Product Placement vs. Intellectual Property

If I understand product placement correctly, company X pays the movie-maker to make sure all the characters in the movie drink nothing but X Cola or wear X sunglasses, or there are prominent X billboards in the background. But what if the movie is written so that brand X figures in a plot point?

For example, in an old episode of NYPD Blue, a guy (I forget if he was a suspect or a witness) refused to speak unless he got an unlimited supply of Coca-Cola. 2 ltr. bottles of Coke were displayed prominently. How does this work? Did the TV-show-makers say, “This character must be a Coke drinker, and therefore we will pay any fees to use the Coca-Cola name”? Or would Coke have approached the TV people and offered them money to make sure our interogee was a Coke drinker?

I guess what I’m trying to ask is, if it’s the creator of the program’s idea to use a specific real-life brand name, who pays? Or does the creator ever actually choose? Is it always a matter of the placement going to the highest bidder?

I hope this makes sense.

IANA movie producer.

The last one. Coca-Cola certainly has a much greater profit from the bottles being displayed prominently than the prodcers have.

Does it go to the highest bidder? Well, I’d WAG in some sense yes, but I don’t think there are auctions going on. The producers negotiate a deal with a few companies that would pay for product placement, and if they come to an agreement with one of them that souns good to the producers, the deal is made. It’s all fixed well in advance.

The most impudent product placement deals IMHO were The Lost World, the Jurassic Park sequel, where there were brand logos on screen all the time, and BMW’s presence in the last few James Bond movies.

The product being shown always pays, but it can be the film producers who approach the corporate folks looking for placement deals.

Some people in the company I work for was very upset at how their product was placed in the film Evolution. The marketing folks apparently signed over the rights to use the product’s image without considering how it would be used. Mistake (although I didn’t think it was so bad).

If I recall correctly, the Reeses Pieces used to lure ET in ET were originally supposed to be m&Ms, but Reeses gave the producers a better deal…

I heard that M&M turned them down.

Ah for the happy days when movie producers had to ask permission to use a product.

I believe there was a brief round of bidding over the Junior Mints/operating room bit on Seinfeld. They hadn’t specified the candy in the script, and Junior Mints were the ones who agreed to it/gave the most $ (They approached several people). I’ll see if I can find a cite.

I believe there was a brief round of bidding over the Junior Mints/operating room bit on Seinfeld. They hadn’t specified the candy in the script, and Junior Mints were the ones who agreed to it/gave the most $ (They approached several people). I’ll see if I can find a cite.


There is no requirement for a movie producer to ask permission to use a particular product. If the show has a script that says “I want a Coke,” they can shoot it just like that without asking anyone. Coke can object (especially if the trademark was used incorrectly), but they cannot stop you.

Nowadays, of course, they work out placement deals. It’s better for the bottom line of the production if Coke pays for the mention. So scripts are usually written so that brand names can be dropped in as necessary. If Coke had asked for too much money, NYPD Blue would have gone to Pepsi. If neither was willing to pay enough, the producers could have shot the scene with Coke anyway – but probably wouldn’t, simply because it’d be hard to get money from Coke the next time if they already got a plug for free.

Producers never had to ask permission; they just avoided using brand names because they didn’t want to plug a product for free.

Ultimately, though, the first amendment trumps trademark law – if you choose to use a trademark in a work of fiction, the company can’t stop you. They can warn you about it – it helps establish their case if someone does challenge the trademark – but they won’t do anything more. (Why? What if they sued you and lost?)

Trivia – probably the first use of product placement in the movies was in the Marx’s Brother’s Love Happy. The producer ran out of money, and raised more by selling advertising time to various companies (e.g., Mobil) to show their logos in the final chase scene that had Harpo jumping from giant logo to giant logo.

One other possible issue for movies/TV–commercials from competing brands. i.e., Pepsi may not want to place ads during your broadcast if there are copious Coke references throughout the show/movie. Hence it may be easier overall for some folks to just avoid mentioning/showing any brand names at all.

I thought the FedEx placement in “Cast Away” essentially ruined what otherwise was a good film.

Does anyone know what sort of placement revenues are for a typical movie?

Bill H. I would expect that it’s similar to the licencing fees of music: it depends hugely on the market value of the product /company.

E.g. “Coca-Cola” is a multi-gazillion dollar company compared to some little franchise like “Sheldon’s Shoes”. So they’d soak Coke, but might “sponsor” Sheldon if little Sheldon did something nice like help them with vintage footwear for the movie.

Related issue: There is also some really interesting copyright and trademark issues that come up in film as a result of “incidental display.” You can visit the Copyright Website (note: it’s not a government site, but has neat articles) to read about some issues of displaying copyrighted stuff in the background in movies.

I guess what I really meant was:

A movie gets revenue from many sources:
a) the movie showing in theatres,
b) rental business
c) product placements within,
d) merchandising,

Like any business, there must be expectations for each source of revenue. For example is it typical to see 1/4% of revenue attributed to product placement? 10%? I’m sure it varies, but I’m also sure there must be standard expectations.

But it was a huge success for FedEx. Prior to Cast Away, the brand was much less known here in Germany than it is now.

As Eats_Crayons says, it really depends. I recall reading (but cannot find the article, so no cite) that well over half of the budget of the latest James Bond movie was covered by product tie-ins before they even started shooting. Now, those deals were a little more complicated than typical product placement (i.e. seeing movie star consume beverage on screen, i.e. Dr. Pepper by Wolverine in the X-Men sequel), because in exchange the Bond folks agree to let Nokia, BMW, etc., use the Bond character and logo (and sometimes images from the film) in their own advertising.

On the other end of the scale, you can’t really do product placement in something like Gladiator. :stuck_out_tongue:

Point of order: FedEx and Wilson Sporting Goods did not pay for their brand names to be used in Cast Away. (Cite.)

The urban legend says that IBM helped with the design and look of the computer equipment in 2001 - until they realized what it was about, and demanded none of the machines say “IBM”. There’s the interesting fact always pointed out about HAL - H,I; A,B; L,M.

Plus anyone who worked with IBM hardware from the 1960’s and 70’s will recognize the look, the rectuangular light up buttons, that sort of thing. But of course, that’s also because that’s what computers “looked like” when the movie was made.

Pan-Am had no problem with their name on a space shuttle that had no negative connotations in the movie.

Personally, this may be the most amazing zombie I’ve seen. I’m listening to NPR’s “Ask Me Another” while reading this very thread, and they announced that the next game they are playing is called “Product Placement”.

I don’t know how you guys pulled that trick off, but I’m impressed!

I see that this is a very old zombie, but this issue comes up regularly enough that I don’t think it’s a waste of time.

This is correct. There is no intellectual property right implicated by a creative’s work use of a brand name. No permission is required. However, modern movie and television producers often hesitate to use brand names without some kind of deal in place because (1) it can represent a source of income, (2) the appearance of one brand name can deter sponsorships by competitors, (3) they might not want to appear to endorse a product, especially if they’re not getting any money for it, (4) they might just be overly cautious in avoiding raising the ire of a brand owner, and (5) other things that aren’t coming to mind at the moment.

In this context, there’s not really any such thing as “incorrect.” They might choose to object for a number of reasons, but if they use the word “incorrect,” they’re bluffing.

Free speech rights do play some background role in a lot of trademark issues, but this particular issue is not really a free speech issue, not directly anyway, because it’s trademark law itself that makes this kind of use okay.

Clarke always denied that this meant anything; from the moment it was pointed out he said it was pure coincidence.