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Like our real world, most of the characters featured on screen have jobs. This means they must work someplace. Of course, they could be employed by some fictitious entity, like Homer Simpson at Burns Industries, Sully and Mike’s gig at Monster’s Inc. and Gustavo Fring’s chicken joint Los Pollos Hermanos on Breaking Bad. But for the sake of realism and/or product placement, many films and TV shows will opt for real life companies for their made-up characters. So, here is our countdown of the top three real life companies that helped secure paychecks for real life actors in real life fictional productions.

1. The Office. Imported from England and starring Steve Carell, The Office, was a highly-rated workplace comedy on NBC. The action centered on the fictitious offices of paper company Dunder Mifflin. In the 3rd season episode “The Return,” offbeat, sycophantic sales manager Dwight Schrute decides to leave Dunder Mifflin and takes a new job at Dunder Mifflin’s biggest competitor, Staples! Much to the brand’s credit, the show’s writers have a field day with Staple’s employees’ geeky reputation.

This wasn’t just a big move for Dwight; Staples was actually one of the series biggest product placement deals. The show also negotiated brand integrations for Cisco, Hewlett Packard and the video game Call of Duty.

Side note: In a rare example of a real product placement company helping out a fictitious paper company, HERO also enjoyed great exposures on the show by placing a Gateway computer on every desk and ServiceMaster Clean cleaning cart in the warehouse. They all received exceptional screen time and, unlike the brands mentioned above, no fee to production was necessary.

2.  Baskets. This Emmy-winning off-beat comedy from the FX network provides us with not only a great workplace branding example, but a fundamental lesson on why product placements exist at all. Martha, one of the show’s central characters, is a Costco insurance agent. Her Costco-emblazoned Oldsmobile is also featured. Arby’s also enjoys plenty of screen time but it isn’t a workplace set. In an interview with AdAge, Co-creator Jonathan Krisel explains the use of real brands isn’t about eschewing product placement services, it’s about creating a real universe—that Baskets really shills for no one. “Both are brands that we just wrote into the script and then asked them if we could do it. There’s no money involved. We’re not advertising for them, but it’s more about the authenticity of having the real thing and not having it be a fake brand.”

Side note: HERO delivered a great Baskets exposure for client Cabinets to Go. In this case, the production utilized a TV commercial for onscreen playback, which means their brand messaging was part of the exposure!

3. The Internship. In this film Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson get an internship at a major tech company. And the tech company is so happy to have them, both on screen and in real life, that they actually donated their sprawling campus as a location – for free! The company was Google and their generosity didn’t come without a little oversight. For instance, a scene where a trainer is a little harsh and a driverless car has an accident, had to be removed at their request.

Side note: HERO client Green Garmento, the environmentally friendly, reusable dry-cleaning bag was prominently featured as the choice for Google’s on-campus free dry-cleaning service. The real Google doesn’t use the brand, but HERO is Green Garmento’s product placement agency, so production was educated about their products, which resulted in their exposure in the film.

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Lists of the best product placements in film and TV generally come down to the same two or three examples, which tend to include Reese’s Pieces in ET, Tom Cruise’s Wayfarers in Risky Business and James Bond’s Omega Watches in various films from the series. But, truth be told, none of those would actually qualify if ‘’product placement” were being used in the strictest sense of the term. Here’s why:

Reese’s Pieces in ET

When ET was in production, director Steven Spielberg’s artistic choice was to have the lovable, long-fingered alien collect M&Ms. Again, this was an artistic choice, not a product placement. So, Amblin Entertainment, Spielberg’s production company, reached out to Mars, M&M’s parent company and they said… no! An unnamed (and probably unemployed) executive at Mars decided nobody would want to see a movie about a lovable alien with glowing fingers adopted by a lonely kid. Whoops!

With M&M’s out of the picture, Amblin, determined to secure a recognizable bite-sized candy for the classic scene, went to Hershey and Reese’s, where a (probably still employed) executive said yes. In the traditional sense, no product placement was executed in that no solicitation was made by the product to production. However, after the film’s release, Hershey inked a deal for a one-million-dollar advertising promotion.

While the lack of submission to production categorically removes this exposure from being classified officially as a “product placement” it does prove that the kind of onscreen presence product placements deliver, can be incredibly valuable to a brand. Within two weeks of the movie’s premiere, Reese’s Pieces sales went through the roof with increases reported between 65 and 85%!

Bonus fun fact:   In spite of missing their on-camera appearance, M&Ms was the candy featured in William Kotzwinkle’s novelization of the film.

Omega Watches and James Bond

Yes, 007 always wore a fine timepiece, but in the Ian Fleming book series that watch was a Rolex. Filmmakers remained faithful to Fleming’s choice right through the reign of Sean Connery, went digital through Roger Moore’s turn at the character and back to Rolex for Timothy Dalton. But when the ultra-fashionable Pierce Brosnan came on board for Golden Eye, it was time (pun intended) for a change.  Costume designer at the time, Lindy Hemming, considered everything from cufflinks to socks and when it came to his watch, she passed over Rolex for Omega. Omega had a long history with the British military, with its Seamaster having been the choice for Royal Navy divers in the 1960s. So, to the chagrin of Rolex (and Bond purists), Brosnan strapped on a Seamaster Professional and Omega has been “Bond’s choice” ever since.

Granted, since Ms. Hemming’s initial style choice, Omega has gotten deeper into the promotional fray. For Tomorrow Never Dies, Omega’s second visit to Brosnan/Bond’s wrist, both Bond and his partner-in-action wear Omega timepieces, and Omega is blanketed the United States and Europe spending millions print and TV ads, as well as running the film trailers in nearly 7,000 Omega stores.

In the case of James Bond, a successful product placement led to more product placements! As Omega’s agent, HERO was able to funnel the “cool” factor into placements with Mulder and Scully on the X-Files, David Hasslehoff on Baywatch and Kyle Chandler on Early Edition. Moreover, Brosnan went on to become Omega’s spokesperson and, when meeting Chandler at a convention, the Omega on his wrist couldn’t be missed.

Rayban Sunglasses in Risky Business

In 1982 Ray-Ban sold 200,000 pairs of Wayfarers. But in 1983, Tom Cruise wore the style in the massive hit film Risky Business and sales jumped to 360,000. That makes this one of the most chartable product placement success stories in history. Beyond just delivering a great year for the style, it started a trend that just kept growing. In 1987 they sold 2 million and orders in 1988 skyrocketed to 4 million pairs!

Like James Bond, the relationship between Cruise and Ray-Ban didn’t end with his wearing them in one film. In 1986, Top Gun was released starring Tom Cruise wearing the iconic Aviator sunglasses. Sales from this film increased 40%. Then, in 1988, Cruise starred in Rain Man, increasing Ray-Ban’s sales by another 15%.

Since Cruise’s isn’t the only high-profile actor in Hollywood, Ray-Ban kept going with product placement right through the 90’s. They were visible in many productions, but Reservoir Dogs and Men in Black likely had the most impact.

There are literally millions of stories of high-profile product placements to be told, but like most stories from industries of every kind, some make it to legendary.  So, until new ones rise above their storied fame, these are three most famous.

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Okay, I admit it; my buying and style choices can be influenced by associations with certain productions and stars. My choices don’t even have to be purchases; they could be a hairstyle or which entertainment I choose to watch. If a favorite author speaks well of another author, I’m more apt to read them. If my favorite musician has someone I’ve never heard of on their playlist, I’m likely to track the artist down for a listen. I’m still wearing the aviator frames the band Oasis made look cool in 1995. We are influenced by the people or media we respect. To that end, a new category of “entertainer” known as influencers is growing in popularity on social media sites like Instagram and YouTube. These, often young, celebrities are making Andy Warhol’s prediction that, “Everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes,” a reality. But, since these influencers, some with literally millions of followers, know the value of their endorsements, they charge accordingly. So, how can you get your brand the showbiz seal of approval resulting in national or even international exposure without having to pay a premium? Keep reading.

– Product Placement

Product placement is essentially, the placement of products in TV shows and films. Today “TV shows” include OTT networks like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube Red and others. As a long-established product placement agency, HERO hears from both brands and productions on a daily basis. Truth be told, not all of either category are ready to utilize our services. Brands that are not easily recognizable or available like, for instance, a non-logoed clothing line sold only on a small manufacturers website, may not get much result from product placement. And productions that have little budget, no known talent attached or distribution outlet, may find it challenging to get brands to come on board. But many brands and productions are perfect for product placement, even if they participate at very different levels.

While everyone hears about brand integrations in movies like James Bond, few mention the natural use of logoed brand assets that cost the brand nothing (save the cost of a qualified agency, which is itself comparatively inexpensive) but can deliver literally millions of screen impressions and tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars and even millions in media value.

Here is a list of four high-profile onscreen exposures HERO delivered to clients with no fee whatsoever to production:

1. RE/MAX on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie
2. Razer Computers on HBO’s Silicon Valley
3. Turkey Hill Ice Cream in Roadside Attraction’s Forever My Girl

4. Amnesty International in HBO’s Insecure












Beyond just being without a fee, shows like Silicon Valley or Grace and Frankie are on HBO, which doesn’t sell commercial time, making product placement in television shows is not only the most cost-effective way to get on their air, but the only way!

– Celebrity Gifting

In TV and film production we have a term we use; “walked.” Walked means that an item has ‘’walked” off the set. It’s really just a nice way of saying stolen. But sometimes we actually want our items to walk, but only if the right person or people walk with them. There are agencies that work with publicists and charge a premium to use their insider connections to get items into the hands of stars in hopes of having them mention the brand in an interview or be seen carrying it somewhere. It’s known as “celebrity seeding.”
But celebrities have lots of time when they’re on set and tend to love free stuff. Put those facts together and a product placement company can be pretty successful at the seeding game.

Case in point, HERO worked with on set makeup artists to place a new skin care line called Boscia into the hands of Hollywood starlets. This resulted in magazine mentions of Emily Proctor from CSI Miami in Glamour and Reese Witherspoon from Legally Blonde 2 in In Touch. So, on set sampling and letting some products “walk,” while not officially free, costs only as much as the manufacturer’s cost of the items offered.

– Guerrilla Marketing

While this is not HERO’s forte, guerrilla marketing can amass a lot of TV impressions and print coverage. A well-executed, guerrilla marketing campaign, or as they were once commonly referred to, publicity stunts, are like product placement; they can not only get your brand attention during the stunt itself but garner some serious coverage as well.
Generally, a guerrilla marketing event takes place in and around normal society. It could be in an office building or on a street corner. The event needs to do little more than get people to stop and take notice, the smallest of them, maybe a costumed character handing out samples, will engage the public. Here’s a link to some successful executions.

While word of mouth buzz is great, a stunt that gets the media’s attention is the big score. Here are the components of a great guerrilla marketing stunt courtesy of Shopify:

-Location, location, location: Consider foot traffic, type of traffic and where you can get not just maximum exposure, but exposure to the right people.

-Hit or miss: Guerrilla marketing can be easy for consumers to ignore unless your creativity gives people a reason to pause. The better your idea, the more thought-out your strategy for getting a reaction, the more likely your marketing is to work.

-Your creative should align with your goals: Even if you capture attention, the real challenge is coming up with creative assets that get your brand or your message across.

-Consider unforeseen variables: City laws, weather, noise, theft, etc. can get in the way of executing an effective campaign.

-Don’t annoy people or break laws: Since it’s aggressive, these tactics can annoy consumers if done wrong and actually harm your brand. As a rule, do things that delight people.

-Use it to complement your online marketing and vice versa: People should be able to connect the dots between your offline marketing and your brand online. It’s best if they at least have the name of your brand, so they know what to google.

These techniques can be applied at virtually any price level so you don’t have to spend a fortune to get your brand in front of prospective customers; you just need to be proactive and work with creative people.

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So, you’ve got a product or service and you know that product placement can get you exposure without the expense of buying commercial time or even where commercials don’t air (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, etc.). The obvious next question is, how do I get my product placed? Hiring a product placement company is the obvious answer, but there’s much more to it than that.

Not every brand can expect the same results just because they hired a product placement agency. The brand itself is key to how in-demand they will be by production. Brands are ‘cast’ into shows, just like actors, so the more versatile the ‘actor’ is, the more work they’re likely to book. So how do you shape and position your brand to score the product placements that deliver wide exposure and give you the material you need for attention-grabbing social media posts?

Here are the three top ways:

1. Your Brand Helps Identify the Character or Scene

It starts by understanding what product placement really is, from the production side. For you, product placement simply means your brand receives exposure within the content of a TV show or film. But production probably isn’t a co-owner of your brand, so their view is quite different. To production, your brand is simply a prop. Even the most high-profile brand integrations in movies like, say, James Bond’s Omega Watch, are just props in the eyes of production. The placed item must be of specific use to the production. So your uniquely-designed fishing lure simply won’t have as many opportunities as a bottled water. This is not to say a fishing lure wouldn’t be good product placement bait, but think about what you see on screen when you watch films or TV. Do you see more bottled water or fishing lures? Now apply that to your product. Is it something you see often? Okay, that was kind of a trick question.

Let’s stick with the fishing lure example and name the product, “Joe’s Mega Swimbait Lures.” Maybe Joe’s lures don’t have many on screen applications, but there are certainly many characters who could be fisherman, so what if Joe’s had a great cap or t-shirt with a fun picture of a lure and text reading, Joe’s Mega Swimbait Lures are Irresistible? Now were speaking production’s language; a wardrobe piece that identifies the character. Again, productions don’t have a vested interest in selling Joe’s lures, but they do need to identify their characters, so Joe’s could score some screen time with this hook. The more applications a brand has for onscreen use and the wider variety of branded assets they can supply, the more screen time they’ll score.

