Bo Burlingham is the author of Small Giants, Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big (Portfolio, 2006) and the editor at large of Inc. magazine. Drawing on 25 years of small business research (and a massive rolodex) Burlingham offers insights on branded entertainment, and how some companies are using it as a way to break through, without breaking the bank.
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What obstacles do entrepreneurs face when promoting their brands?
In a word, it’s money. Entrepreneurs and small businesses operate in a world of resource scarcity, so traditional advertising is really beyond them.
That is really where the genius of entrepreneurship comes in; they figure out how to solve problems and how to do things using their wits instead of their pocketbooks.
Do you see branded entertainment — which includes product placements in any form of media — as a way entrepreneurs can overcome those obstacles?
Absolutely. And in fact a lot of them are doing it. It’s something that has really sort of begun to grow in the last few years. A lot of small companies have realized there is an opportunity for them to use the media, whether its television, film, games or what have you, to get their brands out there and develop a certain cachet often at minimal cost or practically at no cost.
Who are the small businesses following through on this practice successfully?
One good example involves a company called Posh Tots in Richmond, Virginia which creates high-end baby products. The show “Friends” wanted some really neat baby stuff for the set, Posh Tarts sent out one of their wall hangings. and David Schwimmer stood next to it [in a shot]. [The show] proceeded to take that image and use it in all their advertising. As a result, this wall hanging, which sells for about $270, doubled its sales in 60 days.
Another start up company, Marquis Jet in New York, was approached by “The Apprentice” to do a barter arrangement whereby Marquis Jet would provide aircraft and personnel to various shooting locations for the show. In return, they could use Donald Trump’s name in their advertising. What happened was that [Marquis Jet] was exposed to exactly the audience they wanted: big-ticket clients who would want to charter jets.
Also, if you spend much time in airports, you see Auntie Anne’s pretzel stores — another start up. They did some product placement in the movie “The Terminal” starring Tom Hanks, and built a replica of the store to be used in the film. That was good in itself for them, but what was really good was that during the promotion of the film Tom Hanks told his interviewer, “By the way, have you tried those Auntie Anne’s pretzels? They’re really pretty good.”
No, It just happened. That’s the sort of thing you can’t buy. There is sort of an element of serendipity; luck and of course, good fortune. There is also some hard work that goes into this.
One of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the U.S. [as profiled in Inc. magazine], Alienware has really gone to town with branded entertainment. Its website has a whole section called “sightings” that shows all the movies, television shows and events where their computers have appeared. Last season, they were very prominent in “24”. [Branded entertainment] is a gold mine for Alienware and a way for them to get their name and products out there and develop an image as a cool business, without spending a whole lot of money.
Which great companies profiled in your book have tried product placement as part of their advertising and marketing strategies?
Clif Bar, the maker of energy bars is a great company located in Berkeley, California has done very well with product placement. Fast Break Entertainment, one of a new breed of small companies specializing in product placement has been able to get placements for Clif Bar on a lot of shows like “Reba”, on “King of Queens” and on “CSI: New York”. There is also a new Disney film coming out with Jeff Bridges called “Stick It” where Clif Bar plays a prominent role. Clif Bar is using product placements in television and movies to create the kind of image that they want and they’ve been extremely successful with it.
How are entertainment properties benefiting by working with smaller companies?
Using the products of small companies has some advantages that you just don’t get with Coca Cola or the larger companies; One being access to new markets.
Which branded entertainment practice is most accessible to small businesses? I think that they are all accessible, if you decide to make it a priority. Opportunities for sponsorships are everywhere. If you have scarce resources, you have to choose the ones that are going to fit with your image.
In terms of doing product placements in television and movies and so forth, it’s a question of establishing the right relationship with the firm that’s going to represent you and has the right relationships with the people who are making decisions about what products to use. So it’s a question of doing your homework.
Who are the new breed of companies that specialize in this non-traditional type of advertising?
In many cases, they are sole practitioners. Fast Break Entertainment for example is basically one person who has good relationships with people in the industry.
What’s happened recently is that the industry, as it’s being discovered by other people, is getting more crowded and much more competitive. Almost all businesses depend a lot on relationships, and so does the [branded entertainment business] in particular.
If you have the good relationships, the trust and respect of the companies of both sides of the deal, then you can be very successful at this, making a lot of money and doing a lot of service for your customers.