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Winery Wins the Game of Product Placement

Clos du Val may appear in more shows than any other brand thanks to its strategy of giving freebies to Hollywood.

June 07, 2004|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

In the script for "The Terminal," the character played by Tom Hanks woos a flight attendant during a romantic dinner with Champagne on the menu. Director Steven Spielberg decided that was too pretentious.

Happily for prop master David Harlocker, Napa Valley winery Clos du Val had hand-delivered several bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon to the set in Palmdale in anticipation of such an opportunity.

"We offered up a bottle," said Harlocker, "and Steven said that would work fine."

It was a move worthy of an Oscar. The Clos du Val Cabernet -- with its lens-catching terra-cotta-colored label -- will be easily visible to viewers when "The Terminal" opens June 18. Already, the bottle stars in the movie's trailers and promotional stills.

Clos du Val, a small maker of premium wine, could never afford to hire a star of Hanks' stature as an endorser. But by devoting 240 cases of its 65,000-case annual production as freebies for Hollywood, the winery has won dozens of stealth product placements near big-time celebrities.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 12, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Clos du Val -- In an article in Monday's Business section about the placement of Clos du Val wine in movies and TV shows, the first name of Doug Harlocker, the prop master for the film "The Terminal," was given as David Harlocker.

In last year's Academy Award-nominated film "21 Grams," Sean Penn contemplates death over a bottle of the Napa winery's Cabernet. James Gandolfini serves Clos du Val in the HBO mob drama "The Sopranos." Ray Romano pours it on the CBS sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond." Malinda Williams sipped it in the Showtime series "Soul Food."

No one tracks wine placements in films and television programs, but Aaron Gordon, president of the Set Resources entertainment marketing firm in Santa Monica, believes that Clos du Val appears in more shows than any other brand.

The winery pays Gordon's firm a fee "somewhat south of $5,000 a month" to keep Clos du Val in the minds of Hollywood bigwigs, primarily by figuring out which directors, actors and prop masters should get free wine. Set Resources also offers up cases of Clos du Val to be served at premieres and other showbiz galas. But unlike with many product placement arrangements, the winery doesn't pay the studios to include its products in their productions.

All told, Clos du Val gives away about $36,000 worth of wine at wholesale prices.

Over the last year, Gordon said, Clos du Val wine has appeared in about 100 films and television shows, including "The O.C.," "Judging Amy," "Las Vegas" and "Two and a Half Men." Although there's no way to measure the effect on the company's revenue, wine sales in the first quarter of this year were almost 50% higher than a year ago, said Brooke Correll, a former MTV executive who is vice president of marketing for the privately held winery.

People might not pick out the name from a 10-second viewing on television, "but we know from focus groups that the No. 1 thing consumers know about Clos du Val is the terra-cotta label with the curlicues," Correll said.

That plays out in the supermarket, creating brand recognition and encouraging consumers eyeing hundreds of offerings to pick a Clos du Val wine. "It works like a billboard," she said.

What's more, whether it is a BMW driven by Pierce Brosnan's James Bond or a glass of wine consumed on a date by Sarah Jessica Parker's character on "Sex and the City," viewers gravitate to a product they have seen on the screen when they identify with the character.

"Products embedded with the emotions of a film or television show have far more impact than a commercial," said Peter Sealey, a marketing professor at UC Berkeley.

Technology is giving these placements even more value, he said, because they gain new lives when television shows hit syndication and when movies and TV programs become DVDs. And in an age of TiVo and other devices that allow people to skip through commercials, placements are becoming increasingly important.

"This is a brilliant marketing strategy until the rest of the industry wakes up," said Sealey, who oversaw product placement for Coca-Cola Co. when he was head of the soft drink company's global marketing efforts.

Indeed, Clos du Val isn't the only one playing this game.

Industry giant E&J Gallo Winery is starting to use its clout as one of the wine industry's largest television advertisers to get products into shows.

That's paid off in multiple placements for its brands, including Turning Leaf, Rancho Zabaco and Ecco Domani, Gallo spokesman Tim McDonald said.

Gallo relies on its advertising relationships to land placements primarily on cable shows, especially cooking programs and lifestyle series, such as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" -- which featured a bottle of Rancho Zabaco on a recent episode.

Sometimes Gallo benefits from sheer luck. McDonald said a bottle of Turning Leaf found its way into the 2002 film "The Banger Sisters," starring Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon, because someone on the set liked the way it looked.

Luck is typical, prop master Harlocker said. When the scene in "The Terminal" was shot, he had bottles of Dom Perignon and Cristal Champagne on hand -- both provided free by the vintners.

But Spielberg's thinking was that "a great bottle of red wine itself is very romantic," Harlocker said, and better fit the tone of the scene in which Hanks' Viktor Navorski, a stranded passenger from Eastern Europe who takes up residence at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, is romancing the flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

"Decisions like this in movies," he said, "are often just a roll of the dice."

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