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

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