Advertising has become one of the leading practices in the present-day business world. One of advertising's vital strengths is the ability to reach a large heterogeneous audience, and product placement, which is a marketing technique that involves integrating brands and products into the content of films or TV shows, appeared to be a right response to this necessity.
Brands have employed this strategy for a considerable period, with the first documented example dating back to 1896 when the Lumière brothers agreed to showcase soap in their film 'Washing Day in Switzerland'. Since then, the collaboration between brands and cinema has consistently grown. Presently, in Hollywood, for instance, the product placement industry has reached a value of $23 billion, marking an increase of approximately 14 percent since 2020.
Known for its significant contributions to African cinema, Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, is considered the largest film producer in the world, making it very attractive for brands (1). Brands pay Nigerian filmmakers to incorporate their products, logos, or services into the storyline or scenes of a film, thereby offering an extra source of funding for film productions (2). This collaboration between brands and filmmakers is primarily regulated by contracts. However, it is subject to the oversight of specific public entities, particularly in relation to product categories such as tobacco (3).
1. Advantages of Product Placement for Local and Global Brands
Product placement provides brands with a dynamic and multifaceted approach to advertising, offering a range of benefits.
It provides exposure to a wide audience, often in the context of popular entertainment content, allowing brands to achieve amplified visibility and increased recognition.
By being integrated into the storyline, brands can connect with audiences and create a positive association with the brand in the minds of viewers that, watching a film, are favourably disposed to a product. Researches demonstrate that the audience's positive feelings toward the content extend to the brand featured in it. Additionally, shown in the natural context of a scene, it can lend credibility and authenticity to the brand. It also permits brands to reach specific demographics that align with the target market of the film. Further, notably, product placement facilitates memorable associations, influencing long-term brand recall. It also provides a cost-effective alternative to traditional advertising, and its adaptability across various forms of entertainment ensures flexibility for brands in choosing diverse mediums.
For all these reasons, product placement became common in the Nigerian film industry. However, a notable difference exists in the behavior of local and international brands.
Brisibe Oyinkepreye, in a research paper published in Journal of the International Institute of Academic Research and Development, investigated six successful Nigerian films, namely “The Wedding Party” (2016), “King of Boys” (2018), “Chief Daddy” (2018) and “Merry Men 2” (2019). The study highlighted a significant prevalence of brands owned by foreign companies compared to Nigerian brands. For instance, in "The Wedding Party," out of the six products visible, only one was a Nigerian brand. In the case of "King of Boys", no local brands, amidst the five noticeable placements, were identified. The study also reveals that within the visible Nigerian brands, the banking and hospitality industries are leading in product placement strategy, leading the researcher to conclude that Nigerian brands in other sectors have not yet fully harnessed the growing potential of product placement.
2. The Role of Product Placement in Film Financing
Film financing, the process of raising funds, presents a spectrum of complexities, as explained by Blessing Ajunwo-Choko in her article "Challenges in Film Financing in Nigeria and Potential Solutions".
In this intricate structure, brands can play a vital role in two distinct ways. Firstly, trademarks can serve as collateral for loans in film financing. Secondly, brands can contribute to the costs of a film, and it is this scenario that will be discussed below.
Given the challenges that Nigerian filmmakers may face in financing their projects, brands offering financial support through product placement can provide essential assistance.
This funding not only enables filmmakers to access more substantial budgets for ambitious projects but also plays a crucial role in offsetting production costs. It contributes to individual projects and to the broader growth and professionalism of the Nollywood industry, fostering higher production values and facilitating the acquisition of better equipment. Moreover, it permits filmmakers to allocate resources to talent acquisition, cinematography, and post-production, thereby elevating the overall quality and sustainability of the Nigerian film landscape.
In brief, brands emerge as important collaborators for the film industry, acting as crucial catalysts for its growth, quality and sustainability.
3. The Product placement regulation
Given the significance of product placement in the film industry, its legal aspects are crucial.
First, brands frequently make appearances in films without the consent of their owners, raising the question of the necessary of their authorisation. Clearly, not all such appearances are illegal. For instance, the use of a brand for the purposes of artistic expression should be considered fair. Also, there is no trademark infringement since the brand is not used to promote a commercial activity, designating goods or services.
However, if there is a risk that the public implies the existence of a relationship between the film and the brand, believing that the brand has endorsed the film, brands can sue for "passing off". Brands can claim damage to the reputation and goodwill of the brand and, in fact, in Europe and the Unites States, these lawsuits are not rare. It is true that the courts often decide against brands, nevertheless, film insurers in Hollywood require evidence of the brands authorization to reduce the likelihood of legal action.
Second, with some exceptions like tobacco and alcohol, the regulation of product placement is predominantly governed by private contracts. These contracts must incorporate essential details to prevent loss-making relationships and avoid restricting decision-making freedom. Important information such as the number of seconds of screenplay, context of display, frequency of display and of course the fee, must be stipulated in the contract.
Finally, with regard to the placement of certain product categories, compliance with specific laws may be necessary. The case of tobacco serves as a particularly illustrative example since the First Schedule of The National Tobacco Control Act, in force since 2015, explicitly prohibits "product placement, such as the inclusion of a trademark in the context of communication in return for payment or other consideration."
In conclusion, product placement in Nollywood is an escalating avenue for both brands and filmmakers to secure economic benefits. Beyond serving as a potential method of film financing, it presents highly advantageous opportunities for brands to reach a broad audience at a relatively lower cost. The potency of this marketing strategy underscores the need for government intervention, especially concerning specific product categories. However, certain crucial issues, such as undue influence, remain unaddressed. Therefore, given Nollywood's significant impact in Africa and worldwide, it is advisable for Nigerian authorities to institute specific legislation tailored to the unique aspects of product placement in films.