On Oct. 13, a Robert Altman movie—Dr. T and the Women, in which Richard Gere plays a gynecologist and country-club golfer, and Helen Hunt plays a former touring pro—is scheduled to open. There are many golf scenes in the movie and in the trailer that is being shown in theaters. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen the trailer, and millions are expected to see the movie. The brand of clubs used in the film? Titleist. Alt-man and his prop people could have chosen any club. They picked Titleist.
"You have two big stars that appeal to upscale, white suburbanites who play golf or could take up golf," says Sean Barth of Propaganda Global Entertainment Marketing, an international product-placement and promotions company. "It could be worth millions of dollars to Titleist." Let's say you are an upscale, white suburbanite with no exposure to golf. (It's possible.) You see the Alt-man movie. You take up golf. You're drawn to the only brand you've heard of: Titleist. At least, that's what the company hopes.
The use of Titleist clubs in the Gere-Hunt movie creates what Titleist spokesman Joe Gomes calls "positive brand awareness." It's also about the biggest bargain in advertising. Titleist paid the producers of the movie no money. All the company did was provide "free product," about $1,500 worth of clubs, bags, balls, shoes, gloves and towels. The producers chose Titleist because they wanted a product authentically used by LPGA players.
Increasingly, though, these decisions are not left to happenstance. The business of product placement has grown enormously in the 18 years since Steven Spielberg used Reese's Pieces in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Now scores of agencies work on behalf of clients to get products in movies and otherwise before the public. ( SPORTS ILLUSTRATED also uses entertainment marketing in movies and television, working with UPP Entertainment Marketing, of Burbank, Calif.) Sporting-goods manufacturers big, medium and small are delighted when their products appear in sports-oriented movies. Example: In the opening of the recent movie 77;e Replacements, Keanu Reeves, before becoming a scab quarterback, has a job scraping barnacles off boats while wearing, of all things, a Cressi-sub wet suit. Barth, from Propaganda, arranged that. Cressi-sub provided product to the movie's producers, and it didn't pay a cent.
MET-Rx, the California company that makes nutritional products for athletes, paid $50,000 to the producers of the Oliver Stone football movie Any Given Sunday for a starring role. The company has an employee who does nothing but find opportunities to promote MET-Rx in films and TV. So does Nike. Nike products made the final cut of the recent Love and Basketball and of the current cheerleading hit Bring It On, and next year will be in Summer Catch, about the amateur baseball league on Cape Cod. " Nike was very helpful to us, so in a climactic scene, where a character meets a real major leaguer, we went to Nike guys," says Mike Tollin, Summer Catch's director and producer. The role went to Nike guy Ken Griffey Jr. "The most important thing is to be true to the story," Tollin says.
Once that requirement is met, the deal making begins. Sometimes deals go awry, as with Jerry Maguire, in which Tom Cruise plays the last moral agent and Cuba ("Show me the money!") Gooding Jr. is a veteran NFL receiver. In exchange for a prominent role in the movie, Reebok reportedly agreed to give Tri-Star Pictures a package, including product, worth $1.5 million. A fake Reebok commercial, intended to be used at the end of the movie, was shot. But the ad was never used in the theater version. In fact, at one point in the movie, Gooding's character, frustrated with his contract status, says, "F— Reebok." Reebok filed a multimillion breach-of-contract suit against Tri-Star. The two sides settled out of court, terms undisclosed.
More often, the deals work. In the golf movie Tin Cup, the technical adviser, pro golfer and broadcaster Gary McCord, told producer Gary Foster that for credibility, Don Johnson, playing a touring pro, should have a hat, with the logo of either a telecommunications company or a luxury automobile. Foster went for the car. The logo for Infiniti, a Nissan vehicle, wound up on Johnson's head, and a half-dozen Infinitis wound up on the studio lot.
All the big people were happy with the deal. The rest of us never knew a thing.