The Pepsi in Simon Cowell's hand on "The X Factor" is no accident. It's a major business deal that reaps rewards for both the show and the beverage giant, which hopes its brand will creep into your subconscious and spark a purchase the next time you're at the store. But what if that Pepsi was O.N.E. Coconut Water, instead?
Beth Bell, founder and CEO of upstart Green Product Placement, is on a mission to make that scenario a reality. The company plans to ramp up product placement by the third quarter next year in America, then expand the business globally. With Bell's associates Lisa Dietrich (pictured here on Bell's right) in Canada and Jansen van Dok in the U.K., the business is poised for international green product placement beginning next year.
Should your natural product ever take Pepsi's place? Bell opens up about sustainability initiatives in the production industry and why TV or film exposure is important for moving the natural products industry forward.
NewHope360: What inspired the idea for your business?
Beth Bell: I spent years working in the set decorating/dressing department and had worked with product placement companies to get products placed in shows. I left the business for eight and a half years and worked for a marketing company. But how this all started was, it was a Saturday, and I was sitting at my computer. Morgan Spurlock was a Facebook friend, and he said he's going to be at TED.com answering questions about his newest film "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" for the next hour. Basically they financed the film through high-dollar placements. POM Wonderful paid $1 million to be in the title.
But in reality the bulk of film placements are handled by agencies and the set dressing department. A good way around not having to buy things on the shelves or obscure the logo is to use product placed items. It's win-win because then the brands get exposure and it doesn't cost them much money to just send a product.
There was some back and forth between him [Morgan] and me, and he said "I think you found your next career." So I Google searched and didn't find any companies that specifically said they were placing green products. Years ago when I was the buyer on Runaway Bride, in 1998, my boss said, "Let's see if we can get Aveda or Kiss My Face." Even back then there were production people who knew if you're going to use a brand, why not use a good brand. We've met with Morgan and he's very supportive and thinks it's a fantastic idea that this online conversation resulted in a whole new company.
NewHope360: What's your mission?
BB: The point of our company is to change the face of product placement. There's something subliminal about product placement. You see characters drinking their Honest Tea, or whatever it is, and that makes you aware of that brand. Plus, no one watches commercials anymore.
NewHope360: Why do you think sustainable products aren’t placed as much as conventional products in media?
BB: Product placement has been going on for 30 to 40 years. But a number of natural companies don't have the kind of money in their budget for a feature placement. For example, on Chuck they use the iPhone and show the screen every time it rings. [Apple is] paying a lot of money because it's extremely featured. But the bulk of the product placement is background dressing, not handled by the producers. It's what they call the below-the-line crew: wardrobe supervisors, set decorators, set deck buyers and prop buyers. So whatever they can get that's free and looks great, they will.
Some brands really get it and others don't. We have one client, Glow Gluten Free cookies, who really gets the importance [of product placement] because the owner used to work for Tim Burton for 10 years. The feedback we've gotten from natural companies is that some companies are really small and it's more important to them to get into more stores or in-store promotions. But when you do that, you're only addressing the several hundred people that are coming into that store location.
If you want to appeal to the general public then you have to play on the same field as the conventional brands. Certain brands only want to appeal to certain types of consumers. Why wouldn't you want to appeal to all consumers? Why wouldn't you want to have people reaching for your product instead of a chemical product full of pollutants or a food product full of preservatives?
NewHope360: Beyond products, would you ever work with natural retailers to get their locations featured?
BB: Very much so. We'd love to get Whole Foods. They do placements because the Top Chef people always shop at Whole Foods. We'd love to get the regional, local chains with 10 to 15 stores. It would be great to see characters coming into a supermarket with their reusable bag from one of these [natural] retailers.
NewHope360: What's the criteria for the type of product you'd place?
BB: What we want to be is the organic market of product placement companies. We certainly don't want to carry anything with harmful chemicals. We want it to be all natural, organic if possible, and/or a company that uses sustainable practices and/or a company that makes giving back a part of their business strategy. The other thing is local, entrepreneurial companies. For example, we have a client, Dangerously Delicious Pies, who is opening in Austin. If a movie is shooting in Toronto, but it's supposed to be Austin, the set decorator can use our client's product to make the set look more like Austin.
NewHope360: How do natural companies work with you to place their products?
BB: We're going to be pay-to-place. A company signs on with us, and if we get them placed they will pay us a fee. We're pounding the production pavement on their behalf. The fee would be based on the size of the project. If we get them in a blockbuster, if will be a higher fee than episodic television. That said, you have no editorial control as to if the product is going to be seen or not. That's why it's best to get as much of your stuff in as you can, so they can keep reusing it in different sets. And while actors may get residuals five years later, it's the same thing with product placement. This type of media is going to keep being watched, so you'll get a huge bump up when it's viewed.
NewHope360: What green products have you placed so far?
BB: What we've placed in HBO's "Veep" which premieres in spring of 2012:
- Glow Gluten Free
- Wholesome Sweeteners
- Bulldog Natural Grooming
- Honeybee Gardens, natural cosmetics
- PeaceKeeper Cause-Metics
- Full Circle
- Sloop Betty Vodka
- Herban Lifestyle
- B'more Organics
- Resurrection Ale
NewHope360: What sustainable practices are you doing to keep true to your company's mission?
BB: A lot of times, product is sent to a warehouse from the manufacturer. Then a movie or TV show gets the product from the warehouse. It's not absolutely necessary. For now, it's perfectly fine for us to work with our brands that are used to sending product out all the time. It doesn't need to be double warehoused.
We're also operating as a virtual office. We use electronic documents and very little paper. Our office in New York City will be inside a coworking space called Green Spaces.
NewHope360: Being green and environmentally-friendly has always been important in the natural products industry. But how green is the media production industry?
BB: I do know a lot of companies are getting better about providing reusable water bottles for the crew, or the caterers will donate their leftover food or compost it. It's slow going but they'll get there. TV crews are also reusinga lot of their flats [for their set walls] or reusing set dressing bought for movies.
A number of states now have additional refunds or tax incentives based around how green a production is. There's a lot of filming going on in New Mexico because of the tax incentives. We're working on trying to get the names and e-mails of all the studio directors of sustainability. But at the end of the day, they're not the ones making the day-to-day decisions about all the products that go into a movie.