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PROPPING UP SUSTAINABILITY: RE-THINKING PRODUCT PLACEMENT IN FILM AND TELEVISION

As an entertainment, marketing, and sustainability lawyer and advisor, I have always

been fascinated by the intersection of branded and original content. Brands are

increasingly tapping into top producers and influencers to replace 30 second

commercial spots with premium content that extends beyond broadcast and onto social

media giants like YouTube and TikTok. On the flip side, beyond the obvious examples of

feature films centered around brands — eg The LEGO Movie, The Super Mario Bros.

Movie, Barbie — filmmakers have been partnering with companies through product

placements to better simulate the “real world” and creatively offset production costs for

decades.


As our society faces increasing pressure to reduce our environmental impact, we’re

seeing brands often blur the line between promoting genuine sustainability efforts and

greenwashing—a tactic that exaggerates eco-friendly claims. The next generation of

consumers is increasingly skeptical of this, checking on everything from ingredient lists

to company backstories.


The film and TV industry can play a critical part to offset some of the greenwashing

that’s going on by rethinking their role within the product placement industry. By

showcasing higher impact brands in their projects, they can creatively weave

environmentally friendly choices into storylines and highlight sustainable solutions, all

while potentially saving on production costs.


SUBTLE AND SELECTIVE >DOOM AND GLOOM

There’s a common misconception that sustainability stories are only filled with doom

and gloom, leaving audiences overwhelmed and paralyzed into inaction. But every story

has the potential to encourage sustainable best practices. Movies and TV shows have a

big say in shaping what we think is cool and important. By choosing which brands they

support and seamlessly integrating sustainability into their stories, they can inspire

audiences to make eco-friendly choices and back truly sustainable brands. This can

lead to real change in how people live and what they buy. This is often more powerful

than an overt PSA, as it normalizes best practices within the fictional realm of the show

we’re enjoying. Since the shows we watch often imitate our own world and consumption

behavior, sustainable product placement offers us a chance to showcase an aspirational

world we should aim to live in.


GO VIRTUAL

With groundbreaking technologies emerging daily, productions can take their product

placement strategies an environmental step further by using virtual product placements

to digitally insert products on-screen during post-production, reducing transport

emissions, logistical issues, and costs. When done right, it’s a climate win-win.


OFF-SCREEN AMPLIFICATION

Sustainable brands don’t always need to be directly integrated into the project to offset

productions costs. Project marketing teams can leverage brand sponsorship dollars as

well, integrating them into behind-the-screens exclusives, interviews, and other social

media promo. Marketing campaigns can pursue many different avenues to integrate

and spotlight eco-friendly choices, while simultaneously offsetting a production’s

marketing expenses.


MORE WAYS TO WALK THE WALK

Productions have myriad ways to make sustainable choices on-screen and this goes

beyond highlighting eco-friendly products.

Some of your favorite shows and studios have already started to make important on-

screen statements by eliminating single-use plastic, normalizing recycling and

composting, reusing wardrobe across scenes and episodes, having characters whip

around in EVs, and showcasing characters enjoying plant-based options. These

practices allow the audience to enjoy the show for the show, while subtly celebrating

and destigmatizing sustainable practices that people can feel inspired to incorporate

into their own lives.


RESPONSIBLE STORYTELLING

Storytelling is what distinguishes humans from the rest of the species on our beautiful

planet. With that, comes the responsibility to not just tell the stories of who we are, but

also of what we can become, one storyline (and product placement) at a time.



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