TURNING UP THE LIGHTS
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Activewear makers are going beyond the standard athlete endorsements to plug their labels, turning to TV and Tinseltown to promote their brands with some unusual product placements.
It’s no longer enough to catch a glimpse of a brand name — companies now want consumers to get a better grasp of their image, and more importantly, purchase the product.
Through a promotional partnership with Twentieth Century Fox for its new “Planet of the Apes” movie, which hits theatres July 27, Reebok will run cobranded, Ape-inspired advertising for the next two months.
After HBO took Crunch’s offer to shoot “Sex And the City” at Crunch gyms pro bono, the Crunch logo was featured prominently and a secondary character was nicknamed “Captain Crunch” in this season’s premiere.
A recent episode featured the show’s characters Miranda and Carrie taking an African dance class at Crunch’s West 83rd Street gym, said Patti Ganguzza, president of AIM Productions, the firm hired by Crunch to cozy up to the “Sex And the City” crew. She noted that movie and TV producers are steering clear of anything that “looks so blatant or compromises anything. Everything has to work creatively with the storyline.”
Marc Gobe, who heads up d/g* worldwide, a brand development firm here, and is the author of the book, “Emotional Branding,” agreed that product placement remains a tricky endeavor.
Unlike a bad poster, which can be taken down or forgotten after a season, sitcoms are played over and over again around the world, he said. In addition, influential Gen Y is “not very comfortable with brands,” especially ones they perceive to be “invasive,” Gobe added.
“Brands are desperate to find new venues to create a presence and are trying to maximize their exposure,” he said. “The drawback is that what used to be perceived by the public as editorial content from producers and directors is starting to appear commercially driven. That’s going to be rejected. I tell my clients, ‘You can be chosen or you can buy your way up.’ But if you’re chosen, there’s so much more power to the brand.”
Wilson Sporting Goods is another brand that fared well in “Cast Away.” Desperate for companionship on a desert island, Tom Hanks’s character repeatedly calls out to “Wilson,” a dilapidated Wilson Sporting Goods volleyball imprinted with a bloodstained hand for a face.
To coincide with last month’s release of the “Cast Away” video, Wilson Sporting Goods has rolled out a $20 replica of the volleyball in 10 stores. After a product placement deal was lined up two years ago, Twentieth Century Fox requested six soccer balls and later switched its order to volleyballs due to a script change, a Wilson spokeswoman said. In the end, the company’s investment totaled 85 volleyballs.
“We never in our wildest dreams thought this particular product placement would have been a major role in this movie,” she said.
In an unusual move, Nike has moved behind the camera, with “Road to Paris,” a documentary about Lance Armstrong and the rest of the U.S. Postal Service cycling team’s training for the Tour de France, which was produced by ad agency Wieden & Kennedy and @radical.media.
Nike, another sponsor of the USPS team, has its swooshes shown throughout the program, which first aired last month on CBS and has been shown 10 times on the Outdoor Life Network. The show is synchronized to a Web site to examine how consumers relate to a TV and Internet simulcast.
Nike plans to track how viewers use the site even though product will not be sold. During the broadcasts, cues flash on the screen advising viewers to check out more information online.
On another front, Nike picked up a free plug from Columbia Pictures in “A Knight’s Tale.” In one scene, a blacksmith presents frontman Heath Ledger with ultralight armor engraved with two swoosh-like designs on the chest. Nike declined to get involved with the film even though Columbia Pictures made a pitch last year, according to Kristi Dunn, entertainment marketing and public relations manager.
She dismissed the idea that the film’s title, which includes Nike founder and chief executive officer Phil Knight’s surname, had anything to do with the opportunity. A rock ‘n’ roll take on 14th century jousting, the movie served up plenty of scenes of rowdy fans.
Executives at Columbia Pictures declined to comment.
Earlier this year, Polo Ralph Lauren fastened its ties to prime time with the Web. During an episode of “Will & Grace,” Grace appears wearing Polo’s pink pony T-shirt imprinted with a large pink logo for breast cancer awareness.
NBC, the show’s network, owns a major stake in Polo.com. After the show, NBC ran a bumper advising interested shoppers to log on to Polo.com to buy the shirt and help support cancer research. About 3,500 units were sold within four days of the show’s airing.
Product placement is expected to be a key component of the storyline for “The Runner,” a reality TV show that bows in January. A runner must run across the country completing a series of chores without being identified by the general public.
Executives at LivePlanet and ABC, the show’s producers, are buttoned up about how intrinsic product placement will be. What they would say on the record is that the show is still in development, since its launch has been postponed from this fall to January or February. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are LivePlanet’s executive producers.
Reebok is among the companies that understands how a reality show can bolster a brand. Reebok got some serious mileage from sponsoring and outfitting the casts of the first two “Survivor” series. Beyond the show coverage, cast members appeared on magazine covers such as TV Guide and People, as well as talk shows wearing Reebok activewear.
Playbill, programs given to a million theatergoers each month, offers advertisers such perks as online advertising, sampling and deals on theater tickets for schmoozing retailers. Ad sales with beauty and fashion firms have increased by 10 percent compared to last year. De Beers, Gottex and Bulgari fragrances are among this fall’s newcomers to Playbill, said Jolie Schaffzin, Playbill’s director of fashion and beauty advertising.
“The increase is in the recognition that theater manages to reach an affluent audience that’s socially active and has proven they have occasion to get dressed up,” she said.