The Man Who Helped Put Garbage in a Fashion Reality Show

UPP's Steve Rasnick Discusses the Ways Brands Can Participate in Hollywood

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Who: Steve Rasnick, VP, UPP Entertainment Marketing.
UPP's Steve Rasnick says, 'The profile for product placement has been raised to levels that companies cannot ignore the value that product placement brings to the table.'

Why you need to know him: Mr. Rasnick develops cross-platform entertainment-marketing programs for clients such as Campbell's Soup, Motorola, Lexus, North Face and UPS for the Los Angeles-based company. That includes product placements, branded integrations and appearances on game shows. UPP placed Coors in "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and put Ray Bans on Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black."

Credentials: Before joining UPP in 1988, Mr. Rasnick worked at marketing firm the Salowitz Organization, where he created 10-second game show spots for corporate clients. He started at UPP as director of special projects. He was promoted to VP in 1994.

Who does UPP represent? Clients include, Advil, Lexus, Quaker cereals, Motorola, UPS, Campbell Soup, Power Horse Energy Drink, Coleman Co., Greyhound, Hello Kitty and North Face, among others.

What types of deals has UPP recently done? "Motorola had a huge role in 'Treasure Hunters.' We came off one last week, integrating Waste Management Recycle America in 'Project Runway.' Those are two good examples of working with production and creating 'value add' and making sure that the brands are heavily integrated into the script. As for traditional product placement, we have an ongoing relationship with [Lifetime's] 'Lovespring International' with Hello Kitty and Lexus in '24.' In the 'Fantastic Four' movie, North Face got tremendous exposure. We've also placed Quaker Oats on 'The Closer,' Leatherman in 'CSI,' Ugg boots in 'You, Me & Dupree.' 'Entourage' uses a lot of Motorola. We also do game shows. 'Wheel of Fortune' gave tremendous exposure over 15 consecutive nights to Radisson Hotels."

A PQ Media study recently said that more marketers are turning to product placements than ever before. Do you agree with that? Your company has recently landed several new clients, including, Peavey Electronics, Silk Soy Milk and Sundance Spas. "The industry is ever morphing. The profile for product placement has been raised to levels that companies cannot ignore the value that product placement brings to the table. We are approached and approach other companies. There are more and more companies that say we need to put product placement into their marketing mix."

There's been a lot of talk recently about the IRS taxing gift bags. "It makes me kinda laugh a little. UPP has long since believed that blindly putting expensive trinkets into gift bags to hopefully get them into celebrities' hands is not the best use of resources. Very often they end up with an assistant or somebody else. There is a much better way to get exposure utilizing Hollywood without the superfluous goodie bags. UPP produces the People's Choice Awards after-party. If the objective is for Olay or Pantene to be [seen with] talent, yes, we can give them a sample, but how much better is it to be on the step-and-repeat wall where photographers shoot their pictures? Instead of one bottle going to talent, you have pictures that will be seen by millions with their face next to the name."

What are clients asking for? "Clients want to be the center focus on screen and consumed by the lead character or used by the lead character. On the lifestyle side, they want to be associated with the fashion trendsetters in Hollywood. They realize that it helps move product."

And how about productions? "Production likes a number of things -- to be able to have the best, the most. They need a lot of product on an ongoing basis. They need clearance so they know there's no legal entanglements. Depending on the production, they look for 'value add' for branded integrations."

When you place a product, are you also encouraging the brand to promote around the placement as well? "Depending on the client, yes. It encompasses a number of factors. If they're in a very competitive space and production knows that, then it may take something extra to push the competition aside and gain the coveted spot they seek. If it's a wholly unique item, they're more in the driver's seat. It's simple business economics."

Are there recent placements that you thought really worked? "Zero Halliburton (briefcases) in 'Lost' was fantastic. Waste Management Recycle America in 'Project Runway' was phenomenal exposure. Who would have though it could be creatively and thematically aligned with a fashion show? I always thought that the Beemer in Bond was very good. Some of the automotive deals have been very striking."

What about those that didn't? "There is a fine line of what works and what's over the top. If I see two lead characters wearing the exact same-style shirt, albeit in a different color, it looks stupid. It could have been the case because the director is friends with the shirt manufacturer. But if everyone were drinking the same beverage, it's unnatural. If everyone's wearing the same apparel, it's unrealistic."

How does your company measure success? "We do it a number of ways. Firstly, our clients tell us about their bump in sales and have told us on a number of occasions like Ugg boots having a bump in sales from '02 to '03. We appreciate hearing about that. When ... brands [are put] on the radar and become icons, we know that's successful. We also track impressions. We render to our clients on a monthly basis the Nielsen breakdown of how many people were watching their product on a particular show. For the PR that we do, they'll talk about the circulation of a publication in which a product was mentioned or pictured and the media equivalency of that."

How has the business changed over the years? "We've been doing product placement for 30 years. As the industry changes, so do we. We now include six different departments: traditional product placement, branded integration and game shows. Under the banner of lifestyle marketing, we provide product to celebrities through gift bags, award ceremonies and film festivals. We do events and outreaches. And then we have lifestyle PR. When we started the company in the '70s, the whole branded-entertainment concept did not exist at that point. We've been doing branded entertainment for six or seven years. We've been doing game shows for 19 years. PR for five years. You pick up the bits and pieces as the marketplace dictates. Or you don't and fall on the wayside."

There is still some confusion as to what branded entertainment is. How do you define it? "Branded entertainment is virtually any brand that wants to participate in any walks of life that Hollywood can offer. Whether its event marketing at high-profile charity events, game shows, branded integrations or lifestyle PR. Branded entertainment is like branded marketing to me, and we cover all those bases."

What's on your iPod? "I listen to Kanye West, Ludacris, Three 6 Mafia. I like a lot of old-school rap and funk from George Clinton to Bootsy Collins and Rick James and James Brown."

What's on your TiVo? "I try to watch as much television timely as possible, but if I need to TiVo something, the shows I would are 'The Shield,' 'Nip/Tuck' and the various 'Law & Orders.'"

What do you do in your downtime? "Racquetball, weightlifting, scuba diving, chase after my kids, two boys, age 6 and 3."
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