Thursday, October 29, 2009

Placing Brands

This week I have mostly been talking like Lola* and I have no idea why, other than it has been a funner-er way to live my week with a stinky lurgy.

Becoming quite attached to a favourite screen character is nothing new; many people would never dream of missing Doctor Who, Torchwood, BSG, Heroes, Lost, Holby - you name it - just to see what 'Character X' does next - but on Kids' TV, as an adult?

I write stuff, produce and direct stuff, have reels to prove I have voiced characters just like Lola on screen and 'puter games (although not as successful - goddamit!). More to the point I am an adult - yes, I know some would debate this - but surely all of the above should add up to an ability to remain unaffected by a pink-milk swigging girl on kids' TV? But our Lola is far more than that: she is quite the example of examples. I can spot a piece of Charlie and Lola merchandise a mile off; within the first four notes of the opening titles I know it is on, and even the last seven notes of the theme tune still drive me to distraction because I always think of Hill Street Blues; every time I see glitter and gaudy coloured scrap paper I think they'd "be good for stick-er-ing" and so it goes on.

Branded: that's what has happened to me, and the way in which Lola phrases her sentences has become very much part of the brand too, but I am unconvinced as to whether I know if a child or an adult has more brand loyalty. Obviously adults hold the purse strings and make most of the overriding decisions within a household and so therefore could be supposed to dictate brand choice, but given the option of anything and everything in a room, would a child *only* pick up his/her favourite "Dora the Explorer" merchandise? Or would they pick up Dora, only to fancy a bit of "Timmy Time" topped off with a snippet of "Thomas Tank" merch? I suspect they would as a rule of thumb, but all children differ. How about adults though? Stick a bunch of adults in a warehouse of *free* entertainment electronics - Sony on one side, LG in the middle and Beko on the other side - most people would probably gravitate towards the Sony goodies based on brand presence in the marketplace, unless they had previous bad experience or were ardent fans of LG or Beko. Ever heard someone vehemently defend 'their' Football Team, talk about how 'their' TV programme is about to come on (so everyone: shut up or die), how they prefer Nigella's Christmas recipes to Jamie's? Brands, each and every one. We are branded 24/7. So why am I stating the obvious - well, for screen writing and production reasons, of course?

Next time you sit down with a flashing cursor on virgin white 'screen paper' having completed all your background research, just take five minutes to read through your notes on how your project may be branded or at least perceived in the TV marketplace - because you've completed them too, haven't you? No? Well, you may want to start making mental notes to this avail because brands as we know are big business.

No need to spend hours and hours agonising over whether the name will look good on the Point of Sale posters, or whether the font is slightly too Doctor Who - that is what the sales, marketing and design experts are paid to do. Just see your story in a simple graphic, a doodle, a colour, a photo; assess how that graphic/doodle/colour/photo makes you feel and perhaps keep it nearby? Perhaps, if you hit a brick wall just after the midpoint, a quick glance at your initial 'concept brand' is all it would take to get your creative juices flowing again. This may all seem really rather far removed from any form of real writing creativity but over the next month or so, the guidelines on product placement within the UK TV industry (but not BBC) will be changing with a big bang, so it's worth gradually trying to re-tune your mind a little.

Film is no stranger to product placement: take Warner Bros Watchmen (2009) - the main featured brands totalled a fairly average nineteen, all of which were 'vintage' 1980s versions; "The Proposal" (2009) (Bullock/Reynolds) reads like a who's who in luxury designer brand placement, with placement winner, Apple, having an iMac in every computer scene.

"But I'm a writer, not a marketing & PR person!" I hear you shout and, yes, this is true: but you are, however, in business. So you would think your creativity would be curtailed by the fact that XYZ Brand's Product is heavily investing and therefore needs prominence - in fact, it has been suggested that blatant placement turns a lot of viewers off - but it is worth bearing in mind, once the guidelines have been drawn up, you may just have to incorporate certain elements into your work. I may be wrong and talking total rot, but I feel it is sometimes better to be prepared and open to new ideas.

When you are sending out your work, obviously you don't brand anything (unless you've been asked to, of course). Just make these ideas/visuals your own personal branding, one which enables you to focus on the crux of your story and allows you to talk with even more passion and gravitas than you had upon idea conception.

Give it a go. It may just help.

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