Major Brands Score Free Face Time in 'Perfect Stranger'

Movie Set in Ad-Agency World Incorporates Victoria's Secret, Reebok, Heineken

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LOS ANGELES -- It's a fictional thriller tailor-made for real-world marketers.

Bruce Willis plays Harrison Hill, an ad-agency executive who defects from Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners to start his own company and guns for a prized client, Reebok, on his way out the door. He eventually wins the account.
Bruce Willis and Halle Barry star in 'Perfect Stranger,' a brand-friendly thriller that partly takes place in the ad world.

This is one of the brand-centric plot points in "Perfect Stranger," an upcoming Revolution/Sony Pictures release that stars Victoria's Secret, Heineken and several other marketers alongside Mr. Willis, Halle Berry and Giovanni Ribisi.

The extensive placements come at a time when marketers are increasingly scouting for integration opportunities in film and TV shows and, in some cases, financing entertainment themselves in order to have a starring role.

Written into the original script

For "Perfect Stranger," Victoria's Secret and Reebok didn't do either. They were written into the script from the start and didn't pay cash for their ample screen time, though they helped by providing talent, product and logistical support.

Heineken wasn't originally in the script, but the marketer's Hollywood consultant pitched the brand as a good fit for the characters and scenarios, and the filmmakers agreed. Heineken didn't pay for its face time either, but the brewer might create some promotions for the movie as it launches internationally.

The integrations take place against a backdrop of stepped-up interest from the creative community in working with marketers. Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, producer of "Perfect Stranger," said she wanted to plug into the frenetic pace of the advertising world for the R-rated murder mystery. To depict a real ad agency she chose Kirshenbaum because she knew agency founder Richard Kirshenbaum. Mr. Willis, in prepping for the role, spent time at the agency watching client pitches and brainstorming sessions.

Using brands for realism

Ms. Goldsmith-Thomas said she wanted to draw parallels between the ad world, where hype can overtake reality, and the internet world, where people often mask their identities. In both places, things aren't always what they seem. Real brands helped put the movie into context, she said.

"We wanted to ground this movie in reality," said Ms. Goldsmith-Thomas, who has also produced "Mona Lisa Smile" and "Maid in Manhattan," among other projects. "It's a contemporary world, and the products actually serve the plot. We consider them characters."

Mr. Willis' Harrison Hill counts Victoria's Secret among his clients, and the brand gets prized exposure during a major party scene, complete with branded gift bags and a cameo by supermodel Heidi Klum.

The movie also includes scenes of "executives" from Reebok who are persuaded to move their account from Kirshenbaum, and a campaign presentation to a Heineken team. There was a chance to showcase a 30-second TV spot from Heineken during a key scene, but it didn't work creatively for the marketer or the filmmakers. Had it been included, it would've been a groundbreaking placement.

Fridge full of Heineken

As it stands, Heineken is ever-present in the refrigerator of Ms. Berry's character and beside her computer. She plays a reporter who goes undercover to try to solve the murder of a friend who might have been killed by someone she met online.

Kirshenbaum is prominent in the film, though none of its executives appear; instead, actors have been cast in their places.

Other marketers -- and Ben & Jerry's -- pop up briefly.

"The brands are beautifully suited," Ms. Goldsmith-Thomas said, "and there's a great cross-collateralization."
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