Product Placment:Will The Stars Align?

All too often talent calls the shots

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%%STORYIMAGE_LEFT%% For months, the Hamilton Watch Company, part of Lengau, Switzerland-based Swatch, worked with New York's AIM Productions to gain placements in the upcoming Paramount Pictures movie, "The Italian Job." The remake of the British gangster classic, which originally starred Michael Caine back in the late sixties, has high box-office hopes for this summer. Its star Mark Wahlberg will be flashing the period timepiece.

Unfortunately, Hamilton won't be in a position to fully maximize its involvement with the picture. While previous movie placements have helped increase the brand's sales following appearances in "Men In Black II" and "Pearl Harbor," this time around Hamilton won't see much benefit as Wahlberg has refused to do any promotional material for the firm. A Hamilton exec confirmed the situation but declined to elaborate further.

Hamilton has been no stranger to partnering with the movies. Their watches have played integral roles in movies where something had to be timed. In the past, Hamilton has had the freedom to promote its assocation with stars, which is critical since, unlike cars, watches generally don't stand out in films.

With "Men In Black II," the company used the official logo and a silhouette of the actors. For "Pearl Harbor," it used the official one-sheet that showed all of the actors.

This story illustrates a nagging, unresolved problem for the placement industry. While the client and a studio might be in alignment, the stars are often not. Some say as the volume of product placement deals ratchets up, actors are being much more careful about inadvertently touting products to which they may not have an affinity.

Last week, Chrysler Group revealed how the team working on a new Jeep ad that is tied to the upcoming Paramount movie, "Tomb Raider II" circumvented actress Angelina Jolie's dislike of a key tag-line "It's a Jeep thing." They finessed her into agreeing that Lara Croft, the character she plays in the movie, would be the spokeswoman, not Jolie herself.

According to Patti Ganguzza, president of AIM, star power has gotten out of hand. "In most films it's the tail wagging the dog. The studio is taking the risk to pay the fees to get the actors and then the actors have the final say."

Ganguzza adds that contrary to what the movie studios would like everyone to believe, the talent does hold huge sway over the execution of the placement deals. The difficulties in getting stars on board have been underplayed due to fears of upsetting them.

%%PULLQUOTE_RIGHT%% Mark Workman, chief executive of entertainment consultancy FirstFireworks Group in Los Angeles, is a former SVP-marketing at Sony Pictures. He understands why actors (or more often than not, their handlers) are reluctant to sign up to promotional agreements without additional compensation. He explains that when the talent has been paid fairly they're often willing to help out with promotion, "but if they've been shoe-horned into a movie and they feel they were cheated, they won't do it."

Actors also have their own individual deals to protect. "Chicago" star, Catherine Zeta Jones signed a cosmetics endorsement deal with Elizabeth Arden in February '02, and is currently helping the firm launch a new scent. When Miramax signed up Max Factor as a global partner on the movie version of the Broadway hit, Zeta Jones couldn't be included in the program.

Lori Sale, EVP-worldwide promotions at Miramax Films, said: "We were sensitive to the fact that Catherine Zeta Jones didn't want her image in the Max Factor campaign." In addition to its seven-year alliance with brewer Coors, Sale says Miramax is also looking to do similar multi-film deals in the automotive and cosmetics categories. Miramax tries to preempt any potential stumbling blocks by entering into comprehensive contracts that address issues in advance.

Workman did acknowledge that certain celebrities have a lot of influence over a picture. He recalled when Warren Beatty had all Coke logos removed from view during the filming of the 1990 release "Dick Tracy." "He thought it was something they should pay for," said Workman.

However, he suggests that perhaps the talent isn't always necessary for movie-related marketing tie-ins, saying that movie logos are just as valuable. He wondered how many people remember the actors who appeared in "Jurassic Park," released back in 1993. "It's not always important to have the stars," he said.

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