Carrie stroked a delicate hand over her ebony PowerBook as she reached for the new Jimmy Choos she loved almost as much as the sleek, dark laptop that held all her secrets so securely. If only the men in her life could be so powerful yet so discreet, she pondered, dipping a toe into her new pumps.
It might come off grizzly on the page, but on screen this is pure gold, another few seconds of precious airtime where – admittedly an older model – Apple computer features in a starring role on top rated telly.
Getting your company trademark featured on television or in film is increasingly seen by image conscious firms like Apple as a more persuasive marketing tool than straight advertising.
Demonstrating how your powder washes whites whiter on the doorstep is fast being overtaken by the push to make sure it’s your powder they choose to stock the launderette in Albert Square or your notebook that Carrie uses to air her dirty laundry on Sex and the City.
Sarah Jessica Parker might not know it, but she’s part of the Apple master plan of product placement.
Placement is now a billion-dollar industry at work in nearly every film Hollywood produces – and it’s becoming an increasingly important tool of the thousands of advertising messages we see every day.
Creating a brand image for their computers has been the strategy at Apple from the start. The first 1984 ad for Macintosh set the standard, and in recent years Apple has fought hard to develop and maintain its image.
Anybody who has seen the iconic advertising landmark film that launched the first personal computer couldn’t fail to be impressed by the fledgling computer company’s grasp of branding.
Apple was awarded the lifetime achievement award for Product Placement in Brandchannel’s 2004 Brandcameo Awards in recognition of getting its products onto our screen since the Mac was launched.
They note, however, that Apple punches well above its weight in placement when compared to market share.
In recent years Apple computers have appeared in feature films such as Meet The Fockers, Mission Impossible, Blade III and You’ve Got Mail (not really a surprise, that one), television shows like Sex and the City, ER, 24 and the iPod is probably seen every day in at least one video on MTV.
The white earbud headphones are instantly recognizable, and even if you don’t know it’s made by Apple, the iPod itself is now ubiquitous.
Despite being notoriously secretive about anything concerned with marketing, Apple insiders will admit that they are involved in product placement.
Secrecy over product launches aside, Apple has a PR agency in the UK that tries to promote the use of its computers to at least 150 production companies. A spokesman for Rogers and Cowan, the world’s largest placement agency, said even though Apple is keen to get its machines noticed, it’s a bit stingy when it comes to dishing them out. “If you’re trying to dress a set with Apple computers and there are more than about ten of them, you might have trouble,” he said.
Product placement has many advantages over ordinary advertising. It can add no end of credibility to a brand like Apple, but equally it is totally deniable. Like pluggers in the music business, placement agencies are paid to promote a product to media organizations who can give it exposure. There are countless ways this market place advantage can be manifested and there are equally as many ways it can be paid for. In the UK, where the law is still very grey on placement, products to be placed are variously written off as props and gifts and never make it back to the placement agents.
Regulation is slack to non-existent although this is set to change when Ofcom has finished examining the industry.
The business is thought to be worth an estimated £20 million a year in the UK alone and fees can run to thousands, although most products are leased for next to nothing to producers or given away free. Placing a product on primetime television in the UK will typically cost about £1,000 per episode and yearly rates will typically start at around £15,000.
Placement makes for an instant ‘hit’ for the placers and total deniability for the manufacturer. The deniability, in the right circumstances, can do a company even more good since a placement can still look like the filmmakers just chose your brand because that’s the kind of watch James Bond would wear and not just the kind of watchmaker prepared to pay 007 to wear it.
In a mature economy like ours, the value of this kind of image making is immeasurable in attracting the jaded consumer.
Young people are the most difficult for advertisers to reach. Apple has cracked this with the iPod: both 50 Cent and P Diddy have featured the iPod in their videos.
Despite the lack of evidence to show that advertising actually works, product placement seems to do the trick. Documentary evidence to show teenagers go straight out and buy what they see on MTV is conclusive.
In some instances, the appearance of a brand isn’t down to placement, but expediency.
Apple is still the industry standard on what’s left of Fleet Street, with probably around 90 per cent of photographers and several national newspapers using PowerBooks and iMacs – so if a computer is needed in a hurry for a photograph, Macs are very often the only ones to hand.
Likewise on television: ITN has used a PowerBook running Mac OS X in its CGI reconstructions of Michael Jackson’s bedroom.
I’m sure even in the cut throat world of advertising, there was nobody plugging to have Apple portrayed, even without a verdict, as the computer of choice at Neverland.
Current theory predicts that within ten years 100 per cent of the programming output of American television will be paid for by product placement. Expect to see Carrie using a more up to date model PowerBook when the film comes round.
The Macworld Reader's forum has a "Macs on TV" thread which has built up to quite a length over the past few years. You can check it out here....