How to make product placement work for you

Driving past McDonald’s today I noted a large poster displaying a decidedly ugly-looking family called the Croods, pre-historic stars of a new 3D animation from DreamWorks. Knowing that Hollywood producers of expensive 3D computer-generated animations for children don’t take a dump without a plan to interlock their cartoon characters with a nationwide campaign for ancillary product sales, I was highly confident that had I pulled in for a McWeasel sandwich and a Happy Meal I would have received some kind of Croods-oriented collectible toy. It’s a natural. I haven’t yet seen the movie but I can imagine a scene involving a Paleolithic Era version of the golden arches with a sign that says “over 10 sold.”

Product placements in movies, and the cross-marketing of movie elements into industries like restaurants and toy makers irritates me, but I accept the financial logic of it. With so much content now consumed on tiny-screen mobile devices along with the rise of products like Dish Network’s AdHop which allows viewers to skip over advertisements, what else can a consumer products company do to capture audience attention? For a glimpse of the future of product placement, tune into a professional golf tournament and you’ll see all manner of garish advertising affixed to the clothing, hats, and golf bags of the competitors to an extent that borders on the ludicrous. Would you want to wear a hat that seems to declare you a SAP? I guess for a quarter mil, sure.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, a good walk spoiled by human billboards.

OK – if movie cross-marketing is the way of the future I suggest dropping all pretense of propriety and maximize revenue by using these examples as templates:

Test drive an Aston Martin and get a James Bond action figure. Go whole hog and drop 300K on a V-12 Aston Martin Vanquish and take home the entire James Bond collection, including the hard-to-find George Lazenby figure, complete with wide-lapel tuxedo jacket.

Stay at the pricey Beverly Wilshire Hotel where lots of action took place in “Pretty Woman” and take home the Julia Roberts doll. Dress her up to look like a waitress in a pizza parlor, or add a tight bustier and turn her into an activist environmental lawyer. Anatomically correct.

Eat at 21 in NYC where a scene from “Wall Street” was filmed and get one of the prizes in the Gordon Gekko collection: duck confit hair grease, a non-working cell-phone the size of a shoe-box, red power suspenders, or a picture of Gordon bitch-slapping Charlie Sheen in the rain.

Send a package with FedEx and take home something from the “Castaway” collection. A new prize with every box you ship! How about the Wilson volleyball kit? Slice your hand with the sterile knife (included) and customize Wilson with your own bloody handprint. What say you to having the instructions on how to knock out one of your molars with an ice skate? Tom Hanks’s secret recipe for raw crab legs? It’s all there.

Buy a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the favorite beer of psychopath Frank in “Blue Velvet” and Dennis Hopper will record one of several greetings on your home answering machine. Choose from one of the following greetings:

1) “You’ve reached the phone mail of (fill in the blank). What are you gonna say about me? That I am a kind man? That I am a wise man? That I had plans, man? That I had wisdom? Bullshit, man!” – adapted from “Apocalypse Now.”

2) “Leave a message for (fill in the blank) after the– Wow. I was watching this object man, li-like the satellite that I saw the other night, right? And, like, it was going right across the sky, man, and then… I mean it just suddenly, uh, it just changed direction and went whizzin right off, man. It flashed— sorry, man. Leave a message after the beep.” – adapted from “Easy Rider.”

3) “Please leave a message for (fill in the blank). Oh, and allow me to add, I’ll fuck anything that moves!” – adapted from “Blue Velvet.”

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