NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Who put a bottle of Izze Sparkling Pomegranate fruit beverage in the hands of "Grey's Anatomy" character Izzie Stevens? The sound-alike coincidence alone must have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet PepsiCo's Izze said it paid ABC absolutely nothing for its appearance near a cafeteria meal eaten by the character in the March 26 episode of the show.
Izze is a "small little brand. We need to think differently and don't have a big advertising and marketing budget," said Andrew Jaffe, brand manager at Izze. Rather than orchestrating huge branded-entertainment deals, the company has been relying on a small product-placement company that gets marketers' goods in front of eyeballs by working through prop masters and other TV-show crew members.
Executives at Spotlight Entertainment in Hermosa Beach, Calif., have worked for several seasons with set dressers and prop personnel on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," said Vangie Guerrero, a VP at the company. "We bring our clients' products to the sets to have them placed in the ideal position, and that's basically what we had tried to do," she said.
An ABC spokeswoman for "Grey's Anatomy" did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Spending on branded entertainment
Despite the increasing amount of money being spent on product placement, sometimes it's the unpaid stuff that makes memorable cameos. Marketers have begun spending millions to weave products and logos into specific TV shows and run ads that use elements of the TV shows during which they appear. Research firm PQ Media estimated last year that spending on branded entertainment grew 14.7% to $22.3 billion in 2007. It projected the figure would grow another 13.9% in 2008 to $25.41 billion.
Small firms have been responsible for some of the most obvious product placements out there. AIM Promotions has claimed credit for the appearance of Junior Mints in an episode of "Seinfeld." Kramer and Jerry eat the candies during a surgery, and one of them lands in the patient on the operating table. Even so, the characters remind each other that the candy is "very refreshing."
Spotlight executives worked for several months to put Izze near Izzie, played by actress Katherine Heigl. While the aim was for Ms. Heigl's character, they would have been satisfied with any regular cast member, Ms. Guerrero said. Spotlight got one bottle and one can of Izze into the hands of some of the show's intern characters in October.
"This stuff pops up all the time," said Ms. Guerrero. "The scripts call for a drink, and they put a drink there, and you go from there. You have to have your client's product available for any scene. The more people and the resources you have to get it out there, the better your chances are of seeing your client in a position they like."
These sorts of momentary appearances are crucial for Izze. PepsiCo put only about $1.6 million toward traditional media advertising of the product in 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Compare that with the more than $228 million Coca-Cola spent on its sodas that year, or the $74.2 million PepsiCo put behind its flagship cola alone.
Spotlight has also managed to place Izze in HBO's "Entourage," as well as "Big Bang Theory" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine" on CBS.
Expect more grass-roots marketing from the Boulder, Colo., soda company, which was purchased by PepsiCo in 2006. "We're still very much in an incubation stage," Mr. Jaffe said, in which under-the-radar efforts that spark chatter among fans of the beverages is what is most desired. "We want to nurture that incubation approach."