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Product Placement in a New Place: TV Ads

Blockbuster's Guest Role in Olds Commercial Is Part of a Cross-Promotion Trend

October 22, 1998

In a current commercial for the new Silhouette Premiere from Oldsmobile, a family of four enjoys a ride in the tricked-out minivan, which features a built-in TV and VCR. In the second row of seats, we see the kids wearing headsets connected to the audio and video system. Cut to a beauty shot of . . . video boxes from Blockbuster.

What is a Blockbuster product doing in a commercial for a General Motors vehicle? The spot--created by the Chicago-based Leo Burnett agency--is part of an effort by Blockbuster to gain more exposure by placing its distinctive blue and yellow logo in commercials for other products. It's also part of an overall trend toward piggybacking compatible products in an effort to create added exposure for both brands.

Movies have long featured product placement--Blockbuster itself has appeared in movies such as "The Lost World" and "The Beautician and the Beast." But in commercials, this kind of subtle placement is unusual. For example, Blockbuster also has a prominent tie-in in a recent Thrifty Rent-A-Car ad. But that ad is more of a traditional bonus offer: Rent a car, get a free video rental.

Hugh Scallon, a senior account executive at Leo Burnett who worked on the Olds spot, said his team approached Blockbuster after considering many entertainment properties.

"We talked to a bunch of the Hollywood studios," Scallon said. "We ultimately decided that a Blockbuster tie-in, which offered a free rental, was the best way to generate test-drives."

Rather than touting the offer in the TV ad--"we wanted to keep the TV launch more of an image campaign for the vehicle," Scallon explained--Oldsmobile is conveying this offer through print ads and mailings to a million potential customers. As for the TV ad placement, it was added into the agency's existing plan for the spot. "I think it was a very natural placement, not contrived," Scallon said.

In addition to the TV ad, Olds touts Blockbuster on its Web site for the minivan, identifying Blockbuster as the "entertainment headquarters for the Silhouette Premiere." For its part, Blockbuster gives the minivan a plug on video monitors in its stores.

The companies wouldn't discuss the financial terms of the deal. But it is typical for an advertiser such as Olds to pay Blockbuster for the cost of the free video rental cards given to people who test-drive the minivan.

"1998 has been kind of a breakthrough year for us in terms of partnerships," said Lisa Adams, vice president of national sales, partnership marketing and licensing for Blockbuster, a unit of Viacom Inc.

Harvey Seslowsky, a Blockbuster senior vice president, said there's more to come. In addition to recent campaigns linking Blockbuster to Thrifty Rent-A-Car and Dunkin' Donuts, a big Domino's Pizza TV and radio campaign with ties to Blockbuster is set to hit in early November. In these ads, unlike the one for Olds, a Blockbuster cross-promotional discount is part of the commercial.

"We're always looking for partnerships that fit. With Domino's, 9% of our customers go from our stores" to a quick-service restaurant, Seslowsky said.

The tie-in also highlights a growing trend among car makers to link to entertainment. Mercury is tying its Villager minivan to the November release of the animated "Rugrats" movie, for example; Oldsmobile partnered with the "X-Files" movie earlier this year.

Said Scallon: "Cars are such a mature product. Their components are basically the same. This is a way to differentiate and brand a vehicle, using entertainment."

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