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You've seen FedEx trucks, cans of Coca-Cola, pairs of Nikes, BMWs, and other businesses and products in movies and TV programs. Ever wonder how you can see your product on the screen?
Big Hollywood productions usually seek out well-known companies such as Coca-Cola or Toyota for product placement, and those companies may pay a lot of cash for the privilege, says Linda Burns, an Atlanta-based commercial and independent-film producer. But it is possible for small businesses to get an item onscreen. It requires a mix of detective work to find out what productions might be good fits for your product and/or are shooting in your area, initiative to make a connection, and, well, just plain luck, she adds.
Anthony Taylor had luck on his side when he spotted an Internet post that a set designer on a British comedy TV series was looking for geeky sci-fi items to use on the show about IT employees. He immediately saw a promotional opportunity for Tin10 Collectibles, a small retail wholesaler, which he co-owned, that made reproductions of vintage lunchboxes and other collectibles that tied in with classic TV shows and movies.
In Taylor’s case, he shot an email to the set designer with a quick pitch about why his company's products were perfect for the show, including some photos and a link to Tin10's website. The set designer requested a lunchbox and a wastebasket themed around the late 1960s TV program "Land of the Giants."
Because Tin10’s company logo was not on the actual product, Taylor played up the placement in press releases and on the company blog and Facebook page. "Every time a new episode would air, I would go online, view it and grab screenshots of each item," he says. "Then I would treat it in our blog as if it was an additional star in the TV show."
Tin10 provides its products to other retailers to sell, so Taylor could not track any specific business related to the placement, but the "Land of the Giants" merchandise did get lots of re-orders in that period. Because the company made other products based on other shows that would appeal to a similar customer, he feels it likely that the placement was an overall win-win and helped with general branding exposure.
Be aware that cameras run fast, and big productions often shy away from showing labels or logos for smaller items for liability reasons, among others. That's why self-promotion, like Taylor's efforts, maximizes the payoff of a small-business product placement.
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Beyond sheer luck, there are several other ways a small business can find out about a production. Contact your state or local film commission (see filmcommissioners.com) to find out what's shooting locally, and then call the production designer or set dresser, Burns suggests. "As a business owner, think outside the box," she says. "What does my product offer [the production] that they can't get from someone else." TV shows may be easier to score because of ongoing needs and shooting schedule, and independent films may be more grateful for free items due to budgetary limitations, Burns notes.
If your product is not a food or other disposable item, another strategy is to donate some items to a company that rents props or costumes. For example, Atlanta-area jewelry and fashion designers sometimes do so with Southeast Costume Company, says Elizabeth Young, co-owner of the two-person business. "A costume rental house is much better than a store because we already have a rental procedure if you want your work shown onscreen," she adds. "There's also the opportunity to rent it to several different people so there are a lot more eyes on it."
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