Bar Rooms

Biting Commentary

The Place for Products

By Richard B. Barger, ABC, APR

Originally Posted

Wanna be the Official Artificial Limb of the Handicapped Olympics?

How about the Official Bifocals of the Home Plate Umpire?

Perhaps the Brand-Name Straight Pin of Sprint PCS?

That'd be a pretty good one: your product placement in someone else's commercial.

We've almost come to that. Product placements have turned into brand-name everything.

Finding a Perfect Match

Maybe it all started with matchbooks. If bars and restaurants were going to help you light your fire, they were going to remind you of where you picked up the matches to light up after a good meal or a few drinks.

Good times you'd remember the next time you pulled out the matchbook and were reminded of those great steaks or good-looking waitresses. It was the poor man's billboard, and you carried it around with you. We're actually going to have some matchbooks printed up at, showing off our great logo, but we haven't gotten around to it yet.

The concept quickly mushroomed.

Getting Creamed

Milk figured it out, with the winner of the Indianapolis 500 taking a big swig of their all-natural, high-energy fluid replacement after circling the oval for three hours. In 1936, Louis Meyer "drank buttermilk because his mother told him it would refresh him," according to Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson. A news photo was all it took to get the ball rolling.

The Milk Foundation, now the American Dairy Association, made sure from that year forward that the winner of the 500 received a cold bottle of milk to drink. The "Milk Lady," Myrna Metzger, learns the drivers' preferences and has four bottles ready to go: skim, 2 percent, whole, and lactose-free.

Now that's marketing.

Disney World put their own twist on the same idea by asking the Super Bowl MVP, "What's next?" The well-paid answer: "I'm going to Disney World!"

Wheaties features the Super Bowl MVP and other pro athletes on its cereal boxes; they have taken the concept to another level, by showing whole sports teams, and both popularized and devalued it by showing athletes in lesser sports and regional winners.

Auto races take this to extremes, plastering every available inch of race cars and, in some cases, driver's racing gear with logos. Sponsors will spend big bucks to increase brand awareness among potential consumers by associating a brand name with any public event.

You don't have to sell spark plugs to advertise on a race car. To place your ad on the racer's hood, plan to pony up $7 to $17 million, NASCAR estimates. If you want to be on the side pillar, between the front and rear windows, it'll only cost $75,000 to $200,000. That's for the door post. Got it?

Michael Jordan wears Nikes and Hanes underwear. These aren't just placements, they're wear-ments.

Tiger Woods makes $100 million driving Buicks, using an AmEx card, and eating Wheaties.

The $100 Trillion Man

Of course, this endorsement stuff can go a bit haywire if a sports reporter gets hold of it. An article in The Kansas City Star last year didn't report the dollar value of a new spokesperson gig for Tiger, but it did say, "for comparisons [sic] sake, Woods has a $100,000 million, five-year sponsorship deal with Nike Inc."

$100,000,000,000. Wow.

In his best year, Michael Jordan only made $45,000,000 in endorsement revenue.

Either the power of inflation has struck, big-time, or we have another example of a sports reporter frantically trying to figure out how to report real news.

Video Compositing Invades Nation's Pastime

Baseball also has honed its product-placement expertise. I'm not a baseball fan. Hey, if you lived in the hometown of the Kansas City Royals, you wouldn't be either, okay? But, recent developments in television graphics have taken baseball advertising into new territory.

Know those center-field shots, across the pitcher's shoulder, right into the heart of the strike zone? Well, when the shot widens a bit, you'll see ads on the low walls of the grandstand behind home plate, next to the dugouts.

Keep watching. From time to time the ads change. Just for you.

The fans in the stadium don't see the ads, because they're computer-generated. The system isn't all that different from the blue screen or chroma-key process for video compositing that television weathercasters or some news sets use. (See "Pricey Pixels Put Newscasters in Premium Sets.")

More revenue for Ted Turner and major league baseball. I wonder if the teams have any say about who's advertising "in" their stadium?

Samsung didn't, when Sony-owned Columbia Pictures digitally altered Samsung ads that were on buildings seen in trailers for its "Spider-Man" movie. When some genius at Columbia decided to send the Samsung ad and others to oblivion, they found themselves staring down the barrels of a lawsuit. (See "Property Owners Bugged; Want to Stomp Spider-Man.")

We'll make new law before this issue is finally resolved.

Remove that Wearing Apparel

College basketball players can't choose their own shoes, even if their father owns the company, because the coach has a contract.

In 1986, Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon was warned by pro football commissioner Pete Rozelle, who apparently had way too much time on his hands, after wearing a shoe company headband that hadn't been licensed by the NFL.

"Nothing against NASCAR, but we don't want decals stuck everywhere," says Ed Reynolds, NFL assistant director of football development. "We don't want a guy sitting on the sidelines with 'Joe's Bar and Grill' on his head. If the Chiefs are playing the Broncos, it's a big game, and if a guy can sneak (an unlicensed logo) just for a few seconds, it's worth a tremendous amount of money to the company he's trying to exhibit."

Oh, there are big bucks in sponsorships and product placements all right.

Step Right Up. Be the 'Coal-Level' Sponsor. Mine those Marketing Diamonds!

Organizations sell conference and meeting sponsorships: You can be the silver or the gold or the platinum or the uranium or the kryptonite-level sponsor. It's sort of like being one of the bluebird group, or the robins, or the buzzards in elementary school.

Hell, we'll do it here at If you pay us enough money, we'll give you lots of benefits and smiles and stuff.

Hotels carry this branding business to an odd extreme, by having molds made that they use to embed the hotel's logo in the sand in the hallway ash trays.

Sand in ash trays!

Perhaps we could put all this marketing and sponsorship creativity to good use by selling a curtain or bedspread manufacturer the rights to become the Official Nude Statue Drape of the Department of Justice. It would make John Ashcroft proud.

Next time, I'll tell you the story of logoed merchandise and product placements carried to extremes in television.
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