Your brand’s onscreen uses have nothing specifically to do with production wanting to promote it. The question is, how can your brand help production get their job done.

2. Your Brand is Saving Production Money

A product placement company has two primary functions: assist productions and deliver brand integrations to their clients. However, it simply can’t do the latter without doing the former. The best way to help a production is to save them money, period. The way in which a product placement company saves productions money happens to have the terrific side effect of delivering their clients exposures. So, let’s look at another way Joe’s Mega Swimbait Lures get exposure without a fishing scene or even a specific fisherman character.Let’s say there is a film production that features characters attending an outdoor products trade show. Dressing a trade show floor is a big job for a production and low hanging fruit for a product placement agency. We know that production needs LOTS of booths for the scene to look realistic, and what could be more realistic than real brands’ trade show booths? Well, Joe’s has a great booth and will loan it to production to shoot the scene. Better still, Joe’s booth is covered in Joe’s brand messaging, which means when the camera hits it, Joe’s will communicate that message to viewers of the film. It’s a win win for production and Joe’s.

Once Joe’s booth is built on set, the brand could actually do even better than a just some background screen time. If the director likes the look of Joe’s booth, it could be used as a backdrop for some dialogue between actors. Now, not only is Joe’s getting screen time, but the viewers can associate it with the movie stars who are talking in front of it. And once the film is released, Joe’s could be creating social media posts showing the brand with the stars of the film, generating high-profile attention and maybe some new fans. Paying fees for integration in films or for celebrity endorsements is way too rich for Joe’s budget, but in this scenario, simply lending their trade show to a production, Joe’s scores both!

Again; the more branded assets a brand can offer, the more opportunities for on screen placement they’ll receive.

3. Your Brand is Promoting Their Show

The term “cross promotion” is self-explanatory; two entities promoting one another. Generally, when a brand manager considers this method, their minds go to gigantic examples of it, like Bond and Omega, where the production negotiated having the film represented in Omega’s worldwide advertising in exchange for 007 using the watch on screen. But there is a lot of area for smaller versions of such deals to be made. How would Joe’s Lures pull this off?

Joe’s certainly doesn’t have the media power of Omega Watches, but they do advertise in magazines like Field and Stream and American Angler. They also have floor displays for their products in stores like Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops. The Outdoor Channel’s Big Water Adventures is a perfect platform for exposing the brand, but they don’t have the budget to buy commercial time on its air. The next logical step (again, this can be negotiated by a product placement company), would be to offer to tag Big Water Adventures in Joe’s advertisements and on the packaging shoppers will see on the floor displays. Big Water Adventures may be a show, but its also a brand and, as such, needs to promote itself as well.

Of course there are dozens of ways to create and execute product placements for virtually any brand – if fishing lures have a route to success, there are no limits! Brand integrations in movies and TV happen at every level, from the branded construction locker on a building site to the high-tech equipment in an action film. The trick is to have a full understanding of the brand’s assets and capabilities and as we’d recommend, a creative, proactive representative.

©2018 Steve Ochs
Steve Ochs is a multiple award-winning bestselling author, veteran TV producer/writer and partner in HERO Entertainment Marketing, Inc. a top product placement agency for more than twenty years.

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According to eMarketer, a research firm, American’s viewers are cutting the cord. “Cord,” in this context means cable TV. According to the report (are you sitting?), 16.7 million people cut the cord in 2016 and (don’t get up yet), 22.2 will have grabbed the scissors in 2017, beating estimates. And, before you stand, people who never even had a cord to cut, or “cord-nevers,” rose 5.8 percent, to 34.4 million!

Of course we know that people aren’t denying themselves the joys of televised entertainment; they’ve just found a new way to receive it. OTT (Over The Top) content delivery from providers like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, YouTube Red and others have found a creative work around to broadcast and cable, For instance, Hulu re-purposes network shows. Others are producing their own high quality programming. This plan isn’t cheap for the providers. Apple, for one, will spend a billion dollars on content creation this year. But it pays off with subscribers who have in many cases re-assigned the money they were paying for cable to several OTT providers.

For product placement agencies, this is kind of a ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ scenario. There is really no change to the variety of placement opportunities, though the volume has certainly grown exponentially in this new paradigm. As has demographic specificity. With some 455 scripted shows across the content universe, consumers can be identified and reached with much greater accuracy. But overall, the process of brand integration remains essentially the same. There are some shows that want fees and there are many more shows that simply want branded assets to make their content more realistic. The people making these new shows are basically the same people who have been making the shows all along. This is unlikely to change regardless of how the content is distributed.

It should be noted that rumors of the traditional broadcast paradigm’s death are highly exaggerated and we’ll delve into that in the next blog.

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Before becoming a principal in HERO, and occasionally after, I accumulated a varied list of credits as a TV writer/producer. As a member of the Writers Guild and SAG, the continued airing and sale of my work entitles me to some of what is known as “residuals.” Residuals are basically, payments made to me for the continued distribution of the shows upon which I have a credit. Many of my friends also work behind the scenes on productions and they too receive these checks.

Residual checks decrease as a production matures, so they often represent amounts literally in cents. Everyone I know with a history in production has received checks in the mail for less than the price of the stamp! But they keep coming. Even shows I wrote on in the 90s continue to drip tiny checks into my mailbox. So, why does this little slice of showbiz minutia have a place in a blog generally dedicated to helping brands who are seeking product placement representation learn more about the medium? Because it reinforces the key attribute of our practice; while every other form of advertising has diminishing returns, integrated placements actually have a decreasing CPM. The cost of our exposures actually go down in price throughout their lifespan.

So, the next time you see Canada Dry on your favorite episode of Everybody Loves Raymond or the Jaegermeister bottle on Joey’s kitchen counter on Friends, think of them as a residual check being delivered to a HERO client. The viewership numbers may be lower, but unlike first run commercial spots that can cost hundreds of ​thousands of dollars then vanish in thirty-seconds, the exposure and value of product placement keeps rolling in.


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HERO’s clients and other visitors to this space are always most impressed when we discuss exposures on big time network TV shows like, say, The Big Bang Theory. However, as a forward thinking product placement agency we are preparing our clients for the future by making numerous placements on OTT (Over The Top) outlets like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google/YouTube. Why would this be considered “forward thinking?” Generally, we prefer to write our own blogs, but to answer this question we will share this article from Shelly Palmer in Ad Age Magazine.

FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google/YouTube) is about to take a huge bite out of traditional network TV (ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox), and the media business will never be the same. To understand how profound the implications of the recently announced NFL on Amazon Prime or YouTube TV are, it may help to understand the economic engine that drives traditional commercial television.

The goal of the commercial television business is to package a specific, targeted audience and sell it to the highest bidder. The more precise the targeting, the higher the fee, and of course, the bigger the targeted audience, the bigger the fee.

TV Is Data Poor

Because the broadcast television industry is data poor (it only offers metrics about itself), this model has never been a complete solution for brand or lifestyle advertisers. In practice, an advertiser needs to translate ratings and demographic information from Nielsen into knowledge and insights it can link to its KPIs (key performance indicators). Because content is distributed across so many non-TV platforms, this process gets more difficult every day. How effective was your broadcast TV buy? Was there an increase in sales that could be attributed to it? Could we have spent this portion of our advertising budget differently?

FANG Is Data Rich

There are four data sets that help define each of us: attention, consumption, passion, and intention. While traditional broadcast TV tries to measure or attribute some of these to TV viewership, FANG has actionable data that drives KPIs.

Facebook knows what you are paying attention to. You post and share the things you care about, and your Facebook profile makes your attention actionable.

Amazon knows what you consume and what you’re thinking about consuming. If you’ve bought it or are planning to buy it, Amazon knows it and can act on that data.

Netflix knows your passions. You demonstrate how you can be reached on an emotional level every time you watch a video. Netflix knows more about the kind of entertainment that ignites your passions than you do. It continually acts on that data.

Google/YouTube knows your intentions. You never intend to go to Google and stay there; you search for what you intend to do. Your Google profile indicates, with a very high degree of accuracy, what you are likely to do in the near-term future. This is some of the clearest, most actionable data in the world.

We Will Still Have 4 Major Networks, Just Not the 4 You’re Used To

People often reminisce about the “good ole days” when there were four major networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. We are transitioning to a world where there will still be four networks, just not the four networks you’re used to. FANG is delivering actionable data to advertisers in ways that traditional broadcasters simply can’t.

The power of Amazon Prime to an FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) company may be less significant than the power of Amazon Prime to a consumer electronics manufacturer, but Amazon is becoming a complete solution for all types of B2C and many types of B2B advertisers. Its size, scale, and efficacy are truly stunning.

If YouTube TV and other OTT (over-the-top) skinny bundles start to get traction, we are going to see a dramatic shift toward the data-rich, brand-safe, Internet giants. (Yes, Facebook and Google will deal with their current content adjacency and brand safety problems, and you will forget they had them.) FANG will not be alone. Apple is going to get into this game, and there are international powerhouses like Alibaba and QQ that are already well on their way.

What Does All This Really Mean?

For today — advertisers are spending, traditional networks are making money and all of this sounds like stuff you’ve heard before. But we’re only talking about timing. Traditional (linear) TV audiences are declining at a significant rate, and they are practically aged out of key demographics. Cable customers are also declining. So, the question is when this shift will make a difference, not if.

For consumers — more choice, more fun. Consumers don’t care about content transport mechanisms or broadcast business models, they just want their content.

For advertisers — Brands have never wanted to buy CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) or GRPs (gross rating points); they want to sell stuff. The data-rich FANG and other tech giants are offering data that can be turned directly into sales.

For Networks — It’s just a matter of time before media without actionable data will be impossible to monetize. Can traditional TV catch up? Adapt or die!

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The advertising world seems to have almost entirely migrated from using traditional terminology, like “ad campaign,” to a new phrase, “telling the brand’s story.” Whether or not this actually marks a difference in the methods used to do their job, it does feel like a better way to market marketing. Telling a brand’s story could be the difference between, say, describing the chemical composure of a cleaning product (now with Stain Buster Technology!), to depicting the real world application of how the cleaning product worked as the partner of a homemaker to provide him or her with more free time for family stuff.

Brands seeking product placement companies may not have a conscious awareness of their desire to have the band story told, but it is exactly what they are most pleased to receive when on screen exposures are delivered. So, what does telling the brand’s story mean in the context of integrated brand placements?

It means fitting the desired story of the brand into scenarios that reinforce it. For example, the recent Pixl film, Diagnosis Delicious, features a scene where two women are spooning a comfort food snack of ice cream straight from the container.  This mirrors a scene in the feature film The Hollars, where John Krasinksi and Margo Martindale indulge in the same therapy.

Hollars for pk diagnosisdelicious091116










HERO client Turkey Hill Ice Cream enjoys an image of wholesomeness and family. The idea that their product can replace, say, booze, as a way to even out a rough moment, reinforces the wholesome story the brand presents.

Product placement in movies and TV can do the same job as a well-produced commercial in this regard. While the commercial or print spot obviously provides more complete brand storytelling control, a brand placement within a proper scenario can perform the same task, but the organic nature of the brand’s appearance provides an even more credible chapter for the story.

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Barry Diller, storied former CEO of Paramount, founder of the FOX and USA networks, QVC, and on and on, has sounded yet another death knell for commercially sponsored entertainment at this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) during a keynote appearance. This means a lot to a product placement agency like HERO, because it heralds another level of importance to what we do with product placement in internet (OTT) TV shows.

Diller’s prediction sends an alert to traditional media and entertainment companies. He believes that the next five to 10 years will bring “profound dislocation” that will upend both television and movies. Much of this predicted change, he believes, is due to the internet, which has eliminated bottlenecks between content producers and audiences. “The media world has been closed since radio….Scarcity was always the thing that kept people controlling media in very few hands” and the internet “changes all of that,” he says. “And we’re just at the beginning of that.”

But while that’s dislocating, it’s also “freeing,” Diller says. “This is thought to be the best year for content, and most of that content is not on linear television and broadcast networks,” he says. “With so much quality programming appearing on subscription-based outlets including Netflix “a lot of people, most people I think, are going to opt for commercial free television.” That will leave ad-supported TV to cash-strapped audiences. “You’re going to be advertising to people who can’t afford your goods” which will make free TV “endangered.”

This suggests that the predominant vehicle for entertainment will be subscription-based programming like HBO, Netflix, etc. Even YouTube is expected to move to a subscription-based format, thus eliminating commercials. These, along with Amazon Prime and Hulu, will also be the primary outlets for reruns of popular broadcast and basic cable shows.

As we watched our integrated exposure of the Hobie Cat brand on the CBS (another mover in the commercial-free on demand space, BTW) show The Great Indoors last month we took a moment to consider the exposure’s future. While this initial broadcast was commercially sponsored, those commercials will be long forgotten when the show migrates to the on demand space. The Hobie exposure, however, will survive the removal of paid ads and continue to deliver impressions.

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HERO is a specialized marketing agency. Our specialty is getting our clients’ brands on camera in films, TV shows and other OTT programming. The results expose the brands to millions of viewers and create important fodder for compelling social media programs. Simple enough, yes? But exactly how do we do it?

The answer to how to get product placement in movies and TV shows centers on a single word.  Relationships.  HERO maintains relationships with hundreds of the decision makers who must beat the clock every day to make sure the sets and props needed for their productions are there when the cameras roll. Production is famously a ‘hurry up and wait’ undertaking. HERO operates in that hurry up space. So, when the script calls for, say, a computer genius to be outfitted with cutting edge gaming hardware, our job is to see to it that the prop master already knows that HERO represents a world leader in the field, Razer.

