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Big Break

Is it time for your product to stop playing supporting roles and steal the show?

Product placement in TV shows and movies is nothing new, but the latest marketing trend-product integration-goes beyond displaying a can of Miller Lite in the background of a scene. Now products are actually part of the script. Consider the movie Cast Away, where the main character's job as a FedEx exec is essential to the plot (as are a logo-bearing FedEx plane and envelopes). On TV, The Drew Carey Show transported Drew and company inside the video game SimCity, and the Survivor II cast competed for a box of goodies marked with the Target bull's-eye.

"Marketers are running out of ways to sell their products," says Ritchie Lucas, president of CreatAbility, a Miami-based PR and marketing firm. "First we had celebrity endorsements, then product placement, and now marketers are realizing that the payoff isn't in the consumer just seeing it-the payoff is seeing someone actually using it. You have opportunities to be associated with movies that get heavy promotion and stars like Tom Hanks. But you're also able to be an integral part of the story."

So far, integration has been the province of big companies with huge marketing budgets, but Lucas believes that will change. "I don't think it's going to exclude entrepreneurs," he says. "If you can come up with a use for your product in the show, studios are going to listen. They need to subsidize their salaries and production costs. It's a perfect marriage. You're going to have marketers trying to have entire shows written around their products."

The future of product integration will be determined by the creativity of marketers and screenwriters. "I think in three to four years, studios will literally put scripts up for bid," says Lucas. "You'll be in an auditorium and [screenwriters] will break down every scene for you. Integration isn't where it's going; it's where it's at."

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This article was originally published in the October 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Big Break.

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