Anna Keizer
January 25, 2023

How to Use Product Placement in Movies to Cut Costs

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Product placement in movies can be a great promotional move for brands. 

And a fantastic cost-cutting measure for filmmakers! 

Before you start calling Apple, Toyota, and Coca-Cola, let’s take a minute to go over the basics of product placement in movies and the best practices of using it. Because once you fully understand what it is and how to maximize its potential, it can truly become a valued tool for affordability in filmmaking.

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What is product placement?

Product placement in movies refers to goods or services seen or heard in a film. Specifically, instances where the brand pays for exposure or provides its products free of charge for the filmmakers to use.

When the question of what is product placement is asked, people often think of the global brands behind some of the more well-known beverages, cars, or electronics they see in movies. They’d be right. But even a relatively unheard of item in a film could be product placement if both the brand and filmmakers feel it’s beneficial to both of them to have it included.

The jury is out on exactly when filmmakers got savvy about types of product placement, but given the films that have survived cinema’s early era, it’s clear they’ve been around for a while. 

How to Use Product Placement in Your Movies to Cut Costs - Wrapbook - Wings
What is product placement was likely not a question anyone was asking in the 1920s, yet it already was present in films like Wings. SOURCE

Take the 1927 Oscar-winning feature Wings. This film is an example of not so hidden product placement in movies, as it includes several scenes with Hersey’s candy bars. And that was almost one-hundred years ago!

How can product placement in movies help you?

But let’s fast-forward to the film you’re trying to make today. How can you take advantage of product placement for your project? 

Paid promotion

Working on the next MCU or James Bond film? Then you can certainly expect paid promotion product placement deals.

Just one example of the lucrative partnerships brands will strike with these types of multi-million-dollar franchise: Harley-Davidson entered the MCU with its check of 10 million dollars to be part of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  

But that’s just pocket change compared to what the James Bond franchise pulls in.

Heineken paid an estimated 45 million dollars for less than 10 seconds of screen time in Skyfall. And the recent usage of Aston Martin cars? The brand paid 140 million dollars for its inclusion in Die Another Day, bumping BMW from its former partnership with the Bond franchise.

These examples all sound pretty great. But unless you are attached to a franchise or tentpole film, paid promotion likely won’t be how to get product placement in your film. But, as Bond himself might say, “Never say never.” 

Again.

Fair enough. If you’re set on paid promotion, you have to make it worth it to the brand paying you. Even if you’re not part of a potential blockbuster, you may have leverage if the product placement is significant or even drives the story forward. Say a road trip movie where the car is featured in every single scene. Or a film set in a restaurant where a particular brand of cookery is on display for the entirety of it.

Another tactic: Have at least one prominent person attached to the movie. Perhaps it’s a low-budget film, but you have one A-lister in it because they love the story. Or a high-profile actor who is making their directorial debut with your movie. Brands could be willing to pay thousands of dollars for the association with a celebrity.

Complimentary usage

Usually, how to get product placement in your film will rely on complimentary usage. You get to use a brand’s product at no cost, and the brand gets exposure from being in your movie.

While hefty checks are nice, don’t write off the benefits of complimentary usage for product placement in movies. Consider all the many items of clothing, furniture, or even notable locales that can come at no cost if you successfully pitch the brand. With a great pitch, you could cut down considerably on the costs that come with costumes, props, and locations. 

However, there’s a fine line to walk with product placement, brand recognition, and audience reaction. In fact, Wayne’s World notoriously lampoons the excessive usage of product placement in its own movie. Wayne gives a wink and nod to his audience, all while trotting out Pizza Put, Doritos, Reebok, Nuprin, and Pepsi within a minute of screentime. 

Audiences are in on the joke with Wayne and Garth. But if you’re asking viewers to take seriously a film where you’re showcasing brands only because you got their products for free, those viewers may come to negatively regard another product – yours. Have your product placements make sense and not overtake the storytelling.

With that disclaimer in mind, many brands are happy to provide free products if you can demonstrate what kind of positive exposure they’ll receive for it. That might mean providing a treatment, pitch deck, storyboards, or all of the above to highlight how their products or services will be included in your movie.

Remember, brands will be understandably protective of their reputation. You must guarantee them that you will not degrade that reputation with their inclusion in your film.

Also, be reasonable about your ask. A global brand like Doritos may not mind shipping a dozen boxes of product for your project. But are you asking a small, local business owner for the same? Then they might turn you down. Exposure or not, they probably can’t afford that kind of contribution. 

What are the types of product placement?

Product placement in movies isn’t as simple as just putting the bottle of Pepsi in the shot! There’s different types of product placement.

Plot placement

Let’s start with plot placement. This is a type of product placement where the inclusion of a particular brand or item is integral to the story being told in the film.

Take for example 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It’s that little alien’s love for Reese’s Pieces and Elliott’s ability to connect with his new friend with them that places the candy in this category.