While, again, HERO functions in the hurry up space, our position there is actually the result of a very long wait! If our business relied of foot traffic, like an ice cream stand, the only preparation that would be required would be a stock of flavors and proficiency with a scoop. Being a leading product placement agency requires relationships that take years to cultivate. With nineteen years in operation (and our founder working in the industry for five more before that), HERO has the friendships and trust required to be in the loop when the computer genius needs gaming hardware, or the tree house roof needs roofing shingles or the wealthy diners need wine or, yes, even when the kids need ice cream.

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Back in 1932, actress Greta Garbo uttered the instantly legendary phrase, “I vant to be alone.” * And that was alright vis everyone. Well, now the tides have turned and advertisers have their own spin on the quote; “I vant you to be alone!”

Brands expect to get attention for the commercials they produce and for which they purchase time. And, for the most part, the system works. But changes in technology are providing cause for concern. It turns out Ms. Garbo was an ideal viewer model when she was alone, but if she had company or was also using a second screen (though in 1932, she was probably just changing her clothes behind it) her attention was compromised.

The Council for Research Excellence, who it should be noted researched themselves and determined they were, in fact, excellent, has issued a new report. It turns out that if there is no second screen (those being mobile devices in use while watching television, especially to access supplementary content or applications) or another viewer in the room (examples include adult persons who won’t allow them to concentrate, a child who won’t allow them to concentrate or someone for whom one has romantic ambitions that won’t allow them to concentrate) 90% of viewers notice ads. However, turn on that Smartphone during the break to see what everyone else thinks of, say, what Cookie is wearing on Empire, and that viewer’s attention slips to 75%!

By using eye tracking the researchers were able to get their numbers even more focused for advertisers. Fixation time, which is the maintaining of the visual gaze on a single location, was 58% for solo viewers as commercials ran and dropped precipitously to 25% when a second screen or additional viewers were added.

But, or should we say, BUT, those statistics were directed at commercial breaks only. It can be assumed that viewers who are actually watching a TV program or film are… watching it. By extension that would indicate that brands seeking attention via branded integrations, can expect a higher level of fixation time than those hoping to convey their brand message through commercials.

Brands that retain product placement companies obviously vant (last one) viewers to notice their brands when they appear within TV shows, films and OTT programming. Well, they can rest easy in the knowledge that in a distracted world, they’re likely to actually exceed the attention they might receive in paid spots.

* It was actually, “I want to be left alone,” but that doesn’t work as well for this blog and nobody really knows that anyway.

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This entry will be a little shorter than our usual blogs since it’s a follow up to the blog “Confucius Says” from May 3rd, 2016.  In that entry, we shared an industry prediction from the Pivotal Research Group, who believed that in 2016 TV networks would be likely to seek CPM increases anywhere from 5% to 9%. Well, time has marched forward, the recent upfronts have ended and the figures are in. According to reporting in AdWeek Magazine, “This year’s broadcast national TV upfront ad sales will tally around $8.75 billion, a 4.7 percent increase from last year… On the cable side, upfront sales reached $9.86 billion, up 4.3 percent from 2015.”

Truth be told, some of this increase can be credited to buyers who are simply not quick to dedicate resources to new media like SVOD and VOD.  But as a product placement agency whose singular objective is the exposure of our clients through product placements in film and television, we view a big picture though a narrow lens. We understand that the programming we’re placing products and brands into has a life well beyond the initial airing. While the media buyers at the upfronts are buying targeted slots and scatter (a media-purchasing strategy that is used by the television networks to sell air time at higher ad rates, and used by the advertising agency to position a product at the last minute), our brands remain with the production as it moves from its original airing to re-run, to re-purposing on Hulu or Amazon. So, we are less beholden to the limitations of the purchase of a single airing.

What this increase does reflect is some very good news for our clients, because it provides hard figures that prove product placement CPMs are arguably the best deal in the media buying business.

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If you are millennial (Pew Research describes a millennial as someone born between 1977 and 1992), then you know what you’re watching. But for the entertainment industry, you’re an enigma and there is now a cottage industry dedicated to trying to predict your wants and desires. To this end, new outlets for user-generated and original content – YouTube being at the forefront – are cranking out hours of on-the-cheap programming that is racking up millions of views and millions of dollars for its new self-made stars. Meanwhile, big players like Disney are using their online outlets like ABC Digital to develop short form shows for millennial and YouTube and other alternative outlet-established stars, to slice themselves a piece of the pie. But new media and OTT programming are hardly the only way to engage what is now the largest demographic on Earth.

First, yes, established product placement agencies are getting scripts for shows on networks like ABC Digital for programs starring people from YouTube, etc. But here at HERO we’re also still getting over 200 feature film scripts a year (virtually all read by yours truly, which means yours truly knows the endings to just about every movie he sees, which means yours truly deserves a spoiler bonus!). Should we assume that placement in those films is less valuable to the clients we represent who are looking for millennial eyeballs? It turns out the answer is a resounding, nope!

A new report from Movio, a company that does data analytics and marketing campaigns for the film industry, delivered some great news for entertainment marketing companies with long histories with the film studios; millennials are devoted movie goers! They actually account for 29% of box office spending, and go to the movies about half a dozen times a year and a third of them are members of a theater chain loyalty program. Half of them will hit a film during its opening weekend. All in, the millennials bought 13 million tickets in 2015!

While last weekend’s record breaking $135 million opening of Finding Dory provided ample proof of this mega-demo’s power, don’t be fooled; happy go lucky, Ellen-voiced adorableness isn’t necessarily the best way to grab them. Those 20-25 year olds love them some horror films, urban dramas and sophomoric comedies just as much as animated films.

So, while placements in homemade YouTube series can be obtained (often with a sizable check to the producer/talent), the tried and true methods of brand integration (product placement in film and TV) may still be the best, most cost-effective, influential and dignified way to expose brands to millennials.

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To survive for almost two decades in a field like product placement, HERO has had to embrace the wise words of Confucius, “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” We have to be the green reed.

In 1997 when we opened our doors, there were no DVRs! Those wouldn’t even begin being shipped until 1999 and would still require years to become the mainstream.  YouTube, now a powerhouse of both spot ads and branded content, wasn’t launched until 2005!

As the power and draw of internet-based entertainment content grew, so did the advertising resources brands redirected toward it. But, like the function of fast forwarding to skip commercials on a DVR, ad blocking software like Ad Block Plus came on the scene and created new challenges for marketers, inspiring many of them to re-redirect large portions of their resources back to the good old TV set. Whether a TV is receiving its signal from cable, satellite, antenna (19.3% or 60 million Americans currently use antennas to capture their TV signal) or Roku/AppleTV style devices, and therefore spot advertising, as we have known them since the 1950s are still alive and well!

The March 2016 issue of Variety quotes Brian Wieser, a media-industry analyst with Pivotal Research Group, who believes that in 2016, the TV networks are likely to seek CPM increases anywhere from 5% to 9%!  A media buyer himself, Weiser also said, “For those seeking broad reach, sight-sound-and-motion and brand awareness, traditional TV still utterly dominates all alternatives despite the growth of digital media owners and increasing consumption of video on internet-connected devices.”

Granted, as the article also states, to lock in deals, the networks will have to offer packages that put advertising not only in “The Voice” and “The Big Bang Theory, but on digital extensions of those programs. But they are the digital extensions of network TV shows, which remain the most desirable venue next to feature films, which are a constant.

So, as the trends have changed (or remained the same as the case may be), HERO bent, reed-like, expanding and modifying our placements to reflect the changing media. We have forged relationships with productions on SVOD outlets – largely staffed by our long time industry allies – and established a HERO warehousing location in Atlanta where a great deal of production is taking place.

Throughout it all, and concurrent with their explorations into digital media and self-created content, brands seeking product placement have continued to come to HERO looking for cost effective exposure within produced shows. Indeed, the demand for “traditional” product placement hasn’t diminished in the least. HERO, like a reed, still bends. As shows from non-sponsored SVOD providers like Netflix and Amazon rise to become the popular “network” shows of tomorrow, we continue to deepen our relationships with those productions.  If we don’t we will fall like an oak… landing across multiple platforms!

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What does it mean to watch TV? That didn’t used to be a very complicated question; it meant turning on a TV set and watching it. But, like the channels we once had to get out of our seats to switch, the answer is changing. The latest issue of Deadline Hollywood featured an enlightening article by David Lieberman that shares some fascinating statistics about who’s watching on what (spoiler; much of it does not involve a TV).

Much of Lieberman’s report cites the 10th annual Digital Democracy Survey conducted by Deloitte a consulting firm known for delivering this kind of data. They surveyed 2,200 people last November and among the many facts they unearthed were some with a direct impact on product placement. The good news is that people are still consuming a great deal of TV.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the results:

-About a third of viewers overall, a dn half of Millennials are watching on Smartphones, tablets or their computer.
-Only 54% prioritize the use of a flat panel TV (down from 62% in 2014).
-TVs are now 4th pace behind Smartphones (76%), laptops (69%) and desktops (57%).
-Media drives like Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire Stick are used by about 27% (up from 14% in 2014).

But the big story is that home Internet is now the number one source for TV, favored by 95%! And Pay TV such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime are the favorite services; 79% mentioned them (up from 58% in 2014).

Streaming video is very popular to the tune of 61% (up from 17% in 2012!). The main reason for this is a viewer’s ability to choose the time and place they’d like to watch… and to avoid commercials. However, unlike watching shows recorded on a DVR, services like Hulu are providing TV shows replete with commercials that can not be skipped.

The combined effect of all of these trends adds up to pretty great news for brands employing product placement and brand integration. First, there is more content being produced overall. There are now about 400 scripted shows, the majority with potential for brand placements. It has also loosened the restrictions of brand integrations; when people must watch the commercials, the real estate within the show ceases to be so precious, and when a network, like Netflix, or HBO, is subscription-based, then no sponsors can complain when a brand receives “free” exposure within the show.

Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter to a product placement agency like HERO whether a viewer is looking at a Smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop; it just matters that they’re when they do, they’re seeing the brands we represent.

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Have you ever read an ADWEEK? It’s really a fascinating magazine. It slices and dices and celebrates advertising in all of its myriad forms. It always delivers something interesting, but the 2/15/16 issue actually delivered an epiphany.

The article didn’t actually know it was delivering an epiphany, it was just innocently reporting, but within it was a valuable lesson for brands that are considering or already utilizing product placement in film and TV. It explored the use of EEG headsets, biometric scanners and facial and eye-tracking software in the pursuit of mind reading consumers. It explains the advertising industry’s attempts to determine how long someone watched a commercial on their smartphone, versus their computer, as compared to their TV set. It pondered the methodologies for reaching the consumer so that their minds could be made up in ways that inspire specific desires for products and services. It suggested the advertisers shape shifting into the tiny cracks in the viewer’s concentration and attention to plant the seeds of “want.” It plotted a course into the mortar between the shows regardless of the bricks that form them.

But product placement and well-executed brand integration (read; discrete) doesn’t muck about in the mortar. It works in the bricks. A perfect example of product placement is actually human; the cast! Personalities are products; the more bankable they are the higher the price tag. And, while they are often hired to slum in the mortar, they build their brand in the bricks. Products should be viewed the same way. If it appears in the bricks, a brand is perceived to be of authentic value, if they appear in the mortar (commercials), they may have more control of their brand messaging, but that message is immediately suspect for having been bought.

So, while advertising agencies slice and dice the data and determine the best way to invade viewer’s deepest, darkest thought processes, product placement agencies like HERO are getting in there the easy way; we are invited.

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First, here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous new year to all of our friends and the friends we haven’t met yet!   At last year’s Hollywood Christmas Parade, HERO negotiated a unique product placement integration for long time client ServiceMaster Clean. No, it wasn’t a float of a broom to end the parade and clean the route at the same time, though that would have been pretty clever. In fact the brand didn’t actually appear in the parade itself at all. Brands hire HERO as their product placement representative and stay with us because we go as far outside the box as we have to get the brand where they want to be (or maybe it’s the lovely Harry & David New Year’s treats they’ve come to expect when they return from the holiday break). In this case, we found the perfect match. The main viewing area of the star-studded event takes place at the corner of Hollywood and Highland on the world’s largest red carpet! But wait, last year and entire parade marched over this record breaking wonder; surely it could use some spiffing up. Enter ServiceMaster Clean.

A thorough cleaning of the carpet took place just a few hours before marching bands, Budweiser Clydesdales and Earth, Wind and Fire were to grace its redness. The expansive cleaning job was captured on camera and an edited feature was cut right into the parade coverage.  To put a cherry on it (the story not the carpet; cherries are hell to get out), HERO arranged for ServiceMaster Clean  to make a coordinated toy contribution to the event’s charitable beneficiary Toys For Tots.  The end result delivered great impressions during the national broadcast on Hallmark Channel, great media for the brand to use in myriad ways and, yes, it helped even the kids. But parade product placement is hardly new. In fact most people start their year off with one of the biggest displays of brand integration on Earth.

To make this point we will leave you for the next few paragraphs in the credible and capable hands of

Corporate sponsors will be incorporating their brand message in more than 40 floats during this year’s Rose Parade. Millions watch the parade, so it totally makes sense for the brands. 

That kind of exposure comes with a hefty price tag, but corporate sponsors say the chance to get their company’s message out to millions is worth the expense.

“We feel the return is very efficient,” Dole packaged Foods director of corporate communications Marty Ordman told CNBC. “We’re able to get some key brand and product points across about our products and initiatives,” he added.

Scott’s Miracle-Gro another parade participant, said it spent about $250,000 for its float, which weighs in at 42,050 pounds and took a crew of 400 people around 8,000 hours to build and decorate.

