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The subtle art of product placement

Following the release of the Steven Spielberg classic E.T. in 1982, sales of REESE’S PIECES candy—the Martian’s favorite treat—increased by 65%

This is one example of product placement done correctly, said speakers on the afternoon panel of yesterday’s In-House Practitioners Workshop.

With the advent of technologies such as TIVO and digital video recorders (DVR), more brands are making deals with TV and movie studios to integrate their products into programming in order to ensure their ads don’t get fast-forwarded. Companies spent $6.25 billion on product placement in 2009, said Judy McCool of Home Box Office, Inc., who moderated yesterday’s panel.

But McCool said that brand integration in the media is “an art form” and must be approached with caution. Brand owners who manage to seamlessly integrate with “emotionally engaging” forms of media could see results like REESE’S PIECES—but there are many risks to consider.

Michael Sirota of Leo Burnett Worldwide said that films or TV shows which include too many product placements can be a turn-off for viewers by making the content seem over-commercialized. In one example, Sirota said that viewers of the James Bond film Die Another Day nicknamed the flick Buy Another Day, thanks to its $70 million in product placements.

Britney Spears also was heavily criticized after the release of her music video for the song “Hold it Against Me,” which included $500,000 worth of product placements for brands including SONY and the dating website, PLENTY OF FISH.

Other risks include the lack of control brand owners have once they agree to product placement deals, particularly in the case of reality TV programming. “There’s an inherent leap of faith that brands take when signing these deals,” said Benjamin Mulcahy of Sheppard Mullin. “It’s really giving the studio broad editorial control over their trademarks.”

Hollywood Producer Anthony Dominici provided his perspective on product placement as Executive Producer of shows such as Extreme Makeover Home Edition and America’s Next Top Model. “It’s a negotiation process,” said Dominici, responding to a question about how he deals with brand owners who ask for too much control over the content of a show. “I try to make the integration process organic,” said Dominici, adding that he often cannot promise brands what they ask.

Yesterday’s In-House Practitioners Workshop also included a panel on best practices for protecting trademarks in Latin America, a lively keynote address by Stanford University Professor Mark Lemley (pictured) and a networking luncheon.

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