As the father of a four-year-old daughter, I had the unalloyed pleasure of a cinema trip to my local Odeon this half term.
The film of choice? Hotel Transylvania 2. Whilst I love a good animated movie, Sony’s Adam Sandler franchise is one I would have been very unlikely to see it if not for the pestering of my aforementioned daughter.
Whilst the film was pretty entertaining, (and my daughter loved it by the way) I was really quite surprised to find that one of the central characters to this fantasy world monster/vampire/mummy/werewolf mash-up was a modern day, fully and beautifully 3D rendered mobile phone. As far as I can tell it was the latest Sony Xperia.
This was more than just product placement, this was branded content. The Sony mobile phone was a central plot device with multiple appearances and about five solid minutes of screen time. It was truly remarkable. Throughout the movie the lead character Dracula was using the mobile phone, having a video call with his daughter on the mobile phone, being shown how (and failing) to operate the mobile phone with his overly long fingernails and more.
It was by far the most extensive and inclusive piece of brand involvement in a major movie I have seen in a movie since FedEx in Castaway.
Now I am a big fan of appropriate product placement in movies. Brands (chosen well) can enhance the sense of immersion in a film or TV show and yet at the same time can deliver a significant brand benefit as it creates a sense of credibility and prestige for certain brands that no amount of advertising can create.
Coincidentally, the new Bond film, Spectre, was arriving in cinemas the very next day and you can guarantee that it will be packed full of brands that want to be associated with the glamour of the world’s most famous fictional spy.
But we know from experience that the Bond films tread a very fine line with this strategy. Car marques like Aston Martin have managed to become some of the coolest brands of all time because of their association with Bond, but when Omega watches were actually name checked by 007 in Casino Royale, it was seen as having jumped the shark somewhat. Interestingly, in that same movie, Sony electronics had a very prominent presence, with virtually every piece of consumer technology used by Bond being part of the Sony stable – cameras, phones, laptops etc, but it managed to fly under the radar - subtle even though it was all pervasive.
I’m not sure where the Hotel Transylvania example sits. It was definitely very noticeable, and I clearly remembered it, and it is a great looking phone, even when blown up to IMAX proportions. However the real-world 100 per cent lifelike products in a fantasy cartoon setting was slightly incongruous and there were possibly a few too many phone usage occasions than were completely justified by the plot. It is a bold move by Sony though, and I think that strategically for them it is the right thing to be doing. In the mobile phone market, most people want the reassurance that the phone they are buying is going to be accepted by their peers and so putting it in the hands of their hero’s (or antiheros) is probably really smart.
I look forward to seeing if this is part of a bigger brand strategy for Sony – their long term brand equity and reputation gives them the right to do this and their crossover between technology and entertainment gives them the platform to effectively create their own sales and marketing ecosystem which could mean a very sustainable long term strategy.
Dan Plant is group strategy director and real-time planning director at MEC.