Would the movie have worked if it had been called Personal Digital Assistant?

Little Black Book, released last Friday, is a cautionary tale about a man whose romantic exploits are captured on his PalmOne Tungsten C. His girlfriend, played by Brittany Murphy, purloins the Palm just to find out

how trustworthy he is.

She discovers not only a list of ex-girlfriends, but pictures and details and uses the information to track the women down. The Palm PDA is as central to the film as any of its characters. Apple Computer, Dell, Nokia and other high-profile technology vendors have featured their equipment in movies and television, but this may be the first time the vendor’s product is synonymous with the title.

Pipeline spoke with Palm Canada’s director of marketing Jan Gillespie recently about handhelds and the importance of getting to grips with product placement.

 

Pipeline: How did this arrangement come about?

Jan Gillespie: Sony Revolution Studios approached us and wanted to utilize handheld technology as part of the theme of the movie itself. The screenwriters were obviously fairly technology savvy. We wanted to work with them to utilize some of the key features of the product to enhance the storyline of the movie — being able to utilize images of people within the handheld, storing images, etc.

Pipeline: Was there any competitive process or did you have to put together a pitch for Sony?

JP: No. I guess because Palm has always been the originator and the leader in the handheld market, they really wanted to utilize our product as part of the film. Oftentimes, a lot of companies do paid placements for these kinds of opportunities. It was a real honour for us to be asked to do this without having to pay any fees. The only cost to us was providing them some units and some custom cases. We’re in the enviable position of being approached quite frequently to provide products to different set directors to be featured in different cameo appearances in movies. Especially here in Canada with such a tremendous film industry.

We’ve had our product make cameo appearances in television shows like The West Wing, Will & Grace, Law and Order, just to name a few.

Pipeline: Did Palm have any input into the movie creatively?

JP: Only from the technology aspect in terms of working with the screenwriters — to be able to demonstrate to them some of the capabilities of the product. We had somebody work with the screen directors to assist in how they could actually utilize the technology and feature the technology to fit with the theme of the movie.

Pipeline: How do you gauge the success of a product placement in a movie?

JP: Normally if you were doing a paid product placement you would need to put some pre- and post awareness testing in place to be able to get some quantifiable measurements on how successful it has been. Since this wasn’t a paid placement, we really didn’t go to that extent. We really see the benefit as the awareness of handhelds to the millions of viewers that are going to see the movie in terms of what the devices are capable of. A lot of people think of Palm as the original product, which was a simple organizer. Certainly, from an education element, it gives us an opportunity to make people much more aware of the capabilities of what the product can do these days.

Pipeline: If the movie does poorly at the box office, will Palm experience any negative fallout?

JP: I don’t think there would be any negative fallout for us. Certainly the people that have gone to see it would be able to see the product. It’s just an awareness opportunity for us.

Pipeline: Is product placement a viable alternative to more traditional print and media advertising?

JP: I believe it is a very, very viable way of getting your products in front of different audiences. When used strategically, it’s a great opportunity to generate brand as well as product awareness. I think larger companies — car manufacturers, etc. — may use this a little more strategically. We haven’t done that in the past. It’s certainly very, very costly and not something that we have looked to do on a paid basis.

Pipeline: There seems to be a growing concern that traditional advertising isn’t as successful as it used to be because the audience is more cynical and aware these days, particularly younger people. Is placement a way of more subtly promoting a product?

JP: Certainly product placement is great. We’ve also used influence or seeding initiatives as well as a way to get new products out in front of different audiences.

Pipeline: How does that work?

JP: Well, we seed product with people in the target market we’re trying to attack. So people who are highly visible in a particular area — having them use the product and then through word of mouth, we get a lot of education and interest just by having certain individuals use it.

Pipeline: Do you mean famous people in the public eye?

JP: It could be famous people or it could be even an individual who is influential within their own realm. Say we were interested in having Palm handhelds utilized within the medical community. By working with select physicians or doctors who can take advantage of the technology or do some very, very interesting things with it, and then be able to speak to their colleagues about what the product is capable of — that sort of word of mouth has a tremendous amount of value. We would send out trial or free units to these people and then solicit their feedback afterwards.

Pipeline: If the movie does well, would Palm be encouraged to do more product placement?

JP: I think we’d be encouraged to take a look at it and maybe do it a little more strategically. A little bit more on a proactive level where we would say, “”How would we really take our product and make it really mainstream in a particular television show or movie of our choosing?”” versus the way we do it today, which is a little bit more reactive where we have set directors contacting us and really wanting to use it as a prop.

Comment: pipeline@itbusiness.ca

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+