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Pioneering Product-Placement

Advertising Age Magazine, December 1984


When E.T. followed Elliot’s trail of candy-coated chocolate, he not only boosted sales of Reese’s Pieces, but gave credibility to a method of advertising.

As sales of E.T’s favorite candy rose, so did the number of companies specializing in placing name brand products in companies. There are now about 30 of these firms doing what one or two did before. A half dozen companies do most of the business, and International Film Promotion is the third largest.

Based in South Pasadena, IFP arranged screen appearances for everything from computers to dolls. It made Cheez-It crackers practically the official Ghostbuster snack.

The company, housed in a stylish Spanish building in South Pasadena that was once a mortuary, is run by Carol A.Hilson, 35, and Donna L. Estes, 25. Along with the staff of 10 they read scripts, think up opportunities to insert products and arrange the placements.

IFP charges its roughly 25 manufacturer clients about $50,000 a year to guarantee appearances in at least six films shown in general release. The typical contract is for a minimum of two years.

The difference between this and other forms of advertising is that the product is seen in a natural setting and there is the suggestion of endorsement by the star seen using it, Hilson said. Consumers see the product without having their entertainment annoyingly interrupted.

Clients love to have their goods associated with such popular stars as Robert Redford, Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray, Estes said. And every maker of advanced, sophisticated items wants them in a James Bond movie, she said.

The usual result is that the product or the product’s brand name is seen in the film. In return, the maker supplies the production company with free quantities of goods or services.

When the movie depicts travel by showing a plane in flight, the featured airline usually responds by providing free transportation to the production company.

Three currently running movies include product appearances arranged by Hilson and Estes. In ”The Terminator” a boy snaps a woman’s picture with an Eastman-Kodak camera. Similar camera equipment is shown in “No Small Affair”.

A box of Brock candies is displayed prominently on a character’s desk “Oh God, You Devil”.

In the upcoming “Beverly Hills Cop” starring computers from Digital Equipment Corp. to be cast as police computers.

Although the success of Reese's Pieces as E.T.'s candy "just happened,” according to Estes, little is left to chance anymore. She and Hilson read more than a 150 scripts a year. Some of the openings, such as using Cheez-Its as the snack in Ghostbusters, may seem obvious.

A more challenging placement, however, occurs in the recent science fiction movie. "The Philadelphia Experiment." A character, transported from a time earlier in the century, is seen watching a motel room television showing a Digital ad.  The commercial, Estes said, included a company phone number. "It fit into the movie because we needed a commercial for a product that would be confusing and unfamiliar for the character," she said. "It was also a great spot for digital. "  


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