Hara) is trying to find a way back to Chicago where her son (Macaulay Culkin) is left “Home Alone." When she meets John Candy and his Polka Band at the Airport, they offer to take her to Chicago in the Budget truck he and his band were renting. In addition to the verbal mention of Budget, a truck is on camera in two major scenes—great exposure! Immediately following the movie’s release, Budget’s rentals increased significantly, they also received phone calls from all over the country thanking them for getting Catherine O’Hara home in a Budget truck- like it really happened. Since its debut, the movie has appeared on TV every Christmas with similar results.

I received the script from Fox and reviewed the placement opportunity with the client. We did have a competitor in the running but, we won the placement by providing the production company with a truck and two cars at no charge while they were filming in Chicago. Considering the exposure the cost to Budget was insignificant.

I’m generally recognized for being one of the originators of product placement. In 1960 I was the Advertising Manager of Webcor, a Chicago Company manufacturing tape recorders and phonographs. I received a call from an MGM executive who requested a Webcor tape recorder as a “prop” for the Bob Hope movie, “Bachelor in Paradise." Bob Hope played a writer who taped his daily exploits in paradise so he could write about them later. The Webcor tape recorder appeared in almost every scene so the brand name was constantly on camera. When I realized what we had, I decided to create a retail promotion with our 5.000 dealers and tie it in with the release of the movie. Bob Hope and MGM approved the idea. Both the movie and promotion were enormously successful. This was indeed one of the first brand name placements in a movie and definitely one of the first back-end tie-in promotions. The business has grown and prospered even since. Product placement has matured into a very valuable marketing tool for many brand name opportunities.

I began working full time in the product placement business in 1978, and have placed client products in hundreds of movies and TV shows since then. I encourage my clients to use product placement as a way to increase sales and distribution. I inform them of the opportunities to star in a movie or TV show. I then assist them with publicity, tie-in promotions, star endorsements, displays, screenings and other placement opportunities. I also advise them of projects that I decline because the placement was not suitable for their products.

I’m on record with all the studios they cannot use any of my clients’ products without my approval. The fact remains that when the audience sees a product in a positive situation or in the hands of a recognized star, they generally buy it. In the movie “Ground Hog Day," Bill Murray ordered Jim Beam bourbon on the rocks; this had an immediate positive impact in orders and sales. Jim Beam also starred in a “Frasier” TV episode, the name was mentioned twice and the bottle was seen for over two minutes. The cost to Jim Beam was two bottles of whiskey but the exposure was worth Millions!

Meredith Wilson’s movie “The Music Man” resulted in a recording contest for kids who played musical instruments; this was another Webcor tie-in promotion. Over 200,000 young boys and girls entered the contest, the results were phenomenal and so was the movie!

This business is now referred to as Product Integration and/or Brand Entertainment. The important factor is it is growing in stature and importance as a marketing fact of life. Companies are launching campaigns around their involvement with entertainment programming. It’s a media that is here to stay.

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George Simkowski is vice president at SportsLoop and Founder of Lets Go Hollywood, Inc., a marketing company that specializes in the placement of brand name products in major movies and television shows. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, he developed an interest in the movie business after visiting several Hollywood studios. After meeting several stars, he was convinced he would be involved in this industry at some point in his career.

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