Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Advance Directly to Go ... in a Prius?

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Advance Directly to Go ... in a Prius?

Article excerpt

A new version of Monopoly launched in the US last week and Hasbro, the game's manufacturer, has gone to great lengths to update its 70-year-old game.

Train stations have been replaced with airports and the cash reward for passing Go has been boosted from dollars 200 to an inflation-adjusted dollars 2m. The biggest change, however, has been the introduction of five corporate brands. You can now navigate the game using tokens including a Motorola mobile phone, bag of McDonald's fries, cup of Starbucks coffee, New Balance running shoe or Toyota Prius.

Hasbro's senior vice-president of marketing Mark Belcher, like many marketers, is keen to utilise other brands in his entertainment product They add realism, and buzz and, maybe one day, a significant income; as big brands gradually withdraw from TV advertising and embrace a more complex and jumbled entertainment mediascape, everything from board games to computer simulations will present potential brand-building opportunities.

But Belcher is also typical in that he is a marketer desperate to avoid insinuations that he has profited from the inclusion of brands in his board game. Even the grizzled capitalist consumers of the US would bridle at the thought that they have just paid dollars 40 for a board game that is a promotional tool. Belcher spent last week fanning the flames of his product launch, while simultaneously extinguishing the rumours that Hasbro has received a fee from the five featured brands.

Research firm PQ Media recently estimated that of the dollars 7.45bn global product-placement value that will be generated this year, only 35% will originate from a paid incentive. The challenge comes in working out which third are paying for placements, and which are genuine recipients of free publicity.

During the 20th century both brands and their associated media were more than happy to boast about adspend figures. Product placement, however, is completely different. Both the brands and the media involved are keen to disguise any commercial relationship.

The most popular way to dismiss rumours of paid placement is to claim that free products are the reason for a brand's inclusion. While it is just about possible to believe that Eva Longoria drives an Aston Martin in Desperate Housewives because Ford supplied the dollars 125,000 vehicle for free, it is harder to accept that the reason Starbucks featured so heavily in Shrek 2 was because the firm offered the producers free coffee and access to their logo. …

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