Nothing Subliminal about It Companies compete to get sports products cameo roles as props in movies

October 08, 2000

On Oct. 13, a Robert Altman movie--Dr. T and the Women, in
which Richard Gere plays a gynecologist and country-club golfer,
and Helen Hunt plays a former touring pro--is scheduled to open.
There are many golf scenes in the movie and in the trailer that
is being shown in theaters. Hundreds of thousands of people have
seen the trailer, and millions are expected to see the movie.
The brand of clubs used in the film? Titleist. Altman and his
prop people could have chosen any club. They picked Titleist.

"You have two big stars that appeal to upscale, white
suburbanites who play golf or could take up golf," says Sean
Barth of Propaganda Global Entertainment Marketing, an
international product-placement and promotions company. "It could
be worth millions of dollars to Titleist." Let's say you are an
upscale, white suburbanite with no exposure to golf. (It's
possible.) You see the Altman movie. You take up golf. You're
drawn to the only brand you've heard of: Titleist. At least,
that's what the company hopes.

The use of Titleist clubs in the Gere-Hunt movie creates what
Titleist spokesman Joe Gomes calls "positive brand awareness."
It's also about the biggest bargain in advertising. Titleist paid
the producers of the movie no money. All the company did was
provide "free product," about $1,500 worth of clubs, bags, balls,
shoes, gloves and towels. The producers chose Titleist because
they wanted a product authentically used by LPGA players.

Increasingly, though, these decisions are not left to
happenstance. The business of product placement has grown
enormously in the 18 years since Steven Spielberg used Reese's
Pieces in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Now scores of agencies
work on behalf of clients to get products in movies and
otherwise before the public. (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED also uses
entertainment marketing in movies and television, working with
UPP Entertainment Marketing, of Burbank, Calif.) Sporting-goods
manufacturers big, medium and small are delighted when their
products appear in sports-oriented movies. Example: In the
opening of the recent movie The Replacements, Keanu Reeves,
before becoming a scab quarterback, has a job scraping barnacles
off boats while wearing, of all things, a Cressi-sub wet suit.
Barth, from Propaganda, arranged that. Cressi-sub provided
product to the movie's producers, and it didn't pay a cent.

MET-Rx, the California company that makes nutritional products
for athletes, paid $50,000 to the producers of the Oliver Stone
football movie Any Given Sunday for a starring role. The company
has an employee who does nothing but find opportunities to
promote MET-Rx in films and TV. So does Nike. Nike products made
the final cut of the recent Love and Basketball and of the
current cheerleading hit Bring It On, and next year will be in
Summer Catch, about the amateur baseball league on Cape Cod.

"Nike was very helpful to us, so in a climactic scene, where a
character meets a real major leaguer, we went to Nike guys," says
Mike Tollin, Summer Catch's director and producer. The role went
to Nike guy Ken Griffey Jr. "The most important thing is to be
true to the story," Tollin says.

Once that requirement is met, the deal making begins. Sometimes
deals go awry, as with Jerry Maguire, in which Tom Cruise plays
the last moral agent and Cuba ("Show me the money!") Gooding Jr.
is a veteran NFL receiver. In exchange for a prominent role in
the movie, Reebok reportedly agreed to give Tri-Star Pictures a
package, including product, worth $1.5 million. A fake Reebok
commercial, intended to be used at the end of the movie, was
shot. But the ad was never used in the theater version. In fact,
at one point in the movie, Gooding's character, frustrated with
his contract status, says, "F--- Reebok." Reebok filed a
multimillion breach-of-contract suit against Tri-Star. The two
sides settled out of court, terms undisclosed.

More often, the deals work. In the golf movie Tin Cup, the
technical adviser, pro golfer and broadcaster Gary McCord, told
producer Gary Foster that for credibility, Don Johnson, playing a
touring pro, should have a hat, with the logo of either a
telecommunications company or a luxury automobile. Foster went
for the car. The logo for Infiniti, a Nissan vehicle, wound up on
Johnson's head, and a half-dozen Infinitis wound up on the studio
lot.

All the big people were happy with the deal. The rest of us never
knew a thing.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: CHRIS PYLE

Altman and his prop people could have used golf clubs made by
anybody.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)