“We look at [return on investment] on many different levels…we measure it much more than the 2 hour parade,” Scotts Miracle-Gro vice president John Sass told CNBC.

Sass said the company uses its designation as the “Official Rose and Flower Care Company of the Tournament of Roses” in its in-store branding, and capitalizes on the exposure to millions of viewers around the world. The company also partnered with HGTV this year to sponsor TV coverage of the event.

Sass said that while live events and sponsorship are a smaller part of the company’s media mix, “it gives variety to media spend and allows us to connect with consumers in a much different way than traditional media can get you.”

Is the ROI worth the money?

For its part, Dole spent about $500,000 on its Rose Parade efforts this year, according to Ordman. That includes the cost of the float, entry fee into the parade, and marketing campaigns.

That figure runs a bit higher than the average cost of a float, according to Tim Estes, CEO of Fiesta Parade Floats. “I would say the overall average is around about $250 to $260,000, somewhere in that range,” said Estes. His company made about a quarter of this year’s floats —including a display based on ABC’s “The Bachelor,” one of two floats Disney sponsored in this year’s parade.

According to Estes, a number of corporate sponsors have told him they’ve received anywhere from four to six dollars in returns for every dollar invested in a float. “It’s a great ROI for anyone…trying to give a message about who you are and what you do,” he said.

But apart from the return that corporate sponsors hope to achieve with their floats, Dole’s Marty Ordman said there’s something special about participating in an event that dates back to the late 1800s.

“It’s a very positive experience shared by millions of people,” he said, “and being part of it is nice.”


Whether it’s a parade, a TV show or a feature film, brand integration remains the single best, most cost-effective way for a product or service to draw the kinds of associations that will make them appealing to their particular audience.  2016 marks HERO’s 19th year of rolling out the (clean) red carpet for our parade-worthy clients. Thanks to each and every one of you and here’s to another year of great exposure!

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Shocking as it may seem, not everyone on Earth knows what product placement is! I know, right?! Actually, that’s not entirely true; people in modern society do know what it is, they just might know what it’s called. So, in the course of explaining our trade to others there is one consistent response we receive, “You mean like when someone drinks a coke on screen?” Then we have to explain that that’s correct but, even though we are a respected product placement agency and represent respected brands, we do not represent Coke. But when it comes to identifying the basics of product placement Coke is, as they say, “it.” So, as suggested in the last HERO blog, a history of product placement is imminent and, using Coke as the example, here it is.

First, a thank you to Jay Moye whose article, Coke Red on the Silver Screen: Exploring the Brand’s Role in Movies, provided the journalism for this article and Audrey Kupferberg, the film historian who actually tracked the brand’s appearances. While sharing a comprehensive list of Coke’s film and TV appearances would be prohibitively long for this blog, we can hit some interesting highlights.

Believe it or not, Coke’s cinematic cameos date back to the early 1900s. The accepted first on screen hit for the brand was the 1916 silent film, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. In the “cult hit” (assuming such a thing was possible in 1916), Douglas Fairbanks passes by a Coca-Cola billboard while driving on a California freeway. Interestingly, this was also an implied product placement for cocaine, because the soda wasn’t completely cocaine-free until 1929 (but there was VERY little of it in there by then). The brand didn’t actually make any brand integration deals until the ‘20s and ‘30s either because they didn’t need to or the idea hadn’t occurred to anyone yet.

Ted Ryan, Coke’s director of heritage communications confirms what product placement professionals have long understood; brands are placed on the screen because the real world has brands and if you want to recreate the real world, brands are necessary. That was obviously the logic when a Coca-Cola sign was visible as Jimmy Stewart ran down the street in 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The holidays are coming; be sure to look for it. On a side note, HERO client emeritus FTD also enjoyed some screen time in the film.

In the Oscar-winning 1947 film Body and Soul (the first Academy Awards were handed out in 1929, in case you’re suddenly curious) you’ll see a candy store in New York’s Lower East Side dressed for ’20s or ’30s period. There are Coke signs in the windows and inside the store. It would have been impossible to present a realistic candy store without them.

But it hasn’t just been the classic offering up a Coke with your smile; obscure films like 1945’s Detour and 1934’s Heat Lightning featured the brand and no less French “new wave” film pioneer Jean-Luc Godard placed one into Jean Seberg’s hand as they sat in a Paris Café in 1959’s Breathless. The familiar contour of the bottle gives it away. Next classic art house turn for the brand was when a vending machine made a cameo in 1964’s Dr. Strangelove.

The brand became an inanimate lead character to rival Castaway’s Wilson when in 1980 a bottle fell from the sky to the wonderment of the film’s aboriginal human lead in Australian film The Gods Must Be Crazy.

If you read these blogs regularly, you know that this whole history of product placement actually started in the previous entry as we questioned the claim that ET’s Reese’s Pieces had the first product placement. Not only wasn’t it first, it wasn’t even the only branded exposure in ET! Coke was there as well.

Superman (the Christopher Reeve version from 1978, that is) crashed through a Coke billboard, Warren Beatty enjoying the refreshing beverage in Bonnie and Clyde, in the 1982 sci-fi thriller, Blade Runner a Coke billboard suggested that even in a futuristic dystopian world, Coca-Cola is everlasting.

So all-encompassing is Coke’s presence in our society and on our screens that in the 1960s, the company actually set up an office in Los Angeles to ensure the authenticity of all Coca-Cola film references. If a studio requested a vintage bottle or sign, for example, the Coke team in Hollywood would provide the items that matched the period and overall aesthetic of the movie.

So there you have a brief acting resume for what is believed to be the most placed product in film and TV history. Coca Cola may not be HERO client, but we do have to give them their props for being top of the pops.

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Maintaining our position as a leading product placement agency requires that we show a lot of respect. In essence, every placement we make serves two entirely separate “bosses.” The word agency is the real clue for determining how we work. An agent, according to Mirriam-Webster is, “A person who does business for another person: a person who acts on behalf of another.” So, we, as an agency, are comprised of people doing exactly that, but instead of acting on behalf of individuals, we act on behalf of brands.  But if we only took the desires of the brands into account, we would not have flourished for almost two decades.  We have to consider the ongoing, ever-changing needs of literally every production we work with.  And those needs can change in a heartbeat.

If we break down the anatomy of a product placement, we reveal an endless cycle of serving and protecting.  HERO currently represents sixteen clients.  Each of those clients provides us with dozens of placement assets from digital art files to live product.  Meanwhile, the agency corresponds with hundreds of scripted TV shows and almost as many films each year. On one side we have brands that have a marketing message that needs to be communicated through their presence on screen and on the other we have productions that need to create appropriate realities while addressing time and budget constraints.  As the agent, our job is to respect both parties and act as match maker between the brands and the productions.  And this is what we do day in and day out.

As we shared in our previous blog, the right comic book or video game derived sci-fi action figure on a show like The Big Bang Theory can reinforce the loyalty of a game’s following. But a, let’s say, Bratz doll on the same counter would have done little more than confuse.  A recent episode of MTV’s Scream Queens featured HERO client Amnesty International’s recruitment booth on a college campus.  This makes sense; Amnesty wants to engage college students.  But that same booth on say, American Horror Story would have enhanced neither the show nor the client’s public image.  HERO client Lyft, the major competitor to Uber, was recently shot for an upcoming episode of Portlandia. This could be considered a match made in heaven; Lyft is a quirky, millennial- associated brand that established its identity with big furry mustaches affixed to the fronts of its passenger vehicles and Portlandia is an irreverent show focused on Portland, OR, a quirky, millennial-associated city.

According to Kerry Segrave’s, Product Placement in Hollywood Films: A History, product placement began with the Reese’s Pieces inclusion in the film ET, in 1982 (we’re certain the practice pre-dates that… smell another blog subject?), so producers and agencies have had plenty of time to adapt to each other’s needs. However, every brand that is seeking a product placement agency has to be educated.  It’s the job of a professional product placement agent to not only educate these newcomers to the fray, but to act as a proper match maker between the brand and the productions in which they will appear.  Unlike romantic match makers, unions forged by product placement have no version of divorce to fall back on if the match fails. A placement is a placement forever, living in a production as it moves from screen to screen around the world. So, matches must be carefully examined and intelligently executed. Needless to say, this means no Amnesty International for American Horror Story on our watch!

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One of our jobs as a product placement agency, arguably the most important one, is watching the productions into which we have integrated brands.  As we discussed in the blog “Eagle Eye,” a little while back, HERO’s heroes view hour upon hour of video looking carefully for our client’s brands. But there are people watching these productions even more closely?  You!

We are endlessly amazed at the feedback our clients and associates receive from friends and acquaintances when their brands appear on screen. Unlike us, the comments are not from people who are in any way looking for a product placement, they’re just watching…apparently very closely.  And, though this report is purely anecdotal and not the result of a formal study, we find that these observe and report accounts are very often specific to the viewer’s interests.  For example, HERO client Guild Wars 2, a massive multiplayer video game appeared in the form of a character figurine on The Big Bang Theory. Of course this was a perfect venue based on the nature of the brand and the fans were watching! Because HERO records shows then scans them for product, we don’t always see our brands in real time. However, the fans do and Guild Wars 2’s online forum lit up instantly when the Rytlock statue appeared on screen. The fans actually informed us of the exposure before we had a chance to see it ourselves! We have enjoyed this phenomenon since back when viewers in various countries around the world were buzzing about our Omega Watch placements on X-Files, but it never ceases to thrill.

A more recent, more objective example popped up in the film Straight Out of Compton. HERO received an inquiry from a company that deals in licensed sports caps.  As we talked about their brand assets and our program, they mentioned that their hats had appeared organically in the film. Well, that was true enough, but what they didn’t realize is that there were people who didn’t just see the caps, they saw the inaccuracies of their use!  Not one but two of HERO’s associates had boyfriends who recognized the hats as being from dates other than those represented in the film!  It turns out the style of hats used were newer than the film’s period date and therefore would not yet have existed!  One of the boyfriends is from and still resided in Compton.

This seems to give flight to a blog on brand/production accuracy and compatibility, so we’ll delve into that next time.

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One of the first, and arguably most logical, questions a brand seeking a product placement agency might ask is, does product placement work?  While we have been answering this with an obvious yes for eighteen years, larger advertising agencies whose ability to bill may help guide their answers, have been less consistent.  This makes perfect sense; if your business plans call for the creation of advertisements and the commissioning of the media purchased to distribute those advertisements, you would logically support the mediums in which profit can be found. What sways the opinions of major ad-biz players is far less the viability of a medium and far more the billability thereof.

Back in 2007 Starcom’s product placement exec disapproved of an overt brand integration on The Sopranos. In the scene, Tony presents his son A.J. with a Nissan Xterra. The exec said the brand inclusion was, “Really obvious … It disengaged me from the story. It was very overt.”  That may or may not be so (we’re guessing Nissan was fine with it), but was the opinion in any way guided by the fact that The Sopranos, an HBO production, could not be influenced by cash offers for integrations?  It’s a theory worth considering given the agency’s current stated position.

Starcom’s SVP/research now states that, “Media fragmentation is forcing us to rethink the 30-second spot and the 15-second spot, as well as frequency and reach.” And goes on to say that incorporating a product into original-content narrative yields an opportunity for “more meaningful connections to the end viewer without it just being in your face within that 30-second spot.”

It seems the big ad agencies are now facing a universe where traditional network-produced, ad dollar-financed programming is becoming the minority option.  Original content produced by Amazon, Netflix, Yahoo and even Showtime, Starz and HBO are paid for by subscribers, leaving ad agencies without a seat at the table. Why wouldn’t they double down on the reliable avenues for billing beyond producing and purchasing traditional thirty-second spots?

Meanwhile, HERO has spent nearly two decades nurturing relationships with the very same influential production personnel that made network decisions and which has now expanded into the subscription-based realm.

This helps underscore a major difference between an ad agency that practices product placement and an established product placement agency; the ad agency works with money to create brand integrations and the product placement agency interacts with the human beings literally on the set.  Not only is the latter the far less expensive alternative, it will also survive the impending restructuring of entertainment delivery away from the commercially financed as past models become outmoded.

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Getting your brand integrated into a production like, say, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is, of course, great and in the old days that was the beginning and end of the exposure the brand would receive. But for today’s media savvy brands, the screen hit is just the beginning.  With social media becoming far less an option and more an undeniable force delivered by an entertainment marketing agency like HERO, product placement exposures now possess a new superpower; they deliver the kind of posting fodder that keeps followers…following.  So now when we are called upon to explain the benefits of HERO’s product placement program, we hasten to add that what we deliver is something arguably more valuable than simply having your brand share the screen with a well-known celebrity or widely-viewed production; it’s fuel for the social media fire.

Paul Blart 2

The chart in this link was created by Search Engine Journal in 2014, so we can assume the numbers have only grown. On it you’ll see that brands are relying more and more on getting their word out via channels separate from traditional ad buys. The problem many of them face is less where to post their social media announcements, but what to post!  Sure, your new packaging or service makes for an interesting Tweet or Pinterest pic, but those posts have to keep on coming and the content has to always be engaging.  This means that even though Panda Express already enjoyed 12,697,000 impressions and will continue to accumulate them throughout the life of the production just by being in the film, they can stretch that exposure even further with posts and follow up posts on the various forms of social media that they are already cultivating.

Brand exposure is an engine, and until someone invents a perpetual motion machine for advertising, that engine needs combustible fuel. Exposures in film and TV tap directly into the public’s media obsessions and fill that marketing engine with rocket fuel.  Based on that analogy, HERO is as much a marketing agency as we are a gas station and in our own way, we’d like to think that we don’t just fill our client’s tanks, we also check the oil and wash the windshield.

