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Insight + analysis on indie film legal issues

Why you should consider using product placements to finance and promote your independent film production.

Porsche logo on the back of a car in an action movie scene

Advertisers are increasingly searching for more and better opportunities to place brands and products into films and television productions. Variety this week reports that global advertising group Interpublic has announced a new data analysis product planned for internal use in finding movies and broadcast and streaming series that “will serve as a good fit for in-show product placement.”

This new ad agency data tool will reportedly compile information on over 2,000 brand integration opportunities. But advertisers are not just aiming at improving traditional media buying for commercials targeted at particular demographics. Instead, they’re looking for ways to improve their searches for opportunities to integrate the products and brands of agency clients such as Verizon and Coca-Cola into film and television projects that are still in development.

Advertisers have sought to incorporate products into the content of movies and shows for decades. But finding creative opportunities to do so is a quest that is more important than ever. Modern consumers tend to view traditional commercials as not merely breaks in media content to be ignored or skipped whenever possible, but as irritating interruptions that actively reduce whatever potential interest they have in the brands and products being promoted. One way to get around this problem and closer to consumer hearts and minds is not to pitch goods and services but to make them part of the stories being told onscreen.

Product Placements in Indie Film Productions

Integrating a relevant product subtly into a scene in a film, television show, video game, or digital media world can have several valuable benefits. Importantly, though, studio blockbusters and arthouse films alike need to avoid overdoing it. In Universal and Legendary’s 2015 Jurassic World, for example, brand tie-ins were both numerous and obvious. Shoving in too many logos and other commercial tie-ins can crowd authenticity—a quality of tremendous importance to new generations of media consumers—out of the frame. Unfortunately, advertisers tend to expect that with investing more media spending into a film comes the right to turn it into one long commercial. Working with experienced entertainment law counsel to negotiate the product placement deal is highly recommended.

For indie producers on micro- and low-budget films, however, there is first a need to understand that product placement should not mean merely in-kind contributions. As Interpublic’s emphasis on finding placement opportunities that will allow its clients to earn positive responses from modern media consumers shows, advertisers, advertising agencies, and product placement agencies are potential collaborators. They’re reviewing scripts for opportunities to place brands and products into scenes, and they’re willing to pay or provide promotional support for those opportunities.

As a result, indie productions can and should work to get equity from advertisers, not just Coca-Cola cans for the crafts services table. One recent potential project, for example, needed a casino location. The producers scouted a venue in their local market, but their budget would not allow using it. Product placements can create mutual benefits that can lead to a deal in such a situation. A smart idea built around such a location combined with the talent and production crew already working on the film, could create an advertising and marketing opportunity for both, as in Heineken’s 2006 “Waiter” tie-in spot for Casino Royale.

Film Finance and Production Budget Savings

Advertisers can represent an important source of equity financing while also reducing the amounts that filmmakers would otherwise need to spend below the line. If, for example, a character’s wardrobe can include a pair of new Nikes (provided in exchange for promotional consideration such as thank you in the end credits), that’s one less item that has to be purchased or rented. This becomes more important as the expense of props such as automobiles increases. Product placements can also provide a hook for marketing and promotions campaigns around a film’s release, extending the tie-in to subsidize this essential and often overlooked aspect of a successful indie production.

Film and Television Product Placement Agreement Deal Points

Filmmakers should have a written agreement specifying the terms of product placements. This need not be an overly complex entertainment contract, but it should cover certain key points, such as:

  • The degree or amount of product integration that the producer will use reasonable efforts to include in the film
  • The amount of consideration paid by the advertiser and the specific products to be provided for use in the film
  • The form and content of credit to be given to the advertiser
  • Rights to use the advertiser’s brand names, trademarks, and copyrights in the film and in connection with marketing and promotion
  • The producer’s right to retain artistic and creative control so long as the product is not depicted in some disparaging or unusual way

Questions about financing film or television projects using equity funding from advertisers or drafting a product placement agreement? Contact DeepFocus Law at (503) 975-8298 or schedule an entertainment attorney consultation.

Original photograph by Gabriel Gurrola.


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