By  on December 29, 2004

LOS ANGELES — Product placements are on the rise as an alternative to TV commercials.

It’s a marketing tactic gaining ground most prominently in a handful of industries, including apparel, autos, soft drinks and electronics — in large part because the effectiveness of commercials has come into question in an age when new technologies, like digital video recorders and satellite radio, enable viewers to avoid them.

The phenomenon’s importance has been unmistakable in the apparel world as evidenced by the past merchandise-moving ability of shows such as NBC’s “Friends” and HBO’s “Sex and the City,” noted participants in an advertising panel at the third annual HD Expo, held last month at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. For example, L.A.-based contemporary line Ella Moss saw sales spike after Sarah Jessica Parker wore one of the brand’s items on “Sex and the City.”

“There’s a large opportunity for the fashion world to capitalize on the practice, as long as they can match a brand with a cast,” said Terrence Coles, director of sales and marketing for Pier 3, an entertainment marketing company that has worked with such brands as L.L. Bean and Skyy Vodka. “You can’t create value for a client by throwing a bunch of things out there and seeing what sticks.”

Fashion companies ought to think of themselves as partners in placement ventures, because the payoff could last for years, Coles said. He pointed to the fall season’s crop of fashion-centric shows — including Fox’s “The O.C.” and the blockbuster launch of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” which is averaging 20 million viewers per broadcast — as good entertainment vehicles in which to place fashion products. “‘Desperate Housewives’ is the show to be on if you’re a fashion brand,” Coles maintained. “Those brands that got in early will probably get to stick around for a while.”

Halston won a significant placement in the Dec. 12 broadcast of “Desperate Housewives,” which featured a Halston fashion show, replete with silk gowns, some with laser-cuts and others with hand-painted paillettes. Even before the show aired, Halston designer Bradley Bayou related that he began fielding calls for similar outfits, spurred in part by the show’s stars, who were wearing Halston designs to evening events.

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