Heineken paid $45 million for Mr Bond to exchange his usual martini, shaken, not stirred, for a Heineken in the 2012 movie ‘Skyfall’, all in the name of product placement. But what is product placement, and does it work on consumers?

Product Placement in Film and Television

Product placement in film and television is used as a form of subliminal advertising. The product is displayed in a particular scene, or the characters may casually chat about it.

Sometimes, the product can act as a centrepiece for the film and play an integral role in plot development. For example, ‘Harold and Kumar go to White Castle’ is a movie centred around two men trying to get to the fast-food chain while encountering comedic obstacles along the way. Consumers create a positive association with the fast-food chain, as it is the characters’ ‘holy grail’. Harold and Kumar long to reach White Castle to eat their favourite burgers, and consumers in turn create this same connection.

Product Placement Isn’t Always Risky Business

Another example of product placement creating positive connotations with consumers is the movie, ‘Risky Business’. In the now infamous scene, Tom Cruise puts on a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and wears them inside while talking to some friends. He is then seen wearing them at night walking down a street, and in another scene, he puts them on inside after speaking to an authority figure. He is also wearing the Ray-Ban sunglasses in the movie’s promotional poster.

In each scene, product placement is used to show that it is ‘cool’ for young adult males to wear Ray-Bans. Ray-Bans are a fashion accessory, more than eye protection. Tom Cruise’s character is a young, handsome and rebellious rule breaker. So, young males may likely find this character inspiring or exciting. This will then entice them to go out and buy their own Ray-Bans. In fact, this is exactly what happened. After the film was released, sales of Ray-Ban Wayfarers, the model from the film, rose from about 18,000 sales a year to over 300,000 a year.

Legal Issues

So how can filmmakers use these products in their movies?

A business can enter into a license agreement with the brand or trade mark owner. Some of the terms of the agreement might include a fee for use and details about how to use the product in the film. Importantly, if a business tries to use a product without first getting permission, they may be breaching the product owner’s intellectual property rights.

A business, however, can also use product placement without the owner’s permission. This will usually be allowed if:

  • A product just appears in a film;
  • It is incidental to the matters portrayed in the film; and
  • Is not integrated into the film’s plot in any way.

It is important for businesses also to consider any regulations around including tobacco and alcohol products in their films, and whether they are misrepresenting the product by including it in the film. You can help protect yourself from any legal issues down the track by using a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, making it clear that you are not endorsing or associated with any of the featured products.

Questions? Please get in touch on 1300 544 755. LegalVision’s specialist advertising lawyers would be delighted to assist.

Bianca Reynolds
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