One of the least talked about ways to finance a motion picture is to weave product placements into the film. This, of course, is because doing so carries a stigma of being a non-artistic, heartless sell-out. But, product placements have always been a healthy source of income for major film studios. For example, Cast Away (2000) seemed like a two and a half hour plug for Fed Ex, Spider-Man 2 (2004) was doused with Dr. Pepper sightings, and The Blind Side (2009), mentions Taco Bell about as much as Sandra Bullock’s character utters the words “Big Mike.” In fact, utilizing product placements in feature films has created such a vital income stream, that studios are now altering key scenes in their biggest films, so they can sell the same product placement slot to different advertisers in different countries. That’s right, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, one country will find the Spider-Man 2 synonymous with Dr. Pepper, while another county will associate the same film with an entirely different soft drink.

While product placements are traditionally reserved for incredibly over-blown, multi-million dollar campaigns for blockbusters, our fluttering economy may just help crack the door open for independent films to wrangle a few advertisers. Don’t get me wrong; indie films will never replace blockbusters in the product placement game, but they can provide advertisers a more targeted and cost-effective approach to casting the widest net possible.

So, here’s six ways to get the attention of potential advertisers:

Find Untapped Markets For Your Advertiser To Enter
One of the quickest ways to get an advertiser interested in placing their product in your film is to convince them your film is the perfect catalyst to get their product noticed by a group they either haven’t considered, or have failed to reach in the past. Of course, their product has to seamlessly blend in with the nature and intent of your film, like Harley Davidson Choppers in Easy Rider (1969) or Orange Tic Tacs in Juno (2007). Since all advertisers long to expand into new markets and find new consumers, they will listen to your pitch, if your film represents their product in a good light.

Have A Distribution Strategy
Most advertisers won’t consider your film unless you have distribution in place, but don’t fear. Just get them to tell you what level of distribution they expect before they will endorse your film (i.e. how many theatrical screens, TV/cable/DVD deals, etc).

Then, once you understand the advertiser’s expectations, approach distributors and tell them you have “a major sponsor onboard, provided that they (the distributor) can guarantee a certain level of distribution.” Yes, you will be playing both sides, but in an ethical way that may help you get financed.

Get Demographic Information On Key Film Festivals
Many advertisers aren’t sure what having your film play a major film festival can do for their product, so it’s your job to inform them. Key in on the media circus that occurs at major film festivals, the millions of hits on the film festival’s website, the national articles, star-studded premieres, and the number of people that attend the festival itself. While you can’t guarantee which film festival your film will play – unless you have a firm offer from a huge festival – you can educate advertisers on where you wish to position your film (and their product).

Convince Advertisers To Sponsor A Film Festival Party
One way to help your chances of getting your film into key film festivals is to inform the festival that if they select your film, your sponsor would be willing to pay for a party around your premiere. Remember, two things must occur before this would work: 1) The film festival would have to like your film enough to have let it in without your sponsor throwing a bash, and 2) Your sponsor would want to have to go “all out” for your party, because doing anything less than throwing a mind-blowing extravaganza would backfire for your film and your advertiser.

Go Viral!
Some advertisers may be very impressed with a well thought out viral strategy, so make sure you have a fresh, cutting edge approach to promoting your film online. If you find a way to promote their product in a hipper way than their overpriced advertising agencies have done in the past, then they just may roll the dice with your film for your viral approach alone.

Match Your Film’s Rating With The Appropriate Sponsor
This is common sense. If you have a film littered with f-bombs, sex and alcohol, then go after sponsors who will want to appeal to people who would pay money to see your film. But, if your film a quirky PG-13 gem like Juno, then go after Tic Tacs!

While I know it goes against the very essence of many independent filmmakers to seek financing through product placements, just remember that I’m trying to help filmmakers navigate their careers through this horrific financial time. Simply put, don’t shoot the messenger! I’m just trying to help your dreams become a reality!

Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

By the way, Happy Holidays, everybody!

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  1. Shay says:

    Product placement adds credibility and production value to your film which helps distributors, festivals and viewers take your story more seriously. Honestly, how many times have you laughed at the fake cereal boxes or sodas in a TV show or the beer cans with the labels cleverly hidden? All movies have wine, beer, water, sodas, watches, pens, phones, tvs, cars, etc. Why should showing the make and model of those props be a sell out?

    Working with product is not a sell out if you use it to enhance your movie and if you think you can’t get big name product in your low budget film, think again. Check out Emerging Brands Entertainment at http://www.emergingbrandsent.com. They are a new product placement company that devises alternate product placement strategies (similar to those mentioned above) for independent movies.

    They did wonders with a little micro budget romantic comedy movie, The Significant Other and it helped them get distribution and promotions.

  2. Zack Coffman says:

    Very nice and useful article. It is very possible to work closely with sponsors without “selling out”. It just has to be a natural fit to your film. Sponsors will send product way faster than money, so if it fits your demo ask for product to give away to your talent or at your premiere. This goes a long way to making your crew or talent happy even though you aren’t paying them their day rates. You have now established a relationship with the sponsor and if you show them that they didn’t waste their time you may have a shot at getting your next premiere four-walled or even a cash sponsorship on a future film. At the very least you can show other sponsors that you are a company worth dealing with.

    Example: On our first biker film Choppertown, we asked Dickies if they could send some product and they did it without blinking. The talent were happy and so was Dickies. A year later, we approached them about sponsoring our premiere and they were still on the fence, but sent a TON of free product that we gave away to the attendees and then we sold the leftovers in our store. The following year, they paid for us to four-wall our third film in Santa Monica as well as the after party and MORE product. Finally, four years after our first contact, they sponsored a two-month 12 country European theatrical tour of all our films and paid for our fifth film. To this day, they never asked for a logo on the box, just a thanks in the credits and some exposure on-screen. It takes time, but it is very possible to get sponsors to assist in important and useful ways. It’s important to convince sponsors that you’re in it for the long haul. On our new film “I Am ZoZo” we switched genres from motorcycles to psychological horror, but our relationship still remains. Thanks to Film Threat for great articles, been reading you guys since you were photocopied pages stapled together.
    Happy holidays,
    Zack Coffman
    Producer at One World Studios Ltd.

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