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The big picture: product placement

Wayne’s World may have satirised brands but getting yours on a film or TV show can give business a boost. Laura McCreddie looks at how jewellery and watch companies are gaining exposure.

Product placement has become big news recently. In February the ban was lifted on paid-for references to products and services on UK television, thereby allowing, for the first time, advertisers to pay for their goods to be seen.

Morgan Spurlock, who damaged his body in the name of documentary film-making with Super Size Me, has returned with a filmic satire on product placement; Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold was made entirely with money from advertisers.

It couldn’t have been released at a more pertinent time, considering the reports at the beginning of May that the next James Bond film will be part funded by $45m (£27.5m) earned through product placement.

Omega is definitely a brand that has benefited from being seen on the famous British spy but, not content with just being seen, it also led to Bond chatting up Vesper Lynd with a conversation about his watch. In the same vein, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, asks Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson, to pass him his Jaeger, referring to his Jaeger-LeCoultre watch, and Swarovski was name-checked in the first Sex and the City film.

Screen success
Although consumers can be very cynical about brands in films, for unknowns it can be a real career kick-starter. One such Cinderella moment happened to Sophie Harley, who was the designer behind Vesper Lynd’s Algerian Love Knot necklace, which featured in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

“I was contacted by Lindy Hemming, the Oscar-winning designer for many of the Bond movies,” Harley explains. “She already knew my work because she had bought several of my pieces and I designed her daughter’s bespoke wedding pieces. She thought the mix of ancient and contemporary, which has always been very much a part of my style, would fit in perfectly with the script.”

The result was the Algerian Love Knot, supposedly given to Lynd by her lover and which Bond carries with him in Quantum of Solace, almost as a memento mori.

The exposure was phenomenal for Harley’s career.

“I was totally unprepared for the amazing response that was to follow, because, until it was screened, I had no idea how big a part of the movie my necklace had become,” she says. “Following Casino Royale’s release, we had, and still have, emails from people all over the world asking about the necklace and wanting to order it.” Harley has also used the interest in the Algerian Love Knot to get involved in charity events and auctions.

Just giving
Using product placement for charitable purposes is something jewellery designer Kleshna Handel has done extremely well. Last year you couldn’t turn on the television on a Saturday night without seeing one of her fabulous Swarovski poppy brooches. Handel had actually designed the poppies for the Royal British Legion in 2008.

“During the third year with the Legion, we gained a proposition with The X Factor,” she explains. “We went for a planning meeting with the programme’s stylist, who fell for the poppies and relieved us of every single bespoke poppy in the portfolio. This ranged from embellished poppy headbands [to] belts, gloves and brooches.”

Handel’s understanding was that the poppies would only be worn for the Armistice Day show, but the stylist was so enamoured with them that they were aired immediately, with the judges and contestants all wearing a poppy piece.

“The results were outstanding,” says Handel. “From the moment the poppies were seen Twitter exploded [with] ‘Kleshna’, ‘poppy’ and ‘The X Factor’ trending worldwide. The phone lines rang solidly for months and extra staff were immediately drafted in to help [us cope]with the demand.”

Sparking trends
The brooches had another outing when Emma Watson and Rupert Grint wore them to the premier of the seventh Harry Potter film, and sales reached as far as Australia and Japan. All this has translated to £25,000 being donated every year to the Royal British Legion from sales of Handel’s pieces - proving not all product placement is a cynical money-making exercise.
The product placement doesn’t even have to include the real product. Brands are now trying to appeal to a different type of clientele by getting their merchandise in anime. One brand getting in on some animated action is Citizen.

It not only has a watch in the new Appleseed XIII series - cult Japanese science-fiction based on the works of Masamune Shirow and the manga saga he started writing in 1985 - but Citizen will also be showcasing new technology

in the series. Its Eco-Drive Satellite Wave will be the first watch to use satellites to set its time.

“Citizen has a history of introducing world-first products to the marketplace,” says a spokesperson for the brand. “When the Eco-Drive Satellite Wave was [in the] development stage, we learned that there was a series, Appleseed XIII, that could allow us to be associated with futuristic innovation, representing ‘cool Japan’.”

It will certainly put the brand in front of an entire sector of the population it would struggle to reach otherwise.

While this is all excellent for the brands involved, the idea is that the placement converts to retail sales. The good news is that sometimes it does. However, as with most things, it involves the right person, the right brand and the right vehicle. As Handel’s poppies showed, it can translate to rather substantial retail sales, which the designer then passed on to charity. With larger brands and bigger celebrities the answer is a little more vague.

“Really it depends,” says Mark Adlestone, managing director of Beaverbrooks The Jewellers, which stocks celebrity-friendly brands such as Tag Heuer, Omega and Gucci. “The James Bond watch [Omega Seamaster] has benefited greatly. And I do remember when a barmaid in Coronation Street started wearing a Tiffany-style heart necklace it started a trend.” Just as it did years later when Renée Zellweger brought Bridget Jones to life, complete with an Elsa Peretti Tiffany heart necklace.

Whatever trends may evolve, the main reason a brand aims to get its product into films and television programmes is that it can have a huge impact on customers and spark a desire for the item that lasts beyond the darkness of the movie theatre or the comfort of the couch - the hope naturally being that this should all make retailers’ lives a little easier. Now, who says product placement is money down the drain?

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Thomas Sabo

Fast Facts on
Wedding rings

  • 860 AD:The year Christians started using rings in marriage ceremonies.
  • 4th:The finger the ring is placed on.
  • 2,200BC:The year of the oldest recorded exchange of wedding rings in ancient Egypt.
  • 1854:The year in which the manufacture of 15ct, 12ct and 9ct became legal.

Photo from William Cheshire