By Georgina Scott
Brands and products can be strategically incorporated into films as a subtle form of advertising. This marketing strategy is a great way to leverage your trademarks to increase brand awareness and sales revenue. Some examples of notable product placements in films include:
- Harley-Davidson in Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Lego in The Lego Movie
- IBM in Wonder Woman 1984
- Google in The Internship
- Various luxury cars in James Bond films
- Ray-Ban sunglasses in Top Gun
Why Should I Place My Products in a Film?
Product placement has numerous benefits associated with it! Perhaps most compellingly, utilising trademark rights through product placement can significantly improve brand awareness and revenue. When a consumer enjoys a movie, and there are products placed in it, the positive feelings and attitudes they have towards the film can be associated with the brand. This is particularly applicable for lesser-known brands. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the inclusion of Reese’s Pieces (peanut butter candy manufactured by The Hershey Company) in the 1982 film E.T. At the time, product placement was nowhere near as popular as it is now. Nevertheless, Hershey’s agreed to spend USD1 million in exchange for placement of their product in the film and the right to use E.T. in their ads. Within a fortnight of the film’s release, sales figures for Reese’s Pieces had tripled! This is a great example of how brands can leverage their trademarks to bolster their bottom line.
Additionally, the inclusion of trademarks in films can encourage consumers to associate a product or brand with a specific lifestyle. This is exemplified in pretty much every James Bond film ever made. All of these movies incorporate the trademarks of luxurious car brands, which ties in well with 007’s opulence, sophistication and bravado. Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW, Rolls-Royce – to name a few – have all made an appearance. Whilst these companies undoubtedly paid a steep fee for their trademark inclusion, they have undoubtedly reaped the rewards!
What IP Issues Can Arise with Product Placement?
To avoid treading into murky legal waters, it is necessary to understand the legal issues that can arise when trademarks are included in films. Furthermore, should the use of a trademark confuse viewers into believing that the use of that trademark was allowed or sponsored by the owner, further legal repercussions may be taken against the film makers.
Additionally, negatively portraying a trademark can have adverse impacts on a brand’s reputation. As such, trademark owners oftentimes vigorously defend their intellectual property rights where their trademarks are being associated with unsavoury topics or behaviour. For example, it is undesirable for a family-oriented brand to be associated with films that include a high level of drinking, swearing or violent behaviour.
What about Fair Use?
The legal doctrine of fair use may allow the use of a trademark, even when permission is not given from the owner, for normative use and parody (when done in good faith). Film makers may use humour in a parody to convey a message by mimicking the style of an original work with intentional exaggerations.
However, this doctrine is not advisable, given the scope of fair use is not clear and hotly debated across jurisdictions.
Case Study: Louis Vuitton v Warner Brothers
In 2011, famous luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton filed a complaint against Warner Brothers for infringing upon their trademark rights in the film The Hangover: Part II. The lawsuit concerned a scene in the film where the character, Alan, is seen holding a “knock-off” Louis Vuitton bag. Alan goes on to describe the accessory as a “Lewis Vuitton” bag.
Louis Vuitton argued that the film misled viewers to believe that the bag was genuine and they had sponsored and approved of the use of their trademark, and that its inclusion had tarnished their brand.
Whilst the court ultimately sided with Warner Brothers, this only occurred after the production company invested significant funds into its defence. Hence, it is always advisable to stay on the side of caution and consent when it comes to product placement in films.
In summary, brand and product placement can be a great way to increase sales and brand awareness. However, trademark owners need to consider the significant legal issues that can arise when their trademark rights are infringed upon. Failure to do so may negatively impact public perception on your brand or allow other parties to take advantage of your trademark. If you have any doubts on trademark protection when it comes to product placements, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.