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Norm Marshall and Associates president Devery Holmes
"Product placement is not a commercial"
 real 28k

Saturday, 25 November, 2000, 08:25 GMT
Hollywood for sale
Charlie's Angels
Charlie's Angels: Watch the film, buy the phone
By BBC News Online Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

Controversial plans are under way in the US to use interactive technology to enable viewers to instantly purchase products used by characters they see in movies and TV programmes.

A viewer who tunes in to a soap opera or TV sitcom and sees an actor wearing an outfit they admire will be able to press a button and immediately obtain details of how to buy it.

Although its proponents are enthusiastic, critics warn this new technology will transform TV programmes into full-length commercials.

Charlie's Angels
The crime-fighting trio leap into action for a phone company
This high-tech approach to interactive marketing is the latest development in product placement, a growing advertising practice in which companies get their brand name products to appear in films.

Evidence of product placement abounds in recent movies. In Charlie's Angels a mobile handset rings and the action momentarily cuts to a close-up shot of a Nokia phone.

Early in Mission Impossible 2 Tom Cruise can be seen donning a well-known brand of sunglasses. Sometimes it is more brazen and a character will actually mention a product in dialogue.

In the last Austin Powers movie Mike Myers uttered the words "Hey! Hey! Hey! Get your hands off my Hiney, baby!" seconds before a bottle of Heineken beer appeared in the shot.

Marketing agency Norm Marshall and Associates was involved in that Heineken placement and its president, Devery Holmes, estimates sales increased by 15%.

Ms Holmes explained: "Heineken wanted to be more relevant to a 21 to 29 year old consumer.

Nokia phone
Watch the film, buy the phone... then use it to buy more goods
"Austin Powers helped them do that in a way that other associations really couldn't."

Product placement is booming in Hollywood movies. It is a long-established practice, but it received a major boost in the early 1980s with ET.

In Steven Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster, the endearing alien was enticed to come out of hiding with an American candy confection called Reese's Pieces.

In the wake of the movie, sales of Reese's Pieces soared, some estimates suggest by as much as 60%. As a result modern product placement was born.

Today nearly all the big Hollywood studios have a department devoted to it, and it has become part of the everyday business of making movies.

In many cases cash doesn't exchange hands. Often a company, whether it is a manufacturer of mobile phones or an airline, will agree to barter their goods or services in exchange for a prominent placement.

For placement specialists not every film presents the ideal environment for promoting their products.

ET had a sweet source of income
Devery Holmes says: "As an agency it is more important for us to keep our clients out of certain properties than to put them in them."

She notes that some of her corporate clients are very conservative and would not want their products in films that contain gratuitous sex or violence.

As a rule the movie studios don't like to discuss product placement.

Critics claim it is a sneaky practice, and that product placement catches audiences while their defences are down.

But Devery Holmes maintains she is helping to bring realism to entertainment.

"Movies don't work if you've got generic brands. You've got to show real associations," she declares.

But she acknowledges that it is possible to over-saturate a film, and product placement "has to look relevant and realistic."

The prospect of high-tech product placement, in which consumers use interactive devices to instantly buy merchandise on the screen, is seen by many as a lamentable development.

Austin Powers 2
Only here for the beer: Austin Powers 2
In US television, advertising is already taking a larger and larger share of the broadcast hour.

If programmes now become interactive marketing vehicles, many fear TV watching will be transformed into a non-stop act of consumption.

Interactive product placement is definitely going to create havoc with compulsive shoppers who will find a whole new frontier of impulse buying available at their fingertips.

Indeed, it is not too far fetched to imagine that in the future viewers will tune in to watch the news, not to bear witness to a report on some desperate act of humanity, but to select and buy the smart outfit the TV correspondent may be wearing.

It would be the ultimate triumph of commercialism over content.

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See also:

13 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Angels triumph over Sandler's devil
04 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Hollywood resurrects the Angels
24 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Charlie's Angels movie premières
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