Ready for the release of Morgan Spurlock’s Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold tomorrow, Norm Marshall gets a profile in the Los Angeles Times today. He’s the marketing man responsible for pushing as much product placement as possible into Hollywood movies. He makes his job seem straightforward:
Marshall’s biggest business is cars. He keeps a fleet of vehicles from General Motors, a longtime client, on a lot across the street from his office near Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport — they’re cars in working shape that have been deemed unfit for one reason or another for consumer sale. (He has a separate lot outside New York City.) Marshall’s pitch to the transportation managers on a set is simple:
“Someone will come to me and say they need a car for an action scene. I’ll say, ‘I have an Escalade you can blow up. It’ll be a lot cheaper than if you tried to do it with a car from Avis or Hertz.’ ” All he asks in return is that the car is shown prominently, and that the scene doesn’t impugn the car’s safety record.
It’s a scenario in which everybody — at least everybody involved in the transaction — wins. The car is given to the transportation manager, who’s happy he can check an item off his list at no cost. Marshall has satisfied GM and justified his retainer. GM, meanwhile, has gotten a free ad for little more than a car it wasn’t going to sell anyway.
While a seamless blend of selling and storytelling might be every manufacturer’s dream, audiences are still a bit wary of being sold stuff when they’re not officially aware they’re the target of a hard sell. Like it or not, however, advertising has always part-funded mass entertainment, and it looks like product placement is a viable way, at the very least, of keeping production costs down.