We Need to Change the Mentality of how we Produce Content
Product placement is an effective way of funding the production of content in the region, so why isn’t it being made the most of?
“Everything is about the integrity of the product and the integrity of the drama or movie,” says Khulud Abu Homos, managing director of Arab Format Lab. “When you start disturbing this integrity it’s harmful for both the content itself and the product.”
We are at the inaugural three-day edition of Discop Dubai – a television and film market designed to bring producers and broadcasters together – discussing product placement in the Middle East and North Africa. Judging by the panel, all is not well.
Product placement (the insertion of a brand into a TV show, drama or film) is one of those tricky marketing moves that is hard to get right, despite being a potentially valuable source of revenue for producers in the region.
Get it wrong and your brand could face a critical backlash. Get it right and a brand could find fame almost overnight.
Everyone knows the success stories – Aston Martin in the James Bond movies, the Ford Mustang in Bullitt – but for every smooth and effective placement of a brand there are 100 clumsy and illinformed appearances.
“We are far away from the proper integration of the product [into a show] and we are not exploiting various opportunities for product placement,” continues Abu Homos. “There are two things we need to work on if we want to develop local productions in a premium way and attract enough funding. We need to think of product placement as a proper funding mechanism for production, not as an afterthought. It should start from the initial planning of a show or film and not be slapped on at the end.
“The second is to think of creative ways to integrate product placement. It’s not only visual, it is audio and it could also be messaging. The best product placement is when there is synergy between the brand positioning of a product and the messaging of the story.”
There are numerous problems relating to the effective use of product placement in the region, not least the lack of regulation pertaining to its use, the haphazard working practices of regional broadcasters, and the belief that slapping a can of soda on the set of a reality TV show is in some way creative.
“Engagement with an audience is not just throwing a bottle or a can of Pepsi on a jury table,” says Marwan Helayel, managing director of Trivium Media. “It’s about the storyline of a show
We need to think of product placement as a proper funding mechanism for production, not as an afterthought." -Khulud Abu Homos, managing director of Arab Format Lab "It’s about the storyline of a show incorporating the usage of a brand in an engaging way, which doesn’t happen very often in the region." -Marwan Helayel, managing director of Trivium Media
incorporating the usage of a brand in an engaging way, which doesn’t happen very often in the region.
“It’s a matter of integrating the product into the script. If I’m writing a script for a drama series and there’s a lot of scenes in a car, that’s when I approach a car firm and say ‘listen, we can integrate your product into our script’. It’s already written, it’s organic, it’s natural, and it’s not in-your-face product placement.”
Such an example can be found in Emirati director Ali Mostafa’s road movie From A to B, which was partfinanced by Land Rover.
Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is media owners’ obsession with Ramadan. The vast majority of programming is commissioned for that month alone, leaving the rest of the year a barren field of mediocrity.
“Ninety per cent of what we produce per year is for one month,” says Abu Homos. “$500 million was spent last year in the Middle East and North Africa on drama. The planning? There is no planning. How can you do any planning for product placement if everything is done at the eleventh hour? There needs to be a change in the exposure of drama throughout the year and how we write dramas.
“The problem today is that, say, 50 dramas are now being produced for Ramadan. I can bet you that none of them can give you a storyline – a plot – from beginning to end. There is a big issue in the way we are producing. How can you talk about product placement if you don’t have a programme to work with? The scripts are not written.”
“I’ll give you an example,” adds Helayel. “Two years ago we were six weeks away from Ramadan and [the writers of a particular show] had only written seven episodes. That’s it. And those seven episodes were extended to 20. So you watch 20 episodes and nothing happens, because it’s a sevenepisode script. Imagine me as a brand or a media agency that wanted to involve my brand in that series. It would be killed if my brand was part of a script that was seven episodes stretched into 20.”
Khulud concludes: “We need to change the mentality of how we produce content. Let’s plan, let’s write. Once we’ve written, let’s pitch it. Our problem is that we don’t have these very logical steps that exist in other markets.”
Screenshots of Ali Mostafa’s 'From A to B', which featured the Range Rover Evoque.
The Aston Martin in James Bond’s movies