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The title of this blog is taken from an oft-used phrase deployed by public figures spurned by the press.  Essentially, it means, “I don’t care what they said about me, they put my name in front of people, and that has value.”  While there are, of course, exceptions to the rule, overall, the philosophy is sound.  Fame is accomplished only one-way; a high level of visibility.  Celebrities, politicians and others craving the spotlight know that the higher their profile in the public eye, the better it usually is for business.  Since brands also require constant awareness to maintain their popularity, the Just Spell My Name Right meme should still apply.

Over the years dozens of articles have been published in all manner of publications taking pot shots at product placements in films and TV shows.  Brands looking for a product placement agency might well read these articles and wonder if product placement is the best route for them.  For instance, if a brand manager were to see an actual headline like, “10 Painfully Obvious Examples of Product Placement in Movies,” they might think, “Uh-oh, product placement is painful and obvious!”  But what they might want to consider is that the headline will be followed by a list of ten brand names, each of which is getting a bonus exposure.  And those exposures place the brand’s name in front of the reader; ticking off one more of the mandatory reminders their consumers need on a constant basis to keep their brand top of mind.

As we have discussed in previous blogs, negative exposures, like a food or beverage brand making the consumer ill, or a mechanical device malfunctioning, are bad.  One of our responsibilities as an agency is to prevent our clients from being used in such instances, but when the product serves its purpose properly and is shown in a favorable light, let the bloggers and journalists bellyache all they’d like about the medium. Just spell the name right.

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Broadcast and Cable Magazine has just reported that product placement revenues are up 13.2% so far this year in the U.S.  This increase doesn’t just come through the obvious, big money Coke on the American Idol judge’s table exposures; it takes also into account digital and music integrations.  The numbers are pretty staggering. How about $6.01 billion? That’s a 12.8% jump from last year and they’re predicting $11.4 billion in 2019.

But where does all this money come from and who is getting it? In terms of motivation, the money comes from companies who want to garner brand recognition but don’t want to place their bets on traditional commercials in the DVR/time shifting universe.  If you have a DVR, whether it’s a Tivo or the unit that came with your cable or digital satellite subscription company, you know that you’re way less likely to watch the commercials.  Why bother when you can zap right through them?  Even if you want to watch the show live, you’re likely to start it a few minutes early to allow for fast forwarding through the breaks. So, advertisers, most of whom fast forward through their own commercials, know that.  They also know that hiring a celebrity to hold their product on camera within a show or film, can be prohibitively expensive. Product placement allows them to solve both problems at once; they get a zap-free brand exposure wherein their product frequently shares the screen with a celebrity, providing an implied endorsement.

Many of the brands embedded within TV shows are placed there as part of a media buy deal.  PQ Media cites a deal between Apple and the very popular sitcom Modern Family. In this case ABC, the network that produces the show, not only included the paid brand integration but specifically designed it to air close to a commercial pod that featured the Apple spot. While ABC felt it would increase viewer engagement, we at HERO believe that it only makes the placement seem less organic and could conceivably engender resentment from viewers… if they don’t fast forward through the commercial spot!

For the most part, product placements that are made through a network’s add sales department are part of a larger media buy and that is what adds up to billions of dollars.  That’s great for the networks and the brands with pockets deep enough to play, but what about the uncountable medium-sized businesses whose budgets don’t allow them to belly up to the paid integration bar? How does product placement help companies with more modest resources?

While mega-deals for big bucks are happening in the ivory towers of Hollywood and the MADMEN trodden, tobacco-patina’d walls of Madison Avenue; there is another, larger set of deal makers. They don’t wear suits, they don’t lunch at the Yale Club and they don’t do a lot of sitting. They are the actual producers, set decorators and props masters who put the items you see on the screen on the sets and locations.  They’re blue collar working stiffs who have much more in common with the person in the red apron who gave you great advice at Home Depot (no, that wasn’t a product placement) than the executive who reclines comfortably in the ergonomically perfect Haworth Zody chair (that was).  HERO interacts directly with these folks to get our clients on the screen, which offers great exposure for brands and barely adds a dime to the multi-billion dollar figures boasted at the top of this blog.

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Here’s an interesting challenge for a product placement agency.  At HERO we try to provide our clients with as accurate a media value for their onscreen placements as we can.  This number is essentially how our ROI can be reported. A brand hires us for X amount, we deliver XX amount in media value, and thus the return is XXX%. We use a proprietary calculation to establish this media value, which is only shared with our clients. However,​ because we’re generally using the data provided by the universally accepted ratings system, it’s actually wrong.  The good news is, even with ​its flaws, the ROIs we report are uniformly impressive. The bad news, they aren’t nearly as impressive as they could be. And who is at fault? Nielsen!

The Nielsen ratings system started collecting data in the 1920s with brand advertising analysis.  The first Nielsen ratings for radio programs were released the first week of December 1947.  Since then Americans on both sides of the TV screen have been relying on the company for accurate viewership numbers. But in recent years the viewers and advertisers have extended their viewing and time buying habits respectively and now their entertainment and sports are delivered on multiple screens. Smartphones, tablets and computers now literally replace televisions in many homes. This shift has called the traditionally trusted numbers into question making ​Nielsen scramble for new ways to collect the data, if they even can.

While product placement in film can still be reasonably assessed through box office numbers, product placement on TV is only moving further from analysis.  Last year Netflix took home thirty one nominations and seven Emmys. Transparent on Amazon grabbed two Golden Globes. But burgeoning web-based broadcasters like Netflix, Amazon and even pay cable channels like HBO, etc. are subscription-based. They don’t sell commercial time and have no reason to release their subscriber numbers. In their case, it’s all accounting. If they have enough subscribers to produce their shows and profits, whose business is it how many people are watching?  So, even though those networks are grabbing huge viewership, when HERO gets a product hit on, say, House of Cards we can’t report impression numbers. So, what is a respectable product placement agency to do?

​The good news is that Ni​el​sen is working hard to reconfigure their data collecting system. But until then HERO clients will just have to understand that the impressive ROIs we’re reporting are grossly under estimated.

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What it all boils down to is this; branding. When a product is headed to market, the very first step on the long journey is brand identity. Who is the market for the product? What are that market’s preferences? Is it a broad market or an exclusive one? How, when you read Kohl’s or Nordstroms in an ad do you immediately know the quality and price points of the items on sale at those locations? Branding.

One of the keys to great branding is having aspects of your branding easily identified by the laymen’s eye without even having to use a name. If you see a small robin’s egg blue box with a ring in it, do you need to see the word Tiffany?  If some middle-aged guy is walking through a big box store wearing an orange apron, your mind fills in the blanks and takes you to Home Depot. And on and on.

While color is almost always a component of a logo and general branding, shapes also play a big part. A logo doesn’t have to contain any writing at all to be completely (or may even more) effective.  Shell Oil’s yellow scallop graphic, the Mercedes Benz three-armed wheel – or just about any other corporate symbol found on the front and back of a car – and of course, the ingenious Nike Swish.

When brands ask us how to get product placement, we answer the question with a question of our own; how easily recognizable will it be on the screen?  Sure, a capable agency can place just about anything somewhere, but there are some products you can place almost anywhere.  In a world of advertising that is narrowing in one area (traditional TV commercials and newspaper ads) but expanding in many others (social networking, streaming video integrations and sponsorships and multi-screen) it takes more than just a good product with a good pitch, it takes adaptability.  A brand symbol or logo that is easily recognizable can transcend the intricacies of the marketing universe and shine through wherever it lands.  Think about it, you could identify a tiny portion of a Budweiser logo, the Apple Mac or, arguably the greatest contribution to iconic symbolism ever, the Superman S.

So, when a brand calls HERO asking how to get product placement in movies and TV shows, the first thing we do is research the brand’s assets. Then we answer honestly. When a brand, like new HERO client Razer gaming hardware brings superior branding to the table (the Razer snake logo nails the Nike Swish for the gamer), we know we can hit the ground running. *

The more assets like packaging, advertising art and video, the products themselves and brand identity trademarks like a unique logo we have, the more places we can place them and the more likely the chance that the camera will expose them to the viewer.

* Yes, the entire blog was a thinly disguised celebration of the addition of Razer to the HERO roster 🙂

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The pilot for the FX show The Americans presents a perfect case-in-point example for the primary argument in favor of product placement in film and TV.  In a scene late in the episode, the two leads, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip (Matthew Rhys), are having a secret chat in the laundry room of their typical suburban American home.  Next to the machines on a shelf we see bottles of detergent, etc. But here the labels have been removed or the bottles have been turned to hide them. To our product placement expert eyes, this seems less like an injustice to our craft and more like a wasted opportunity to reinforce the notion of Americana.

Brands, or at very least the promotional appearance of brands, create no small portion of the visual landscape that defines western living American-style. To not take advantage of that in scenes that hope to depict authentic American living seems a poor creative choice.  How could such a scenario not seem more believable with, for instance, the patriotic, iconic Tide label?

When productions are sensitive to logos, or have a policy against them, “greeked” or disguised versions of brand names are frequently utilized.  We can recall placing “Shasa” sodas instead of Shasta or “Chinese Food Panda” instead of Panda Express.  But where brands and labels are normal; their absence creates a scenario that is less believable.  Even if The Americans had used a generic “Scrubby Wash” bottle instead of blank packaging, the omission would have been less glaring.

In the next blog, we’ll examine how symbols like the Nike “swish” can represent a brand even in situations where obvious brand names are not used.


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In our previous blog we discussed the identifying characteristics of brands, specifically, color. We then threatened to continue the conversation with a look at how props, wardrobe and set pieces identify characters.  So, let’s do that. There are many ways characters are identifiable. Their physical appearance is the first. If you would like to convey, say, a hearty, older man, then the casting of an actual hearty older man is certainly the easiest way to get it across. If he is ethnic, again, the casting does it all.  But once that’s done, the ball is thrown to the wardrobe, prop and set people often working with an experienced product placement agency. So, this hearty, older man; is he rich or poor? If he’s poor, wardrobe will likely take the lead dressing him in worn clothing. No product placement there, since most brands would rather not be displayed in lesser condition. But if he’s moneyed, look out! His Armani suit, Rolex watch, Gucci shoes, etc. tell the story.  A techy Millennial character stares into a Smartphone, a hipster tops his tats and beard with a Brixton snapback cap.  We see the character’s clothing and accessories and we can know who we’re dealing with.

Then there are his possessions,. In this case the low earner is probably more difficult than the high earner. With the rich guy, we know that everything needs to be expensive; the best car, the best office chair (yes, that was a plug for HERO client Haworth, makers of the Zody and Very chairs), the best gin (another plug, Aviation American Gin – Wine Enthusiast’s highest rating ever for a gin), the best product placement agency (okay, that was probably too much), etc.

The “whos” you see on the screen are almost entirely identified by the “whats” you see around them.  So, the set, prop and wardrobe people on a production are actually more like casting agents; they must cast the appropriate items to make the actor look like the character he or she was “cast” to be.

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As dedicated product placement professionals, the entire staff of HERO remains on alert even when we’re watching TV shows and films for pleasure. Beyond DVR-ing approximately twelve hours of TV programming a day and attending screening of films the moment they are available, we are ever vigilant. Not only are we keeping an eye out for our clients in the projects into which they’ve been integrated, but we’re keeping eyes on everything. The reason for this is two fold: first, we want to know what entertainment properties are featuring brands, and two, we can’t help it! We’re deeply conditioned to look for product placements.

It’s true, the entire staff of HERO has developed what we call, Eagle Eye. This is the ability to recognize brands from even the slightest hint of logo color in the farthest background of a scene. Sometimes it’s the only peek of product we will get, so, even if the brand is not a client, we stop the recording and back it up to confirm.  It’s perfectly understandable; surely anyone in any profession has an elevated awareness of things that relate to their field.  If we were podiatrists, I imagine we’d be able to clock a bunion from fifty yards.

So, last night while watching an episode from the current season of House of Cards (no plot spoilers, promise), a brown reusable grocery bag revealed a flash of green logo.  For brand-watching junkies, the color and venue create a perfect clue.  According to Pantone, the self-described, “world-renowned authority on color and provider of color systems and leading technology for the selection and accurate communication of color across a variety,” green = environment, organic, money, refreshing.  Some brands associated with green are Whole Foods, Starbucks and Animal Planet. Easy call; it had to be Whole Foods.

Fortunately, the bags made a return appearance in the scene and it was confirmed that the flash of green was, indeed, a Whole Foods logo. Beyond eliciting a high-volume, “Yes!” from the color detective, it also provided a great example of a brand identifying the character, the awareness of which is one of the keys to successful product placement representation. We’ll delve into in more detail on that subject in the next blog (after we’ve all had a chance to catch up on House of Cards).

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First, our appreciation.  As one of the leading independent agencies dealing exclusively in product placement and brand integration, we are gratified to see our craft respected in media. But we may have something of value to add to your recent article on the brand placement in the 2015 Oscar winner for best picture, Birdman.

While you justifiably listed and explored the logical and artful inclusions of beer brand Stella Artois and provided honorable mentions for less prominently featured brands like Beefeater gin, Apple and Smith & Wesson, you seem to have missed a brand inclusion from HERO.  We bear you no ill will for this omission; the brand is featured so organically that its prominence could have been overlooked by your reporter, even if audience members couldn’t possibly have missed it.  In fact, not only aren’t we upset; we’re flattered.

