With increasing brand proliferation, media clutter and noise, marketers are always exploring new avenues to promote brands. One such opportunity is product placement in feature films. The term product placement refers to the practice of including a brand name, product, package, signage or other trademark merchandise within a motion picture, television show or music video. In Hollywood, this practice goes back five decades. While this practice was motivated by life-like images, the producers soon realised the commercial value of brand placements. Apparently, the top five grossing movies of 1990 had more than 1670 product placements.

Some brands using cinema in Hollywood as a communication channel successfully are; Ray Ban which Tom Cruise wears in Top Gun, Star Bucks in You Have Got Mail, FedEx in Runaway Bride and Castaway, Omega and BMW in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.
Recently Indian producers have also been moving in a similar direction with Coke in Taal, Hum Saath Saath Hain, and Yaadein, Hero Honda in Hero, Pepsi in Phir bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Pass Pass in Yaadein. These are just a few examples. As in everything, there are pros and cons of product placements in films.

It is argued that the marketer gets a wider exposure, a captive audience, and brand reinforcement if the story and the character have a good fit with the brand. It is wonderful if the film is a hit or if the music is a superhit. Even for an average film you get reasonable exposure not to mention the association and imagery; consumer exposures of certainly more than 60 seconds, brands as part of ‘real people’ being used in ‘real situations’.
On the other hand, films tell us stories through imagery, symbols, metaphors and archetypes. For example, a character may be wearing a bindi and a mangalsutra and other marks of marital status and the sum total of all those convey the impression that she is married. However, one would not be able to recall each item individually. It is the gestalt and not the individual pieces that create a situation or a character. Does the brand have any recall?

Memories are short and ‘shelf lifes’ of films shorter. There are forever new films and new stories that dislodge and replace old ones. Compare an extended single OTS of a film with frequently repeated ads on TV on your favourite soap. Films are about entertainment, they are about exploring fantasies and sometimes suspension of beliefs and the protagonist is the hero. Contrast this with an ad where the protagonist is the brand. Even humdrum lives on the screen have a magic, drama and fantasy of their own.

Since Marshall McLuhan, it has been recognised that the medium is the message. However, there is not enough concrete knowledge of the effect that individual media have on particular groups of consumers.

So what is the role of films in message delivery?

Having said that, there are products that would do well to feature in films; lifestyle products such as cars, watches and garments.

Imagine a Qualis carrying the whole Hum Aapke Hain Kaun family. What better association with a family car with lots of space or Hrithik Roshan on a Kawasaki Bajaj in Kaho Na Pyar Hai. Liquor, watches, apparel, perfumes, and such like products would do well to feature in films and marketers keep their fingers crossed that the film is a hit and as many people see the film as is possible.

Research by Millward Brown spanning 14 countries shows how viewers percieve ads in different media. Unfortunately, the study does not cover films; ads on TV and the Internet are seen to be creative albeit manipulative. In contrast, Outdoor, Magazines, and Newpapers ads are viewed as creative and collaborative. The single most important thing that emerges is that TV is seen to be manipulative by viewers and possibly product placements in films are likely to score over TV ads.