More Canadian producers seeking brand placement deals

In the very-1980s flick Cocktail, as Tom Cruise dances rather badly around the bar flipping bottles in the air and expertly pouring alcohol into three drinks at once, a Molson Golden sign flashes in the background.

In the very-1980s flick Cocktail, as Tom Cruise dances rather badly around the bar flipping bottles in the air and expertly pouring alcohol into three drinks at once, a Molson Golden sign flashes in the background. It seems to be the beer of choice in this particular establishment, as the label makes several appearances alongside Cruise.

Certainly, product placement has been around for quite awhile south of the border – and the Canadian brewer has taken advantage of it.

But bankrolling a film with a few strategically placed logos is no longer a card played only in Hollywood. Canadian producers, who are trying to squeeze blood from fewer and fewer stones, are turning in greater numbers to alternate sources of funding, including product placement and its more integrated cousin, branded content.

This trend has also enabled local advertisers to get in on the action.

‘Times are really tough,’ says producer Gavin Wilding. ‘Everyone is trying everything from the Rich Uncle Theory to maxing out their credit cards. But what’s really interesting is this new generation of product placement.’

Case in point: Wilding (Suddenly Naked) will shoot the golf comedy Foursome with director Anne Wheeler (Suddenly Naked) this fall and plans to raise half of the $4-million budget with pay-for-place deals and other marketing tie-ins through sports equipment, beverage and car sponsors, to be brokered by U.S.-based linksman and promoter Peter Jacobson. The movie will play theatres but will also be aggressively marketed on home video through sports and golf pro shops.

‘We’re creating not just a movie product but a golf product,’ says Wilding. ‘That way, we’ve got two kicks at the can.’

Similarly, Bruce McDonald’s next movie, Maximum Rock n Roll, is looking at beer and tobacco sponsorship; the Quebec box-office smash Seraphin danced with the Metro grocery chain to the tune of $500,000; and the latest project at Montreal’s Cite-Amerique, Nez Rouge, traded background and teaser placement for $100,000 from Desjardins General Insurance.

Vicky Hawey, communications consultant at Lévis, Que.-based Des-jardins, says the production company directly approached the insurance firm to sponsor the flick, which is a romantic comedy. The plot involves a couple who volunteer for a real Quebec charity – known as Operation Nez Rouge – that offers free cab rides during the festive holiday season in an effort to deter impaired driving.

Since Desjardins supports the organization in real life – providing insurance for equipment and volunteer drivers at no cost – the arrangement was a no-brainer.

Says Hawey: ‘Not a lot of people know we support Nez Rouge, and awareness is not as high as we want it to be. This movie will help promote our association with the cause.’ Although it is the first sponsorship of its kind for Desjardins, Hawey calls it a ‘special case,’ and says there are no plans to pursue other product placement deals.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the small screen, the growth of specialty stations in Canada has helped open the gates, according to Bruce Claassen, CEO of Toronto-based media agency Genesis Media. ‘Stations like Discovery and HGTV produce shows that have nowhere near the budgets of a one-hour drama or half-hour sitcom – there’s huge opportunity there,’ he says.

For example, the animated series Odd Job Jack, after lingering in development hell for years, will make it to air next month on The Comedy Network with help from Molson. The producers of Odd Job Jack had a deal to place beer in the show – a rare move for a cartoon – but Comedy Network executives objected. Molson instead gets two 10-second bumpers per show, three spots per airing plus another 300 across Comedy Network, and will be tagged all over the Odd Job Jack Web site.

Producer Jonas Diamond pitched the brewer personally, rather than go through a media buyer. ‘I just wanted to display our enthusiasm for the show,’ he says. ‘We made it; we should be pitching it.’

Similarly, The Sean Cullen Show cut a deal with Toronto clothier Tom’s Place and Vince Grittani hopes at least three major sponsors and several secondaries will sign up for The Weekend Guy, his lifestyle series about la dolce vita in cottage country, due to shoot this spring in Muskoka and air by summer on Prime and mentv.

As Foursome is custom-built for the high-income golf crowd, The Weekend Guy seeks to attract sponsors with the promise of affluent, spend-happy viewers. Grittani is also selling the show himself and is reportedly closing in on deals with a car maker and a home renovation company.

‘Media companies take a large percentage,’ he says. ‘You can’t afford to give them that much and still put production value into your show.’ Each episode of Weekend Guy is expected to cost roughly $30,000.

But Claassen, of course, maintains there is a role for the media agency, particularly when it comes to integrated arrangements. ‘With Bell Globemedia and CanWest looking at convergent packages, it generally involves some kind of specialized content or sponsorship. It goes way beyond TV spots.’

In the past, Claassen says his firm has inked more than one multi-platform deal, such as between Staples Business Depot and CanWest Global, as well as Ocean Spray and YTV. ‘We’re already [working on] multi-million dollar units with TV stations, and while we’re at it, we can talk about additional elements – billboards, sponsorship, promotion and so on – as part of the whole process of negotiating air time.’

With files from Lisa D’Innocenzo.