Entertainment Marketing

Product placement is a double-edged sword.

Big media has always attempted to appear relevant to its target audience, and now skateboarding and its brands are the perfect vehicles to lend authenticity to their productions.

“The industry as a whole needs to be more selective in where it places its products. Because a lot of it is less than desirable, and it reflects poorly on everyone.”¿Nancy Carlson, DC Shoe Co.

Whether it’s an advertisement for Mountain Dew or a late-night Comedy Central program, the appearance of skateboarding’s images on mainstream television has become an everyday occurrence, and it’s no accident. Big media has always attempted to appear relevant to its target audience, and now skateboarding and its brands are the perfect vehicles to lend authenticity to their productions.

Mainstream media has recognized skateboarding’s unique place in modern culture, which makes the culture, its logos, icons, and imagery even more desirable to the non-skate media. For instance, NBC is creating a new show based around skateboarding. The show’s creator, Lee Gaither, says he isn’t doing the show because skateboarding is hot right now, but because skateboarding encompasses so many different and diverse subcultures. Gaither sees skating as sort of a portal to these diverse subgroups that he wants to introduce through the show. Apparently the “hesh versus mesh” debate is going to be argued in a much larger forum than anyone imagined.

But the question remains, does NBC¿or anyone in the mainstream media¿adequately understand the nuances of similarities and differences between “hesh” and “mesh” skaters? And can they represent skateboarding in a way that is true to skateboarding? These are the concerns of Nancy Carlson at DC Shoe Co.’s public-relations office.

Carlson is frequently contacted by non-skate media seeking permission to use DC’s products and/or riders for all kinds of productions, from fashion photo shoots to major movie productions. Carlson says DC is very cautious before it sends any product for such ventures. She’s found that most of the time the mainstream media’s use of skate imagery is misdirected. “The industry as a whole needs to be more selective in where it places its products,” she says. “Because a lot of it is less than desirable, and it reflects poorly on everyone.”

Carlson thinks everyone needs to recognize that skating is still at a stage of its growth where the actions of one company can reflect on skateboarding as a whole. She stresses that there should be some forethought before attempting to use entertainment marketing as a tool to draw attention to your brand.

Entertainment marketing is a fancy term for product placement in music videos, television shows, movies, fashion/lifestyle magazines, or even commercials for consumer products. For most skate companies, entertainment marketing is seen as an easy way to increase brand exposure. There are even some skate companies that actively seek out product-placement opportunities, but there are many pitfalls that can cause more harm than good.

Steve Johnson of K2, Atlas Distribution’s parent company, has been marketing K2 and its brands through the entertainment industry for a couple of years and says the first thing a company must decide is what it would like to achieve from this type of marketing. The second step is to establish rules and guidelines in order to control what type of exposure the brand is likely to receive. Some examples of his rules are that a K2 product cannot be involved in an on-screen accident, and the product cannot be used by a villain. He also makes sure the products placed around his are relevant, believable, and not detrimental to the image or reputation of his products. No Planet Earth deck, for example, may be placed near a department-store complete.

There are several ways a company can take sts to prevent such unwanted exposure. One is to read either the script or the synopsis of the production to see how and in what context the products will be used, and another is to get to know the people involved in the production. By knowing how your images are being used and who’s using them, you can get a better sense of whether you want to be involved in the process or not.

It’s not surprising that personal relationships are a big part of how entertainment marketing happens. Rookie Skateboards certainly wasn’t looking to get their brand on national television via a Kellogg’s Raisin Bran advertisement. But when an old friend called and asked Rookie partner Catherine Lyons if the company was interested in having one of its banners be a part of the TV ad, she quickly said yes. The fact it was an old friend whom Lyons trusted, who was going to be the person hanging the banner, made the whole process much more simple and quick. Lyons said all she did was send the banner, and sometime later it appeared on TV¿no paperwork, no release, nothing.

The fact that no release agreement was presented to Rookie, giving the production company the right to use Rookie’s imagery in the commercial, is very rare. Almost always, production companies will require a release be signed by a principal of the company, ensuring that the production company has been granted the authority to use the brand in their ad, TV show, or what have you. These releases are for the benefit of the production company, because the last thing it wants is a claim from the brand’s owner that the trademark was used without their permission, or that the use creates the false impression of sponsorship and/or endorsement.

