The Entourage movie, based on the eponymous series which aired on HBO from 2004-2012, came out this Wednesday. For those unaware, the series follows a fictionalized movie star as he travails through Hollywood, and all the materialistic riches and experiences that come with that.
At its heart, the entourage in Entourage is a privileged group of people who get to do cool things thanks to their fortunate position in life. Central to that identity, is stuff; stuff that people who aren’t successful movie stars want, but don’t have. Like cars, clothes, and technology.
But, much as you would like to imagine otherwise, Entourage isn’t real. It’s television. And when you make television you make choices on a number of things, from locations to props, many of which are influenced by capitalist forces raining down onto Hollywood. If Vince, Entourage’s fictional movie star, is going to drive somewhere, it’s going to be in a “cool” car. HBO doesn’t allow for paid product placements, but over the course of the series Entourage the show was a bastion of the product placement. Because, if Entourage is supposed to show the “real” Hollywood, the guys are going to use and play with real brands.
Product placement in movies makes fiscal sense for both parties. The movie gets to film its stars using known and relatable products, and brands get to advertise in a way that will, at the very least, make an impression. The problem — aside from the ethical considerations of advertising in art — is that ads for the sake of advertising can distract, significant when you consider that movies are meant to entertain.
Product Placement & The Future
According to Adweek, Entourage creator Doug Ellin is a car guy, and when he had the chance to tour General Motors’ design bunker in Los Angeles he fell in love with a concept car, the Cadillac Ciel, a convertible with suicide doors. He wrote the car into the script of the film.
A key challenge with the Entourage movie, and any movie, is in “making an integration look natural to the storyline,” said Cadillac’s director of brand and reputation strategy Melody Lee to Adweek. The movie features a Cadillac Escalade and ELR as well.
"We didn't want anything that felt gratuitous," says Lee. "And that's always the tricky part, making an integration look natural to the storyline.”
For Cadillac, the promotion coincides with a major rebranding effort, including a relaunch of its Escalade brand as well as the company’s recent headquarters move from Detroit to Manhattan. But it’s also a reflection upon the changing tastes of advertisers to move beyond traditional marketing and traditional product placement.
"Anyone can take movie footage, add cars and call it a day," Cadillac’s Lee said to Adweek. But that’s an antiquated way of thinking now that competition for impressions had reached a zenith. Today’s corporate marketers want messaging that looks, to quote from Adweek, “more like an element of the content.”
Thanks to improvements in technology, traditional modes of advertising have and are changing. Whether through agile marketing or branded content, marketers continue to search for ways to get their messages across to potential customers organically, so that the viewer is more engrossed in the narrative of the storyline rather than the company or the product.
One example of this is an advertisement from British telecommunication company Vodafone, in an ad called “Piggy Sue.”
Another example is Royal Crush, a scripted television series which airs on AwesomenessTV’s YouTube channel. The series is set on a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and, according to James Deutch, AwesomenessTV’s branded entertainment creative director, it has nearly seven million video views for six episodes.
“It’s a great example of how to make a scripted show where the brand is totally organic to the storyline because it takes place on a cruise ship,” he tells AdWeek. “It resonated with the viewers because it wasn’t like we said you have to go take a cruise. Also, at the core of it is story.”
Today and in the future, the line between story and sales will further blur. As people push away from advertising in the traditional sense and watch more time-adjusted content on a variety of devices, the opportunity exists for brands to infuse their products into these stories or to produce stories themselves.
Because even Entourage, with all its Maserati’s and bottles of Cristal, is all about the content.