HERO Entertainment Marketing makes placements in film and TV while remaining mindful of people’s feelings about brand exposures on screen. The rule is, if it’s in the audience’s face, they resent it. For this reason, we try our best to keep the brand’s presence organic. So, while your reporter was watching the film with an eye on logos, our client slipped past; just another appropriate part of the reality being created. No bells and whistles, no audience resentment, none of the ubiquitous force of marketing that can sometimes shift a viewer’s opinion to unfavorable. But our placement did have something the other brand’s screen time didn’t; an actual, real world ad for the brand!

Birdman 1









That’s right, when Michael Keaton’s character is reading an article about himself in the newspaper, the facing page, clearly identifiable to the viewer, is entirely occupied by an advertisement for Lumber Liquidators, including the brand’s 800 number! The placement was made through the same channels as those your article covered and enjoyed generous screen time, yet it was so natural to the circumstance that even your comprehensive report missed it.

We hope you will re-watch the film and when you see Lumber Liquidators, we hope you will appreciate the subtlety of their presence… and maybe print an addendum?

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Most product placement for film and TV is done as a trade out, meaning that brands provide products or other assets in exchange for inclusion in the production without any money changing hands. But some are fee-based, meaning money does change hands. The top product placement agencies will all at certain times have to negotiate such fee-based placements on behalf of their clients. ​ ​One way or another, these fees offset the ​cost of production. So, in essence, the brands are co-oping the production as partners, even in the most minor sense. But what if the production is a commercial and the price of production is actually the price of airing said production?

This year commercial spots for the Superbowl cost $4.5 million for thirty seconds​​! Of course that seems ludicrous, but with a primetime network TV commercial during American Idol at its peak costing $475,000, a spot that is expected to reach 115 million specific commercial-watching viewers for $4.5 million doesn’t seem that outrageous.  But it’s still much more than ​most brands can afford. But what if a bunch of brands chip in on one spot? ​ ​Newcastle Ale has done just that.

According to the Chicago Sun Times:

Newcastle Brown Ale raises the product placement bar in a 60-second video that pokes fun at the hype over Super Bowl advertising.

How many products get named in Newcastle’s Band of Brands spot: 38.

“Our goal here is to make history and sell great beer,” said Priscilla Flores Dohnert, brand director for Newcastle Brown Ale. 

“Not only did we create the world’s first crowdfunded Big Game ad, but I’m pretty sure we just made the cheapest Big Game ad ever,” Dohnert said. “By asking other brands to team up with our brand we are making a statement that Big Game advertising should be accessible to everyone, whether they can afford it or not.”

While the spot could have been more elegantly staged, the point is well made; the inclusion of multiple brands in a production can serve the dual purposes of offsetting production costs and showcasing the brands in a way that entertains.

Here’s the ad. Judge for yourself:

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When one is tasked with delivering a regular supply of blogs on product placement one would be well advised to read other blogs on the subject. That advice doesn’t just pertain to your humble HERO blogger, it pertains to the bloggers read by your humble HERO blogger!  Case in point; the rampant exposure of REI in the film Wild.

Product placement for film and TV generally refers to the active process of ​pairing the right brand with the right scenario, generally as practiced by a professional product placement or advertising agency.  But sometimes huge placements happen without an agency’s influence.  In Wild, Reese Witherspoon portrays the real life writer of the book, Cheryl Strayed. St​r​ayed handled a trauma in her life by taking an 1,100-mile hike, all by herself… with exception of her trusty REI gear. The REI gear made ​it through the trip, into the book and finally hiked right into the film on Witherspoon’s back.

This exposure was so exceptional that a blogger on the website took the film to task for its egregious shilling, referring to it as, “… one big product placement.” Good point, except the presence of REI was not initiated by the brand or any of its agencies.​  ​ It turns out the brand provided Strayed with some super-cool customer service during her travels and she was accurately portraying her experience and​​ sending them back some love​​.

Of course, this is the exception not the rule. A brand would have to do an awful lot of good will customer support to replace the results of an established product placement agency.​​ HERO (plug alert) has ​​placed categorically similar clients Columbia, Princeton Tec, and Outdoor Products on ​numerous​ stars ​including​ Kevin James, L.L. Cool J., ​Larry David, Michael C Hall (Dexter) and on and on.

So, our advice for getting a brand multiple top-flight exposures in film and TV is two fold: 1. hire a reputable product placement agency and 2. Be really good to all of your customers because you never know what the karmic pay-off might be!

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In a recent clip of nightly news anchor Brian Williams interviewing Jerry Seinfeld released by, Jerry Seinfeld quotes someone who credits him with having invented product placement by using brand names on Seinfeld.  To be clear, Seinfeld states that someone else said that, not him, but he doesn’t put up much of a fight. Well, there a couple of ways to address the assertion, neither of which surrenders the credit for this invention to Seinfeld.*

In the clip, Williams and Seinfeld examine the Junior Mint brand inclusion some will remember from the episode where Kramer observes an operation and accidentally flips one of the “delicious” candies into the body cavity. While product placement generally refers to placing products in TV shows not body cavities, this is still a great hit for Junior Mints.  However, according to the interview, it was an artistic choice by the writers.  By this standard, I’m afraid Seinfeld (the show) is way, way late for claiming first place. We could start with the FTD logo on the window of the flower store in It’s a Wonderful Life in 1946 and work our way up from there.  Inadvertent or purposeful brand inclusions have been around since the silent films.

As far as making legitimate, non-fee-based product placements on Seinfeld, well all the best entertainment marketing companies have done it. HERO provided an Isuzu Amigo and cleared the verbal reference to the car in the Puerto Rican Day parade episode, but agencies were placing brands in TV shows that way long before Seinfeld ruled the roost.

But there is one way Seinfeld did lend a hand to the development of the art of product placement; he used the brands for jokes. Many shows incorporate brands, usually because there are fees in place or a network is offering a value add to a huge commercial time buy, but virtually all of those are subject to brand messaging. For example Rebel Wilson’s since cancelled ABC show Super Fun Night clearly forged a deal with Ford Motors and the resulting “commercial” scripted into the show hit all the brand’s talking points but used its responsive power steering to completely avoid any form of continuity or humor.   This can actually be damaging to the brand. But on Seinfeld the opposite is true. A Junior Mint falls into a body cavity.  An Isuzu Amigo is used to set up Seinfeld’s joke, “Hey, Amigo… not you; the guy in the Amigo!”

So, while Seinfeld may not be the Christopher Columbus of product placement, the show did discover an irreverent new land for it to dwell.


*Disclaimer: We at HERO Entertainment Marketing are huge fans of both the show called Seinfeld and the human called Seinfeld. Any discussion of this particular subject is exclusive to this subject and is presented with the utmost respect for all things called Seinfeld.


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As viewers of film and TV we can only see what the camera includes in the frame. But prop masters and set dressers don’t necessarily know what the director or cinematographer will choose to include, so they have to build the scene much wider and deeper than the superficial view we get. For instance, on the classic TV series Family Ties, the Keaton’s made their home in Cleveland, Ohio. Nothing we could see on the set announced that fact, but if one were to pull out the kitchen drawer near the phone, they would find a Cleveland Yellow Pages, etc. Every detail of the house had to conform to normal Cleveland living even if the home audience wouldn’t ever see it. This hyper-efficiency was as much for ‘just in case” scenarios (the writers might want Alex to look up a local business in the phone book) as it was for creating a reality for the actors to get lost in.

Some brands in product placement are what they are. In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Howard holds a box of Tastykakes. While the brand’s limited distribution does help establish the location where it’s being eaten, there are no further details required for the placement. But, if a scene were shot in a RE/MAX real estate office, then reality affirming details would be abundant: signage on the wall, a “For Sale” lawn sign leaning nearby for delivery to a new to market home, logoed writing pads, pens, paperweights..;even a lapel pin for the agent. Details matter when the job is to approximate reality.

In the picture below taken from a recent episode of NCIS:LA, the character whose room is being created is a video gamer. Production agreed that HERO client Guild Wars 2 would be a perfect favorite game. What you can see immediately is the poster on the wall, but less obvious are the game box, branded keyboard and even an action figure from the game on the bookshelf. Should a subsequent episode require actual game play, cleared footage is ready and waiting.


When a brand is considering hiring a product placement agency, they should take stock of all of the possible tools that could be provided to the agency to allow for more numerous, and more importantly, more detailed results.

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The first two blogs in this three part series explained how brands can receive great on screen exposure by simply providing the materials for placement.  But they don’t entirely explain what companies could potentially pay for product placement.  There are certainly times when a little sweetening of the pot can make the difference.

Let’s start with an extreme example; Bond… James Bond.  For as long as most of us can remember, Bond’s favorite alcoholic beverage was vodka, which, as we all know, he enjoyed in a martini, shaken not stirred. But for a mere $42 million dollars in cash and bartered ads featuring Heineken Beer and Bond, he switched.  We can assume he doesn’t order his green bottles shaken or stirred!

But for most brands in films and TV shows, a cash fee for a product placement can be much more reasonable. Sure, there are some big network integration deals out there that will put a brand into a prime time hit for a hefty sum, but many widely seen productions that demand fees are demanding reasonable ones.

Since HERO signs NDA agreements with our productions and clients that prevent us from revealing the actual details of an integration, here’s a fictitious one:

Having read the script for the Megabudget Studio’s epic “Blackout 2: What Happened to the Lights?” our production coordinator found a scene where the lead character is hailing a cab (right before the lights in the city go out and he bellows the title question). Taxicabs in the city where this fictitious film takes place frequently have signage on the top of them, which are known as “taxi cab hats.”  Because the film is with a major studio and the scene features a major star, we negotiate with the studio to have our client’s advertising on the cab when it stops for the actor. Based on the global reach and expected popularity of the film, the fee would likely be a few thousand dollars payable when the film is released and the exposure is confirmed.

As mentioned in the previous blogs, this is not really the norm.   Most placements are done through providing product and clearances to production or promotional materials to a game or home improvement show, but fee-based arrangements do exist and they can be a great way to gain outstanding exposure for a very reasonable cost.

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In the first of our three blogs on “what companies pay for product placement” we featured the most simple and lowest cost method of product placement, which is essentially the placing of the product itself into the production, period. But some productions require more support from the brand which can result in a higher level of integration.  Here are a couple of examples:

HOME IMPROVEMENT SHOWS: Depending on the network or the production itself, home improvement shows can be a valid, cost-effective form of promotion for appropriate brands.  HERO has placed clients Lumber Liquidators and Cabinets To Go in top home improvement shows like Property Brothers, House Crashers and Flipping the Block and the exposures cost the brands no more than the price of the items featured.

GAME SHOWS: Before you discount the viability of the game show as a brand showcase/promotional vehicle, consider this; The Price is Right attracts approximately 5.81 million viewers a day while Two Broke Girl’s latest broadcast scored 3.2 million and certainly didn’t offer a ten second description of any products. And, best yet, to be included as a well-described prize on The Price is Right the brand (typically) needs only to supply the product used for the prize itself… and if it isn’t given away on the first episode that features it, it could actually score another exposure on a subsequent episode without providing more product!

TALK SHOWS: There is a wide disparity in the cost of getting a brand mentioned on a popular daytime talk show, but for the most part simply providing enough product to gift every member of the audience, usually about 200, will do the trick. HERO has arranged for our clients to be featured on Steve Harvey, Rachael Ray and even Ellen.

So, the bartering of product is a very viable way of achieving spectacular onscreen results without a brand having to write a check.

Next blog: Fees

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The thing most brands want to know when they call HERO is what companies pay for product placement. And of course we answer, how much have you got?  Actually, the prices for placement vary greatly. Over the next three blogs, we will examine case studies on the various costs associated with product placement for movies and TV.

The lowest price a brand can pay for a placement is very low.  How about $0.00!  Believe it or not, the majority of the exposures HERO secures for our clients cost them nothing beyond retaining HERO, which is actually surprisingly reasonable.  As an established agency, we’ve had over seventeen years to create and nurture professional and friendly relationships with the key production people who can get brands on the air or on the big screen.

In this summer’s popular comedy, The Other Woman, HERO client Turkey Hill Ice Cream enjoyed some great screen time along side Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann and paid production zero.

Other Woman, The






In fact, they didn’t even need to supply the ice cream!  Empty ice cream cartons were shipped to production and made their way onto Cameron Diaz’ bed! Why, one might wonder, would production not just go get some ice cream for the film?  Herein lies the secret of product placement in the movies and TV.  Productions need two things: products that will recreate the real world, which is replete with brands and legal clearance to use those products on screen. Product placement makes both of those things available.  No fee is required because both brand and production benefit.

Next blog: Barter

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The Geffen Theater is arguably the biggest deal/smallish theater in Los Angeles. While it’s known for its impressive, star-driven shows, it’s not known for product placement or brand integration. However, if you were to drive by its marquee today or see one of the ubiquitous ads for its current show, you would most certainly be exposed to a brand name. “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” a one “woman” show is playing to rave reviews. The reason “woman” is in quotes is because Dixie is not actually one.  Dixie has been portrayed by Kris Andersson since its debut in actual Orange County, CA living rooms as an actual Tupperware party since 2001.

The reason “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” is a valid subject for this space is less because of the fact that a brand name has been integrated into the titl, and more because of the fact that it is there with the brand’s blessing.

Brands have a tendency to be what is known as brandcentic. This term describes the over-protective nature of corporate decision-makers toward the image of their brands.  But, just as in raising a child, sometimes over protection does more harm than good.  But Tupperware has proven they’re bigger than that.  Not only is the cross-dressing Andersson a unique and effective brand ambassador, s/he is also a hell of sales person! Tupperware is actually available for ordering at the shows. Dixie’s best year reported $219,000 in sales!

