Have you ever wondered how businesses get their products featured in those fast-paced, action thrillers we all love?
Do you have to be friends with the directors or producers to get your product in the shot? And if not, is it even affordable?
It sure is.
That may come as a surprise to you (it did to us), which is why we’re bringing on an expert in the product-placement industry to explain how it works, what you need to know, and how to get YOUR products in movies.
Mark McFann is the CEO of Cast a Long Shadow — a marketing firm based in Fort Collins, CO, that focuses predominantly on product placement and entertainment marketing. He’s had products featured in some of your favorite blockbusters, including The Avengers, Salt, and Iron Man.
YOUR product could be featured in the next Marvel movie, so read on to find out how!
With an MBA in marketing, Mark McFann has always been an advertising guru. He’s worked for a number of marketing companies over the years. His family started a small industrial lubricants business in Texas called Royal Purple, and early in his career, they invited him to the board to develop a consumer market division so that they could build awareness about their products to the mass public.
As he stepped into this role, Mark knew that he wanted to do something a little bit different that no one in the lubricant industry was doing — product placement.
Product placement is an invaluable tool to culturalize a brand and create top-of-mind awareness. Over the course of ten years, Royal Purple went from a few retailers to having 25,000 retailers nationwide. In 2012, they were the third best-selling brand of open motor oil, which gave them the leverage to set the business up for a profit.
With the huge success of Royal Purple, Mark saw that product placement didn’t just work — it transformed business and tripled their growth. That’s when his marketing firm, Cast a Long Shadow, was born. They serve regular clients, one-time clients, niche clients, and everyone in between!
Naturally, we wanted to learn how we all can get our products featured in movies. Mark broke down the process into actionable steps.
Most likely, you’re not going to get your product in movies by begging the prop master or sending desperate emails. Unless you’re good friends with one of the high-level managers of the film, you’re going to need to have an agency on your side!
Here’s the good news — there are a lot of wonderful agencies out there, including Mark’s! If you’re unsure where to start, Mark had some great advice:
“There’s a great resource called ERMA. It’s the Entertainment Resource Marketing Association. … It lists companies like mine that specialize in product placement. … Talk to [some agencies] and find out what are some of things that [they’ve] done in the past that have been successful. … If there’s an agency that is authentic and legitimate, … they’re probably going to be involved with ERMA because it’s a trade organization that really strives to increase the level of professionalism with all the folks who are doing placement.” – Mark McFann
After finishing this post, head over to ERMA and see if you can find a product-placement agency near you!
After you choose the right agency for you, it’s time to consider the financial aspect of things. Naturally, if you choose to go the retainer route, you’re investing more; however, it means more benefits.
“The retainer model is … the de-facto norm, but it really doesn’t make sense for every brand. … [It] makes more sense for mainstream products. … I mean, there’s a reason why Apple is one of the most seen brands on the planet. … [It’s harder for niche products], so … to try to get product placement on an ongoing basis using a retainer model doesn’t make sense.” – Mark McFann
Depending on your product, a retainer may or may not be right for you. If you have a niche product, it will be more difficult for agencies to place your product in films, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t see the return on your investment!
The next step? It’s not in your hands anymore! Your agency will take care of the rest. However, keep in mind that there is a lead time when it comes to films. Films can take anywhere from nine months to 18 months to get filmed, edited, produced, and marketed. Product placement is a long game, but we promise you — it works.
Now, since product placement could potentially have a long lead time, you may be wondering, “How can I measure the ROI?” We had the same question, and according to Mark, measuring your ROI is “pretty bloody simple.”
“You know what the box office results are … the size of the audience. All you have to do is take the amount that you spent, whether it be a retainer fee or if it’s an actual paid placement and you can do the math and get your ROI, basically a CPM, just like you would with any traditional marketing.” – Mark McFann
So, to play this out, let’s say that RT paid $10,000 to put a watch on Robert Downey Jr.’s wrist in his next film. That movie is seen by an average of a hundred million people. Then, you just divide $10,000 by a hundred million. That’s $0.0001, meaning that you spend that much money per 1,000 impressions. Another word for that is CPM, or cost per mille (the Latin word for a thousand). And the best news is the impressions only grow over time, increasing your brand awareness for years and years.