How to Use Product Placement in Your Movies to Cut Costs - Wrapbook - ET
A million dollars probably doesn’t sound like a lot if someone asks how much do movies make from product placement, but back in the 1980s, it was enough to make Reese’s Pieces a household name. SOURCE

The usage of Reese’s Pieces also demonstrated just how lucrative these types of integrations could be. The company paid a steep price – a cool million – for its candy to be featured in the film, along with tie-ins and cross-promotional adverts. But that investment resulted in the sale of the multicolored treat doubling just weeks after the film premiered.

At this point, product placement in movies had been ongoing for more than fifty years. Yet with this film, what is product placement – or how it could be used to great effect – became questions that filmmakers and marketers alike began to take seriously. ‌Ever since, brands and movies have become fast friends on account of how much each can make from this mutually beneficial arrangement. 

How to Use Product Placement in Your Movies to Cut Costs - Wrapbook - Cast Away
There’s probably no more obvious example of what is product placement than Wilson from Cast Away. He’s basically the second lead of most of the movie. SOURCE

ther examples of plot placement? Think the Nike running shoes gifted by Jenny that Forrest Gump wears during his trek across the United States, or the Wilson volleyball that keeps Chuck company in Cast Away

If it fits organically into the storytelling of the film, plot placement can be a highly successful type of product placement. 

Script placement

Among the types of product placement, script placement may be one of the rarer examples. This is in part because screenwriters are smart enough to not mention a brand that the would-be producers of their film can’t get clearance for. Or because a film script can go through numerous changes until it’s shot, which means ample opportunities for dialog to evolve and brand names to be cut.

One example of script placement is the request for a Pepsi by Marty McFly in Back to the Future. In that case, it did indeed become part of the final film. 

Screen placement

Regarding types of product placement, screen placement is the bread and butter of integrations on the big screen. Screen placements aren’t mentioned by name, and they don’t move the plot along in any meaningful way. They’re just there. Which oftentimes is enough.

Think Maverick’s Ray-Bans in Top Gun or Bond’s Aston Martins and Omega watches. Audiences notice the inclusion of brands in films—even somewhat hidden product placement in movies like the phone a character holds while talking into it. 

That’s why companies will pay to have their products or services on display.

How to get product placement in your film?

The first step is to determine what brands and companies you want to contact and for which goods or services they provide. That means going through your entire script and noting any possible product placement opportunities.

The good news is that your 1st AD will already be going through your script with notes on needed costumes, props, and locations for your shooting schedule

Together with your prop master, production designer, and costume designer, brainstorm which brands you want to solicit for product placement. Have backups as well if your first, second, or even third choices pass.

A huge help for filmmakers is the Association of Entertainment Marketing Professionals website where you can find out which marketing companies represent which brands. Often, you’ll be contacting those marketing companies instead of the brand directly.

How to Use Product Placement in Your Movies to Cut Costs - Wrapbook - Bond
The James Bond franchise is an outlier regarding how much do movies make from product placement. Most films won’t get nine-figure paydays. SOURCE

Not interested in talking with a go-between? Then see if there are smaller or local companies if you’re filming on location that might be more eager to partner with you.

Depending on the projected box office of your film or the people attached to it, you then need to decide. Are you contacting brands to see if they are willing to strike a paid promotion deal or provide their goods or services for complimentary usage?

Side note: If you just must have a particular big-name brand in your film, get clearance from them to do so. Especially if you can’t swing free products from them. Most major brands aren’t going to hunt down an indie filmmaker if they didn’t give clearance for their product to be shown in a movie for a few seconds. But you never know. 

Don’t assume that they won’t care. Cover your bases and get the necessary clearances. Because what you never want are unforeseen legal expenses.

How much do movies make from product placement?

In short, a lot… But again, it’s typically only if it’s a film with a reasonable expectation of becoming a blockbuster.

Yes, it depends from movie to movie whether product placement will be lucrative. As a whole, though, the film industry benefits substantially from it. If someone asks just how much do movies make from product placement, you can quite confidently tell them billions. Yes, billions

In 2021 alone, the film industry made 2.77 billion dollars from the usage of product placement. Yes, it’s generally the huge franchises that can pull in those multimillion-dollar deals. However, as we’ve demonstrated, even indie projects can take advantage of this highly helpful form of film financing support.

Wrapping up

What is product placement is incredibly broad in scope—and that’s great for indie filmmakers. Beverages, clothing, accessories, electronics, hotels, cars, personal hygiene products… The proverbial sky’s the limit regarding items that could be leveraged for product placement.

And given how expensive filmmaking can be for even the most modest projects, it can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in costumes, props, and other needs. In general, being economical is often a necessary skill set for filmmakers. So let Wrapbook help you take your budget dollars further with our collection of articles, including being a business-savvy filmmaker to writing film proposals for grants, to stretch your financial impact.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

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About the Author

Anna Keizer

Anna Keizer originally hails from the Chicagoland area. After receiving her B.A. in Film/Video from Columbia College Chicago, she moved to California and finished her M.A. in Film Studies from Chapman University. She has also graduated from UCLA’s Writing for Television Professional Program and is currently in post-production on the short She Had It Coming, which she wrote and is executive producing.

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