So, beyond supporting a good sales person, why would a brand as all-American in its perception as Tupperware give a thumbs up to Dixie? According to an article in this Sunday’s LA Times (July 20, 2014), “As long as (Dixie is) talking so positively about the brand and making people smile, we wouldn’t want to take that joy away.” The take away for other brands should be clear; all positive exposure is good exposure and mishandled brandcentricity can be more of a detriment to promotion than a builder of image.

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A few years ago HERO was approached for representation by one of the biggest players in the solar panel industry. While we felt that there weren’t enough high-profile opportunities to justify our program (the years that followed proved us correct), there was an element of their placement request that merits discussion.

This company didn’t care if its logo was included in any product placements or integrations.  The company was so pervasive in its category that they believed any placement of a solar panel that could be influential to a potential customer would benefit them.  Their contention was that all solar roads would lead to them, or at least a large percentage would.  If we continue to expand on that philosophy, we could arrive at a startling realization; everything on screen is essentially a product placement.

Unless we are the Dalai Lama (though even his saffron robes are born of “marketing” and uniformity), we are influenced by what we see.  That influence can be positive or negative depending on the source.  If, for instance, our favorite actor is Seth MacFarland we may aspire to drive an Aston Martin as he does (good luck paying for it!) or if it’s Larry David, we might follow his lead to a Prius.  But what about their personal style on screen? Do those direct our acquisitions? Of course they do.  If Sofia Vergara is wearing a pair of Manolo Blahniks, women notice and if they like the way she’s rocking them, they want them as well.   Even if they don’t see the name Manolo Blahnik, the organic appearance and implied endorsement are powerful.

So, taking the extra logical step, we can suggest that virtually everything we see on screen is a product placement.  The cars, neighborhoods, foods, clothing and even make up and hair styles are all reliant on exposure to gain awareness. The term “product placement” is generally attributed to logoed brands or simply logos that show up in our entertainment, but truth be told, those are just the placements viewers can identify more easily.  When celebrities Justin Timberlake and high-profile fictional characters like Don Draper put on stingy brim fedoras no logo is necessary and all of the makers and sellers of those hats benefit from the increased sales.

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The increasing ubiquity of DVRs is posing a serious challenge to network and cable ad sales departments as more and more viewers fast forward through the very commercials that create their profits. To remedy the situation, the networks have been integrating brands into the shows. These integrations often require fees along with the purchase of commercial time.  This means that when Brand X purchases commercial time on the network, the network attempts to guarantee Brand X’s exposure to the viewers whether the commercials are fast forwarded past or not, via in-show integrations.  Sounds perfect, yes? Maybe not.

Most viewers have no objection to product placements when they’re organic and natural. For example, the dudes on Workaholics would totally eat Panda Express, so the appearance of a take-out carton is inoffensive (in fact, it may be the only inoffensive thing on Workaholics!).  But overkill could actually be detrimental to a brand by making a viewer feel more marketed to than entertained.

One perfect – yet old – example appeared during the sitcom The Office. Dwight, one of the lead characters, leaves his job at Dunder Mifflin, the show’s fictitious paper supply company, and lands a job at the not at all fictitious, Staples, the office supply store.  Staples, for their part, allowed the writers to make hay with their brand, casting their red polo-shirted sales associates as geeks.  Viewers could easily suspend disbelief and enjoy Dwight’s new gig without feeling the long arm of marketing reaching out to their couches.  The set up was really fun… until the commercial break when the Staples spot came on. Now the viewer can easily reverse engineer their viewing experience and realized they’ve been duped.

Staples may have been well-advised to divert their advertising buy to another popular show on the network and let The Office integration operate organically.  The end result could have been more positive and a better use of budget.

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Everyone agrees that The LEGO® Movie was great. Every review praised The LEGO® Movie and quotes from those reviews showed up in ads for The LEGO® Movie.  Do you know what else showed up in every review and ad? The name Lego! Just because a brand integration is the entire basis of a film doesn’t stop it from being a brand integration.

That said, having a brand name in the title of a film may not be the best possible avenue for exposure for the brand.  The brand name may find itself hiding in plain sight; virtually unnoticed in spite of its prominence.  It could also be that the audience for the film is so dissimilar from the brand’s audience that the name is simply utilitarian.

Let’s look at some samples of films with brands in their names and see if the marketing was supported or if the brand was just a word in a name:

The LEGO® Movie; Perfect!  Not only was the film aimed at the toy line’s prime audience, the CGI version of the toy comprised the very fiber of the production informing the animation in a way that made it 100% unique. And the script was great for kids and their parents.

The Devil Wears Prada; Nice, but not perfect.  According to a 2011 article in GQ, “(Women)… are considered a niche audience that, except when Sandra Bullock reads a script or Nicholas Sparks writes a novel, generally isn’t worth taking the time to figure out.” Granted, this film made over $300 million worldwide, but did it reach Prada’s actual customers? Not according to the demos.  If it weren’t for the gravitas Meryl Streep brought, it could actually have devalued the brand by providing pedestrian exposure.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle; Perfect! Many brands would prefer not to define themselves as the go-to stop for curing the munchies, but since White Castle was obviously cool with it, score!

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man; Okay, we’re reaching back into history a little here, but this 1991 film was released one year after into tobacco industry’s declared moratorium on product placement.  By all accounts the title was an artistic choice and neither Harley Davidson nor Marlboro bought the exposure.  However, whether they did or not, this was the perfect movie to follow the title.  Was it a good movie?  It’s one star/24% Rotten Tomatoes rating would suggest not. But the title places the brands nicely.

I Love You Phillip Morris; Irrelevant title, so little brand benefit. This Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor starrer contains something to offend everyone, including a title that lifts Marlboro’s parent company’s name (but changes one letter, assumedly to avoid legal discussions).  This film is so weird any name might have fit. The fact that it’s based on a true story only makes it weirder.

Magnum Force; Perfect. Clint Eastwood brandishes the titular weapon and if I were a gun manufacturer, I don’t think I could possibly hope for more.

The Lincoln Lawyer; Not bad, but Not Good. The problem here is that while the lawyer referred to in the title drives and works out of a Lincoln, it’s an old Lincoln. Furthermore, having the name of the car in the title next to the word “lawyer,” could suggest that the lawyer is comparable to Abe, himself a famous lawyer.  This means neither the title nor the use of the vehicle do much to promote the brand.  It was a pretty good film, though.

So, maybe having a brand in a title is really only impactful if the match is made in Hollywood heaven. Otherwise, it may just be a title, or worse, detrimental to the brand.

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Syms Clothing is a chain of stores that began decades ago in Lyndhurst, N.J.  (They are not a HERO client, which makes that mention a product placement within a product placement blog!)  Back in the 80’s the chain ran a TV commercial in heavy rotation which featured a slogan that possessed enough substance to stick, “Syms, where an educated consumer is our best customer.”

Actually, a Forbes magazine’s exposé in 2009 revealed that in Syms case nothing could be further from the truth.  The basis of their success is the sale of lesser quality suits with very high quality names, produced in legal but cleverly deceptive ways. However, the notion of a business succeeding based on consumer knowledge was compelling.

In today’s world of entertainment marketing, you might wonder if product placement is right for your brand, product or company. HERO has taken the Syms slogan totally to heart, which means we don’t actually do sales – we educate. In the earliest stages of investigation some brands wonder how to contact companies for product placement. We believe that an initial conversation may have very little to do with hiring and much more to do with exchanging information about the brand and the agency. Unless a brand has experience in this area, our first conversation is based entirely in education; educating ourselves about the client’s business and exposure desires and educating them about how HERO could help achieve those goals.  We don’t add everyone who calls to our roster. Sometimes that’s because the call was simply exploratory and the brand isn’t ready to commit to a program or sometimes it’s because we don’t believe what we offer is perfect for the brand. When an inquiring brand feels comfortable with HERO and we feel we can go above and beyond providing the services they require, then we can move forward together.  In many cases this leads to agency/client relationships that flourish for more than a decade!

If you represent a brand or product and you’re considering product placement as a way to gain cost-effective mass exposure within films and TV shows, contacting HERO is a great way to start because (all together now), “An educated consumer is our best customer!”


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The paparazzi may take the pictures lots of people want to see but the paparazzi don’t tend to be well-liked. Well, we at HERO Entertainment Marketing certainly like the one who took this picture of Sofia Vergara!  Taken during the shooting of the film, “Chef,” the intrepid shutterbug didn’t only capture the image of the voluptuous actress, but her lovely handbag.  The handbag, as it happens, is a product placement made by HERO for our client Glass Handbag. Had the bag been opened, the photographer would have had additional lighting source for the shot; the bag’s interior illuminates up when the bag is opened!

Chef - sofia Vergara












One of the things HERO assures our clients is that, provided the material doesn’t conflict with their brand image, virtually any brand integration or simple product placement we present them with, is worth executing.  When the product(s) are on the set anything can happen and media impressions could potentially be acquired and that, ultimately, is the name of the game.

In a previous blog post we shared a press beauty shot from the film, “About Last Night,” that featured a Zoo York logo.  That exact shot never actually made it into the film, but Zoo York received who-knows-how-many impressions from the still in the film’s EPK.  In the case of Sofia and the Glass Handbag, we won’t know how the finished product will look on the screen for months, but we can already celebrate a great hands-on shot with the star.  And, in this case, the paparazzi stills may actually be more beneficial to our client that the screen result because it associates the brand with the actress not the film and what women’s fashion accessory wouldn’t want to be associated with this omnipresent and decidedly fashionable bombshell?

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The recent announcement of David Letterman’s retirement and even more recent naming of Steven Colbert to ascend Letterman’s throne are not in and of themselves product placement related blogging material, but there is a tie in.  The Wall St. Journal wasted no time getting the news out about Colbert’s love of brand integration.  I will let the “The daily diary of the American dream,” explain for themselves…


April 10, 2014, 1:13 PM ET

For Brands, Two Sides To Colbert

Stephen Colbert’s big move to the late-night TV big leagues will present new opportunities for marketers. But, judging by their dealings with him over the years, there are also some risks.

CBS announced Thursday that Mr. Colbert will succeed David Letterman as the host of “The Late Show.”

Although advertiser-friendly, Mr. Colbert  has a unique style in how he peddles brands and a history of satirizing some of those that sponsor his show.

He enlisted Doritos, for example, to sponsor his mock-presidential run which he dubbed:  “Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert’s Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign Coverage.”

In 2012, Mr. Colbert mocked Wheat Thins, a sponsor of his show. He made fun of the cracker by reading aloud from the memo that Kraft had sent him to prepare him for the product placement. Despite the ribbing, the company was happy with all the attention.

One advertiser is already giving the move a thumbs up.

“I think he really understands how to integrate brands in a very authentic way,” said Bonin Bough, vice president of global media at Mondelez International, the maker of products such as Oreos, Wheat Thins, and Ritz Crackers. “In fact on this new platform I think he will be able to create more interesting and far reaching monetization opportunities. I’m very excited,” he added.

Mr. Colbert also appeared in a Super Bowl ad this year for “Wonderful Pistachios,” a TV spot that mocked the idea of celebrity pitches.

Advertisers have rewarded the comedian with more ad dollars. Marketers shelled out $59.7 million on ads for his program last year, a 10% hike from 2012, according to Kantar Media.

CBS is hoping he will bring that ad trend with him. By contrast, ad spending on Mr. Letterman’s “Late Show” shrunk about 9% over the same period. Still, Letterman took in $129.6 million in ad dollars last year.


There seems to be little evidence of Letterman doing pitches during his long history on the Late Show. The only “Brand” the departing host appears to have featured is Russell Brand.

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Product placement takes on myriad forms. Of course there are the organic placements in scripted TV shows and films, the often fee-based placements in reality and competitions shows, but there’s yet another area…talk shows. The primary differentiation between HERO’s placements in scripted material is the fee; in scripted is there more often than not, no fee due to production. However, in talk shows there is usually some additional expense. Not all brands are perfectly suited for this kind of placement, but those that are can get some pretty amazing results for a surprisingly fair price.

Placement on a talk show can generally be negotiated but two conditions must be met: the item for placement must be appropriate for the show and one of those items must be given to each member of the studio audience and, typically, have a retail value of $100 or more. There are ways to build on that by negotiating for Facebook posts, tweets and links from the show’s website to the brand’s. Here, as in virtually all product placements, a brand is apt to derive the best results from their placement if it’s negotiated by a reputable agency (we’d be happy to recommend one… ). HERO has made some interesting placements on talk shows including a Sleep Number Bed demonstration in a sleep segment on “The View” (no, they didn’t have to give everyone in the audience a bed!) a K-Mart donation to a worthy recipient on Ellen and product giveaways for various brands on Rachel Ray, Wendy Williams, Steve Harvey and more.

But it wasn’t until HERO did a placement on Bethenny that things got weird. Bethenny has a segment on her show called, “Bethenny in your Business.” This is a recurring segment on the hit talk show where hostess Bethenny Frankel’s business expertise is put to use advising and assisting new businesses. On the February 19th show, Squlz (pronounced Skulls), a company that sells Velcro bracelets with interchangeable patches will get more than just advice. The home business started by a mom and her kids in Miami, Florida, will also stand to get the kind of integrated exposure usually only enjoyed by more established brands.  It was Bethenny’s feeling that the company would benefit from product placement. HERO was very flattered to get the call from the producers who described us thus, “Bethenny wants her friend to be represented by the best in the business.” So, HERO now proudly represents Squlz and may be the first product placement agency in history to actually be a product placement itself!

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What is a Perfect Product Placement?

We all know that product placement means integrating a brand into a TV show or film, but what is a perfect example of one? Truth be told, there is no one one answer to this question. In fact the answer changes for every brand and every placement. A single brand could have various versions of what they would view as perfect.

