I've been a student of cinema practically all my life, and I happen to be a marketing professional. That's why every single time I see the camera panning onto a product in a movie scene, my mind starts buzzing with "look, product placement!". In fact, I make it a point to draw the attention of my fellow movie viewer friends or family and spoil the experience for them (I'm a fun company!).
But everything aside, in-film product marketing or product placement has since long been a thing. Conceptually, in film product placement is the practice of placing products or services either in a scene or a dialogue with the intent of promoting it indirectly. Remember Rohit Mehra from Koi Mil Gaya saying "Hum subah shaam Bournvita piyenge!"?
Product placement of children's drink Bournvita across the Koi Mil Gaya franchisee
Back in the 80s and the 90s, a lot of product placements actually looked organic. If the protagonist would pick up a bottle of Coke, the audience would get a feeling like it is a part of his/her character sketch. But those were simpler times when advertisers swore by mass media, and movies were a great way to draw the audience in. However, over the years, the advertising landscape has changed tremendously. It's said that an average person sees over 5,000 ads per day. The brain has rapidly become so immune to this overwhelming number that it can barely even remember even 5-10 of the ads it has seen during the day. And it is due to this exposure that sometimes now the brain picks out that a product shown in a movie is a blatant promotion rather than one done to fit the narrative.
Over the years, we've had some famous product placement in films. Let's have a look at 5 such placements:
More than 1,800 films are produced in India each year across 20 different languages. These include regional cinema houses besides Bollywood, but Bollywood contributes to a large chunk of this number. As such, it gives advertisers a tremendous potential to reach out to millions of people across multiple languages. And given the different genres, star-cast, and intended target audience, advertisers can carefully choose which movie will go well with their products.
Having seen the movie marketing industry from close quarters, I know that as soon as the script is developed, a production company's marketing team looks for every possible scene where a product can be placed, and then starts approaching companies in order to pitch their movie. For example, if the actors are shown working out, the marketing agency will contact gym equipment or sporting brands to try and strike a deal. If the actors are shown riding a certain car or motorcycle, the marketers will use it as an opportunity to talk to vehicle brands and so on.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge - Stroh's Beer
Remember the scene where Raj is sitting with Kuljeet and his friends, and they are all sipping beer? When Kuljeet inquires on what account Raj is visiting from London, he lies that he wants to open a beer unit in India. Raj goes on to add, "Stroh's beer, everybody cheers!"
Taal - Coca Cola
Coca Cola has created a strong bond with the world of music through MTV Coke Studio, but I'd say that one of their earliest associations with music was through the musical movie Taal. At various instances in the movie, both Akshaye and Aishwarya's characters are seen sipping Coke. It's considered as one of Bollywood's earliest notable in-film placements, although we've had a lot of them before this too.
3 Idiots - Airtel
In the climax scene when Chatur calls Phunsukh Wangdu, we hear AR Rahman's super hit Airtel theme song. It is smartly played for a prolonged period by showing Phunsukh talking to his friend before he eventually picks it up.
Hollywood probably has a slightly older history when it comes to product placements. In fact, some of the earliest product placements weren't even paid. They just happened by chance because the scene so demanded. Later on, the movies and the advertisers would join hand to promote certain scenes from the movie which had the main characters with the product.
Top Gun - Rayban Aviators
Raybans were actually a thing among the US Air force Pilots back in the 1930s. However, Tom Cruise brought the Rayban Aviators back in style in the 1980s by sporting them in Top Gun.
James Bond - Aston Martin
James Bond and Aston Martin is a product association unlike any other. It's not a one-off product placement as it mostly the case in movies. Aston Martin cars are an extension of Bond's suave and charismatic personality. This association first started in Goldfinger with DB5 (image above). Over the course of the franchisee, this collaboration has continued fruitfully. As newer Bonds surface, we keep getting newer editions of the car too. The last Bond movie had one of the Aston Martin Superleggeras.
Why Product Placements?
There are several reasons why brands opt for in-film product placement versus spending that same amount of money advertising elsewhere.
Long term brand recall
There's something about the movies that makes them iconic. Since we emotionally invest a few hours of our time with the characters, we start empathizing. Therefore our recall for movie scenes is far greater than that of advertisements. And if a product forms a part of an important scene, we are likely to recall it for years to come. For example, "Hum subah shaam Bournvita piyenge" (we will drink Bournvita day and night) is recalled well after 17 years of Koi Mil Gaya's release.
Profitable for the Producers
From the point of view of the film makers, getting in money from brands actually helps pay for a part of the movie, no matter how small it may be. Movies are often bankrolled by producers who look out for ways to optimize budget without compromising on the vision of the directors and writers. And for them, the money usually comes in much later in the form of selling movie, music, and satellite right and ticket sales, when the movie is about to get released. But a product placement actually brings in money while the movie is being shot, thereby supplementing the producers' budget.
Can help build a Brand Personality and Image
In-film product placement gives a chance to associate the product / brand with a certain kind of personality. For example, James Bond is suave and sophisticated. As such, Aston Martin wants to associate with such a character because it seems like a logical brand fit. In other cases, in film product placement can actually help build a brand's image if it has still not formed or isn't as well known. Tying up with films can can generate that association quicker than usual.