“What is great too about theatrical releases specifically is the CPM decreases over time because after it’s been seen in the theater, then it goes to streaming and DVD and hotels and airplanes. It’s one of the few forms of advertising that actually decreases in CPM.” – Mark McFann
Typically, your product will be returned to you after the film has been finalized if it wasn’t a food, beverage, or another expendable; however, there are cases when you can gift it to the actor or director!
The point is — even if you don’t get your product back, millions and millions of people now recognize your brand, and since it’s tied to one of their favorite movies, they have to pick one up!
Can I Afford Product-Placement if I’m Just Starting Out as an Entrepreneur?
Product placement sounds great, right? But what if you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur and marketing your product? You may have zero budget, so what do you do?
“[Product placement] is great for emerging brands because again when you’re an emerging brand, you’re trying to gain awareness — you’re trying to become culturally relevant. … You do have to have a bit of budget, but it’s a lot cheaper than people would think. We structure our retainer fees … on the product category, but it’s very affordable. We typically charge about the same or less than a PR firm to put it in percentage.” – Mark McFann
Here’s a way to think about it — as a new entrepreneur, you need to raise awareness about your product. If you can’t do that, then you’re not going to succeed in the competitive market, whether you’re selling sparkling water, beef jerky, or baby monitors. One way to do this is through public relations — through magazines, radio, and other publications. You’ll definitely build brand awareness that way, but imagine how many more brand impressions you’ll receive if your product is in a movie? The CPM is so low, and it only gets lower!
“I had a recent pending client … [who] wanted to talk about ROI, and there was a film that I got them involved with just to introduce them to the whole process. … And I said, ‘Here is what our retainer fees would be for the entire year. Now, if this [franchise] film does what the previous films have done, … a range of $750 million, … your CPM for this one film is only 11 cents.” – Mark McFann
As a new entrepreneur, a product-placement retainer may be a substantial investment, but the ROI is huge — worth it.
One question we had for Mark was whether or not you can use the film as marketing material on your social media, website, or other business platforms. Is that legal? Is it helpful? Here’s what Mark had to say:
“First of all, I’m not an attorney. … But the [film] industry by and large [understands] the way [product placement] works, and they want us to be successful because it helps filmmakers to have real brands, and it lowers their cost if they don’t have to go out and buy products or rent them to be in their films. So, but to get back to your question, it really depends on the film [and] how much you’re involved. If you’re a promotional partner on a film where, as part of your deal with placement, … the studio agreed that you’ll do X to promote the film — social media campaigns, sweepstakes advertising, [etc.] — usually they’ll give you, you know, almost carte blanche to do any sort of posting whatever you want to do.” – Mark McFann
If your product shows up in the next Fast and Furious movie, you can definitely make a post saying, “Hey! Check out the new Fast and Furious. You’ll find our product there!” However, if you want to use certain clips or screenshots, it’s a bit more complicated — maybe even illegal!
“You’re going to have a hard time even getting access to [the film] because while it’s in theaters. You can’t get it unless you go in and take a picture of it in the theater, which is illegal, and you’re going to jail for that.” – Mark McFann
This is just one of the reasons you don’t want to do product placement on your own. With a knowledgeable agency behind you, you’ll know the do’s and don’ts of using their film to promote your brand outside of the product placement.
Product placement isn’t just reserved for Fortune 500 companies and hot shot entrepreneurs. Even if you’re just starting out, you can get your products in movies! Head over to ERMA and find an agency that’s right for you! Even better, check out Cast a Long Shadow and get Mark on your team! You won’t regret it.
RT sure didn’t regret it when Russell Crowe held one of his watches in his hand, and you won’t either.
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RT and Tyler