For example, the African American DJ character in the hit Liam Neeson film Non-Stop is wearing a clearly branded Rocawear hoodie placed by HERO. That is a perfect product placement: the right guy, the right film, the right wardrobe. Had that same character been wearing HERO client Ed Hardy or if Neeson would have been wearing Rocawear, the exposure would have been a failure. The job of a placement is to reinforce the brand image and a character wearing the wrong logo actually does a brand a disservice.

Another example: Haworth Chairs are upscale and green. Placing the chairs on shows like “The Good Wife” or in films like the Oscar nominated “Her” are appropriate and reinforces the brand nicely.  Placing the chairs in Max and Caroline’s apartment on “2 Broke Girls,” would create a poor brand association.

A good product placement agency has an in-depth knowledge of their client’s branding initiatives and placement assets and uses a combination of information and materials not just to obtain any exposure they can, but to seek out and seize the perfect product placements, or PPP.

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HERO Entertainment Marketing is in its seventeenth year of operation. A product placement agency cannot possible be in business for more than fifteen minutes before the Reese’s Pieces placement in ET comes up in conversation.  People wonder how it happened, how much it cost the brand and, for the real insiders, did M&Ms really pass up the placement before Reese’s got it?  The answers are: M&M passed, not a dime and yes!  M&Ms were, in fact, offered the placement first and passed on it, there was no fee attached to the inclusion (though a promotion was later negotiated) and sales went nuts!

Snopes did a great investigation and, while there were only so many behind the scenes machinations they could trace, the bigger facts were revealed.  Here’s some of what the fact checking site reported:

During production of E.T., Amblin Productions approached Mars, Inc. about a possible tie-in between M&Ms and the film. For whatever reason, Mars said “No” to the proposition. Many purported reasons for that negative response have been provided by a variety of sources: Mars decided it didn’t want its bite-size candy associated with an extraterrestrial living with an earth family, or it thought the film’s premise just a bit too otherworldly, or an unnamed M&M executive decided nobody would want to see a movie about an alien adopted by a lonely kid…

Hershey did not pay to have Reese’s Pieces used in E.T., but it did agree to do a tie-in between the movie and the candy after the film was released. A deal was inked wherein Hershey Foods agreed to promote E.T. with $1 million of advertising; in return, Hershey could use E.T. in its own ads. 

Needless to say, sales went through the roof (without needing a flying bicycle). Increases of up to 85% were reported at the time.

Snopes did include an interesting addendum to the story; though ET was not based on a book, it was novelized after the success of the film.  In the book, penned by respected Sc-Fi writer William Kotzwinkle, M&Ms returned and replaced the candy that replaced them!

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First things first: HERO client Haworth Chairs made a cameo during the Oscars as part of the clip from the best picture nominated Her. Like the awesome logoed Rocawear shirt that grabbed some mad screen love in the trailers and released clips from the Liam Neeson #1 weekend release Non-Stop, we can never predict how much top shelf exposure our client’s placements will get.

Okay, now on to the Oscars. Remember the twitter-crashing mega-selfie Ellen Degeneres took with her superstar friends? What if that wasn’t an impetuous decision? What if it was planned (dramatic music sting)? According to an Advertising Age article published a few days before the Oscar ceremony, Samsung and ABC knew there would be exposure in the offing. Here are a few fun facts that dispel the just-foolin-around myth the selfie is enjoying.

First, understand that the selfie was shot on a Samsung phone:

– Samsung has been ranked No. 5 in the top Oscar advertisers From 2009-2013, it spent $24 million

– Samsung purchased more than five minutes of airtime during Sunday night’s Academy Awards broadcast.

– The Oscar TV creative work will also appear on digital and social media, and on network, cable and online after show.

– Samsung is a top digital ad buyer too. ABC sells display and video ads on and the mobile app.

– Samsung sponsored a series of tweets of celeb selfies.

So the evidence makes it pretty clear that Ellen wasn’t just clicking away with her clique; she was hawking a brand. There is a thin line between brand integration and product placement. generally it’s based on the overt nature of the brand’s presence.  For instance, the Cokes on the judge’s desk on American Idol is an obvious brand integration. But here, as we watch Ellen just messing around with what we assume is her own smartphone, never saying the brand’s name or really putting the logo in our face, we fall into a grey area. Fortunately, we do have one more bullet point that put the whole onscreen use issue in perspective.  According to Slate Magazine, Ellen apparently switched to her iPhone when she thought no one was looking!  She sent this tweet 12 minutes earlier—note the “via Twitter for iPhone” stamp.

Ellen iphone tweet

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The HERO website looks like a comic book and the HERO logo is a tribute to Superman’s “S” so when people interact with us they tend to assume we named the agency after the branding.  Believe it of not, that is actually not the case. Choosing HERO as our name certainly made branding our product placement agency a lot easier, but the real story of why we chose it is actually pretty interesting.

HERO props are hands on items that are integral to a scene or the story overall.  These are things that might be held by a lead character, be used in the course of accomplishing a task that is pivotal to the story or receives attention on camera that can’t be overlooked.  A close up of a prop is usually a good sign that it’s a hero. Truth be told, a hero prop doesn’t even have to actually be an official “prop.”

By definition, a prop (short for “property”) is any movable article or object used on the set of a TV show or movie.  These could include a wide range of items like weapons, food or drinks, books, laptops, sports equipment, etc.  Some examples of hero props HERO provides to production as product placement include Panda Express containers and cups, Turkey Hill Ice Cream containers, most recently seen in the Golden Globe nominated “Enough Said,” and Haworth chairs, which can be seen on pretty much everything (or, to be more specific, under pretty much everyone).  Generally productions will require duplicates of props on set in case one becomes unusable for some reason.

Set items include virtually everything the camera sees that actors don’t actually touch.  That would include pretty much everything! So, if the scenario were an airport and we were following a spy, the spy would be called the “talent,” the suitcase handcuffed to his wrist would be a “hero prop,” the suitcases, luggage carriages, newspapers and all other items held by surrounding actors would just be “props” and all of the signs, check in counters, advertisements, etc. would be “sets.”  All props are procured by someone called a “property master” and all set pieces would be provided by a “set decorator.”  Both of those titles usually work with their own small staff and their work is overseen by the production designer and ultimately, the director.

As a product placement agency, HERO acts as a sort of free prop house for productions.  Unlike a standard prop house where props (hero and otherwise) are rented, HERO loans production branded items (that are legally cleared) for no charge. This saves productions money and provides onscreen exposure for our clients.  It’s a wonderfully symbiotic relationship.  After seventeen years of operation, HERO enjoys close personal and professional relationships with prop and set personnel as well as production designers and even the studio lawyers that monitor the legal clearances of branded products within the shows.

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How can a product placement agency help promote a brand by specifically preventing them from appearing in a film or TV show?  When the placement is negative!

Case in point; HERO recently received a script from a major studio – we receive about 200 feature film scripts a year – starring an A-list actor.  One of the two lead characters in the film is a real estate broker. There are even scenes in the real estate office that would be ideal for exposing a brand.  HERO has represented RE/MAX, the franchiser of the global RE/MAX network, for more than a decade and it is our job to seek out and deliver opportunities for the brand.  But, in this case, though the heavily featured character is a real estate agent, he is also a compulsive gambler, a liar, a cheat and a thief!  Sure we find some sympathy for him as the story unfolds but he does not display an image that a global real estate RE/MAX would like to present for its 90,000 sales associates in their more than 90 countries worldwide.  So, not only does HERO not recommend the brand for the character, we pro-actively contact the production and insure that the character’s real estate agency and agent not be RE/MAX!

Even though logic would suggest that a product placement agency would jump at the chance to have a client featured heavily in any major motion picture, not all exposures are the kind our clients want. A conscientious agency like HERO Entertainment Marketing, which the LA Times dubbed “Product placement with a conscience” should think beyond simply getting exposure to making sure it’s the right kind.  And that’s just what we do.  We make sure the exposure truly benefits the brand, or at the very least doesn’t damage the brand with a negative association.  We call it a “secret service” because our clients don’t always realize we provide it until they’re actually receiving it.  When we read in a script or learn from production that one of our clients, or even a brand within the same category as one of our clients might be represented negatively, we take action.  First we notify our client about the situation, then we contact production and inform them that they are not to use our client in the context scripted. Negative exposures can be detrimental to a brand just as positive exposures are progressive so preventing them is the second most valuable service we offer.

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Back in 2002 HERO received a call inquiring about our services. The call was from Tom Sullivan, founder of Lumber Liquidators. He wanted product placement representation for what was then a small chain of thirty-five hardwood flooring stores.  Though there was no real product placement model for a brand of this type, we believed that if we put the right amount of effort and creativity into the account we could succeed.  Eleven years later, Lumber Liquidators is a publicly traded company with 255 locations and HERO is still on board. In fact, Tom himself said, “(HERO) helped turn Lumber Liquidators from a no name company to the largest supplier of hardwood flooring in the US.”  So, how did we do it?

As with any brand HERO represents the first thing we did was evaluate the assets the brand could provide to productions.  Of course the flooring itself was obvious, so we immediately went to work on home improvement shows, a program category that was just getting started.  Beyond just providing flooring and negotiating verbal mentions, HERO arranged for location shoots, truck delivery shots and branded apparel exposures.  To date the brand has appeared in dozens of home improvement shows airing on the DIY, Bravo, CMT, Univision, The Food Network, HGTV, ABC, etc.

But the unique onscreen hits would extend much further than simply trading hardwood flooring for exposure:

-HERO forged a relationship between the brand and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that spanned nine seasons and resulted in over 1.8 billion impressions.  The relationship between the brand and the show grew so close that Ty Pennington became the obvious choice as one of the brand’s spokesmen.   The brand’s relationship with the HGTV hit, Property Brothers became so close the twins made a promotional visit to one of the stores.

-Having a fleet of branded tractor trailers offered opportunities of their own.  Independent of any flooring use, the trucks scored wide body exposure in such films as Get Smart, Wild Hogs and Guess Who?.


Get Smart LL









-While keeping tangible assets like the trucks, the stores and the flooring itself working, HERO simultaneously exploited digital art files.  The great thing about digital assets like signage and even TV commercials is that they can be copied indefinitely for no cost and, in any cases, delivered electronically.  The Lumber Liquidators logo is frequently seen in real world sports arenas and stadiums so it would stand to reason that it would be seen in fictitious versions like the rink in The Tooth Fairy and all over the arena in Dodgeball.  William Shatner even called it out as a sponsor in the latter.  The digital files kept the exposures coming with signage in The Amazing Spiderman, a taxicab hat in The Adjustment Bureau and a NYC sidewalk advertisement in Wall St. 2.

-A digital file of the brand’s TV commercial put them in front of viewers of Sex in the City 2, Monster’s Ball and Stephen King’s The Dead Zone.

-HERO makes it our business to learn about every promotional component our clients implement.  For instance HERO learned that Lumber Liquidators sponsors a NASCAR truck team. So when we discovered a new home improvement show called NASCAR Angels we saw another potential fit. While the show usually dealt with offering deserving guests car repairs they couldn’t otherwise afford, the episode that featured Lumber Liquidators chronicled the repair of a trailer… with hard wood floors. As a bonus, the brand’s sponsored driver, Todd Bodine appeared on camera!

-Another creative approach to exposure involved the brand sponsoring a bowling team in the Pierce Brosnan / Sarah Jessica Parker feature film, I Don’t Know How She Does It.  In real life Lumber Liquidators already sponsors the Pro Bowlers Association so spotting a bowling league opportunity in the script was a natural fit.   HERO provided digital logos, the costume designer branded the apparel and we scored a perfect strike on screen with team Lumber Liquidators receiving both visual and verbal recognition.


IDHHSDI logo idontknowhowshedoesit LLb idontknowhowshedoesit LLa













-Then the miscellaneous exposures along the way like Kiefer Sutherland drinking from a  Lumber Liquidator’s mug in the feature film Mirrors, a fictitious branded gift card bought by Andy in Weeds and even a flooring giveaway on Let’s Make a Deal.

In product placement, like life, the way to success often requires seeing beyond the obvious.  For Lumber Liquidators and HERO, embracing this philosophy has resulted in a very long and successful relationship.

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Internship - GG

It’s Friday night, June 2nd (not now… in the story) and Julie and I are watching TV (we’re married to HERO and each other).  The phone rings at about 10:15 and we’re surprised because we’re both comfortably over forty and people over forty who don’t have teenage kids don’t get calls at night.  The caller ID tells me it’s our clients, Rick and Jen from The Green Garmento.  When possible we try to maintain some level of personal as well as professional relationship with the brands we represent so the call was hardly an imposition.  When I hit “accept call” I am inundated with an avalanche of undecipherable excited laughing and shouting.  It took me about one second to grasp what was happening.

The Green Garmento is a reusable dry cleaning bag (as well as a garment bag, laundry bag and hamper bag). You may have seen it on Shark Tank.  HERO placed a slew of them in the film “The Internship” starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.  When we can we like to offer our clients perks like tickets to the premieres of films into which we have placed their products.  That was the case here and clearly, Rick and Jen had just emerged from the theater.

In sixteen years of representing brands for product placement we have never heard this kind of excitement!  Frankly, we couldn’t even make out half of what they said. The words were gushing out of them like water from a decapitated fire hydrant.  The gist was this; we scored them some crazy-good exposure; hands on, sharing the screen with star cast for an unbelievable amount of time.  Because Julie is hopelessly addicted to product placement, this news rushed into her like a syringe full of vitamin B-12. She did not sleep that night.

This is what brand integration is all about; the right product in the right property for the right reasons.  You can already check out the exposure online because the scene has been released as promo (which means even more impressions!) here:

For more information about how your products or services can get this kind of exposure, give us a call… we’ll be up.