Since 2012, the experimental marketing expert Beth Bell and Lisa Dietrich are running the media product placement company Green Product Placement which promotes and places only green, sustainable, socially enterprising and local entrepreneurial products in mainstream content: television, feature film and streaming for major outlets like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Their approach is to turn product placement into “positive placement”.
In which films did you already place green products?
Since we launched in early 2012, we’ve placed over 65 “good brands” in over 130 productions in the US, Canada and the UK. Some of them include: Soon to be released: The Intern, Vacation, Magic Mike 2, and also Annie, Robocop The Fault in Our Stars, Best of Me, The Equalizer and television shows such as VEEP, House of Cards, Law and Order: SVU, Grace and Frankie, Suits and The Good Wife.
How do you describe your philosophy?
We feel that we’re contributing to making the business more sustainable by doing what it is we’re uniquely qualified to do. As a film and media professional, I also worked for experiential marketing companies and managed an emerging film production company. Together with my business partner Lisa we have over 35 years’ experience in the Film/TV business, primarily in set decorating, set dressing and props- the primary departments that utilize product placement.
We know that we’re not only a resource for productions to get good, great looking, cleared product, but we also know that product placement works on unconscious decision making.
How much does your strategy for the perfect placement depends on a product?
Ideally the product needs to be something that is either commonly placed or if not placed all that often necessarily, is still something that has the potential for placement in storylines often enough to make it worthwhile.
For instance – commonly placed goods such as food, drink, health and beauty, beer, wine, liquor, electronics, accessories, clothing/apparel, cars, appliances, etc. can be placed very often. Other things like restaurant chains, airlines, hotel chains, non-profits, etc. might not have quite so many opportunities, but the ones they will have will usually be pretty good ones, with great chance for exposure. Something like a solar powered emergency lantern or an environmentally friendly flood protection sandbag- although being wonderful products as they are, would be much harder to place. You would really need a film or tv show to be dealing with exactly the type of circumstances that would call for real life use of these types of products. If you did have that, however, it would be a good opportunity.
Can only certain products be placed in a specific film or TV series? Is this a decision which is based story-wise?
When we’re able to read scripts, we’ll do breakdowns ourselves- set lists, scripted prop needs, etc. We ask for set lists for those shows that only provide us with a synopsis. We always ask for the script pages for anything that is hands on prop useage so that we can review them and make sure there is nothing there that would in any way appear negative for our clients. We sometimes get “wish lists” from set decorators and props people based on our current client list and what they can use. We review every project to make sure there is genuine opportunity.
How do you choose your clients? Do they have to provide you with a certain certificate in order to prove that they have sustainable products?
We vet our prospects like someone who runs a ecommerce site or say, a natural grocery, might vet what they sell.
The brand must fit within our ethos of being one or several of these elements: sustainable, all natural or organic, socially enterprising or what we call “local entrepreneurial”- think carefully crafted smaller enterprise product.
There is a growing number of green events but also a thin line between sustainable behaviour and green washing. How do you deal with that in order to be believable?
If we research a brand and find none of these elements, we won’t agree to represent them if they contact us. It is important to us to stick to our ethos- as it is the reason we exist as a company.
As far as “green washing”- we have scruples! My business partner Lisa and I discuss every brand we come across that seem that they might straddle that line and we both must agree that particular brand is on the “right” side of that line for us to pursue them. If we disagree, we still won’t pursue them. We both must be in agreement that a particular brand has enough going for them as a “good” brand. Again, we go back to our ethos each and every time.
When in comes to the product placement in FILM/ TV productions how much influence do you have for a perfect placement?
Well, unless a brand is paying a very high integration fee to a studio or production company, you don’t really have any editorial control. And although those types of placements are ones that make the news some of the time, they’re really not the most common form of placement. The most common form of placement is what we call “background placement”. Every single brand you see in TV and films has to be cleared for use, “in perpetuity throughout the universe”- which are usually the terms. This means that if someone watches a film or tv show made in Canada, standing in for America, but they watch it 5 years after it’s been out, in the Czech Republic, that can of beans’ label on the shelf behind the character’s head still needs to be legally clear.
This is why productions go to product placement companies – because they know they can get a lot of different types of product, from one place and it’ll all be cleared for use, and save the production money. It’s win-win- for the productions and for the brands. The productions get the products they need and the brands get the exposure.
Can you also collaborate with companies to implement products as a story-driven element?
Eventually we hope to be able to do more of this. We’re still what would be considered a start up- working with small to medium brands, very few of whom could afford the large integration fees, but eventually we hope to work with larger companies and more multinational corporations that put sustainability and social enterprise at the forefront of how they do business. We say our dream goal would be to be the agency that makes it happen for James Bond to drive a Tesla. We have had situations where a production has a story element that exactly meshed with one of our products and that’s been wonderful.
If you place a product within a film, what kind of impact does it have on the production itself? Do you also try to introduce a product to the cast and crew which might be multiplicators?
We encourage sustainable behavior at wrap- many product placement companies do what we call “double warehouse”- meaning the brands ship products to their warehouse and then they ship to productions. This results in extra waste and extra carbon emissions. Sometimes if food is involved, by the time it gets to a production, it may already be out of date so it can’t even be donated to a food bank when a show wraps. We have our clients send product directly, which means it’s fresher, if it’s food, and there’s only one shipment involved. We also encourage recycling of packing materials and containers.
Yes, we facilitate in kind donations to crafts services and hair and makeup for the brands that desire it, and occasionally we send along trailer amenity swag bags to a few high profile stars. We’ve had makeup artists tweet and Instagram about it, along with one star saying she’ll be taking their Full Circle Home water bottle to their next film project, for example.
Are there any researches regarding a growing sustainability awareness of the audience?
We noticed that there is a growing awareness about making the entertainment media business more sustainable overall – behind and in front of the camera – and that can only have a positive benefit.
Do you have certain partnerships or cooperations with other organizations?
We are members of ERMA, and also work with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Association). We manage to get some of their posters into a set that was supposed to be a conservation office in Scotland in an “eco-rom com” due out later this year.
We’ve formed friendships and alliances with Film Biz Recycling (now Art Cube), Emellie O’Brien at Earth Angel and we are listed in PGA (Producer’s Guild of America) Green Guide and The Media Greenhouse Green Vendor Guide in the UK. We’ve connected with Sustainability Directors at the major studios in Hollywood (Universal, 20th Century Fox, Sony, WB, etc.) as wel as The Green Film Making Project in the Netherlands
Everyone who works in production knows what a small world it is- but thankfully it is growing! And it’s growing thanks to all of us being connected and promoting what we’re all doing. All of that builds awareness for the cause.