Such releases are like any other contract¿a great deal of caution must be exercised before you sign it. A release should be read closely, because sometimes crazy stuff finds its way into the fine print. Recently one skateboard company was presented with a release that gave the production company the right to portray the brand as something that was created by one of the characters of the show it was to appear on, something that the company understandably did not want. But when the product makes a simple appearance in a production, the releases are generally fairly simple and straightforward.

In contrast, the complexity of the contract changes dramatically when the product is a central part of the production. In these types of agreements, the trademark owner has more power to bargain how their products will be used. In fact, how and when the product will be used is actually written into the agreement. Such agreements differ drastically from the more typical product-placement agreement, in which the companies rarely receive any guarantee as to how¿or even if¿the product is going to be used at all.

Whether the products are central to productions or just a part of them, none of the companies providing them are paid by the production companies. On the other hand, the brand owners don’t have to pay to have their products appear. This relationship generally works for both parties in that the production company is happy they didn’t have to spend any money on clothing for the shoot, and the skate company is happy because their brand is seen by a large group of people. But companies providing product should be a little cautious before sending too much stuff to a production company¿they’re notorious for asking for more than they need.

While most skate companies are generally passive in their approach to entertainment marketing, some have taken a more active role in the pursuit of product placement. Think Skateboards, for example, has hired an agent to represent them and seek marketing opportunities. The company’s products have appeared in television productions like Get Real, That 70s Show, and General Hospital, and has been worn by Robin Williams, Eminem, the Beastie Boys, and other stars. In the last year, says Think Co-Owner Don Fisher, the company’s noticed a significant increase in sales of its logo T-shirts through its more mainstream accounts like Pac Sun.

Agents, like you would expect, scour new scripts and have relationships with directors, prop masters, and set designers to find the best product-placement opportunities for their clients. Skate companies considering using an agent should look for one who best fits them, and one with a good reputation. Companies should also make sure the agent doesn’t represent too many similar companies. The bottom line is if agents don’t know who you are, they can’t effectively place you where you want to be. Another important consideration when deciding whether or not to hire an agent is that they charge fees, and most agents aren’t cheap.

If you’re interested in seeking opportunities on your own, there are trade magazines that tell you what movies and TV shows are in production. There are also several Web sites that track the stage of production for movies. Variety.com requires a paid subscription, but upcomingmovies.com, hollywoodreporter.com, and reelwest.com are free.

Entertainment marketing will probably never be a big part of skate companies’ promotional strategies, but as skateboarding’s profile in the mainstream media increases, so do the opportunities to increase the general public’s awareness of their brands through this type of marketing.

Matthew Miller is an attorney-at-law in Solana Beach, California. He can be reached at: (858) 259-6969.

astie Boys, and other stars. In the last year, says Think Co-Owner Don Fisher, the company’s noticed a significant increase in sales of its logo T-shirts through its more mainstream accounts like Pac Sun.

Agents, like you would expect, scour new scripts and have relationships with directors, prop masters, and set designers to find the best product-placement opportunities for their clients. Skate companies considering using an agent should look for one who best fits them, and one with a good reputation. Companies should also make sure the agent doesn’t represent too many similar companies. The bottom line is if agents don’t know who you are, they can’t effectively place you where you want to be. Another important consideration when deciding whether or not to hire an agent is that they charge fees, and most agents aren’t cheap.

If you’re interested in seeking opportunities on your own, there are trade magazines that tell you what movies and TV shows are in production. There are also several Web sites that track the stage of production for movies. Variety.com requires a paid subscription, but upcomingmovies.com, hollywoodreporter.com, and reelwest.com are free.

Entertainment marketing will probably never be a big part of skate companies’ promotional strategies, but as skateboarding’s profile in the mainstream media increases, so do the opportunities to increase the general public’s awareness of their brands through this type of marketing.

Matthew Miller is an attorney-at-law in Solana Beach, California. He can be reached at: (858) 259-6969.

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