Inside the Content: Q&A with BEN Chief Product Placement Officer Erin Schmidt

Jordan Kelley, Content Director,

Reese Witherspoon's character exits her Buick in "Big Little Lies"
Reese Witherspoon's character exits her Buick in "Big Little Lies"

Ever since Superman crashed through that Marlboro truck in his epic battle with General Zod in Superman II, films and television have implemented product placement - brands paying for their product to be featured in order for that product to gain exposure. In the lifetime of product placement being commonplace, its favor and effectiveness with audiences has vacillated, leading to various degrees of success. However, in today's current media climate, the timing for product placement has never been better - that is according to the folks at the Branded Entertainment Network (BEN), the Los Angeles Based product placement, influencer marketing, and licensing company.

Brand Storytelling caught up with Chief Product Placement Officer Erin Schmidt to learn more about how product placement has changed to better suit the current media age (and the current consumer), what opportunities for product placement are currently available, and what's in store for the future:

How has product placement in entertainment changed in the last 5 years? What about in just the last year?

The business has changed almost entirely over the past five years, largely driven by the emergence of ad-free streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, and the availability of better data and more sophisticated measurement tools. What used to be seen as a vanity play by major brands is now a sophisticated marketing strategy being used by companies of every size and across every industry – from emerging digital brands like Chime and Spotify to established stalwarts like General Motors and Frito-Lay. Brands have woken up to the idea that getting inside the content isn’t just the best way to reach audiences who have shifted to streaming or are tuning out during ad-breaks, it’s also the most effective way: the brands we work with are seeing sales lifts of 46% among their target audience as a result of integrations and have seen impressive brand lift as well.

Over the last year, the pace of change has increased rapidly as streaming services take hold. The reality is that every show today is a streaming show. Take an example like the CW show, All American. While the show had about 1.7 million Live+7 impressions when it ran on the network, over its first 30 days on Netflix it received nearly 3.8 million impressions. And those impressions continue to grow month after month on streaming. This shift to streaming should be applauded by brands as it gives them an opportunity to rethink their relationship with both creators and with audiences.

What opportunities are available to content creators and producers of entertainment today that said creators might not even be thinking about?

Creators and producers are realizing more and more that products help them move their stories forward and make their characters and settings more realistic. Product placements need to go beyond simply getting a product on screen – they should take into consideration the moment, the context and the character. A well-executed placement helps the creator define a character or bring a moment to life, while helping the audience immediately relate to the story. It’s disruptive to the viewing experience when you see a character drink a can of unbranded beer or use an unbranded computer. When done right, it seems natural that the family in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel would eat Cheerios or that Ray Donovan would drive a Cadillac. The products these characters use tells you something about them that a generic box or badge never could.

This is even more true today given the current COVID-related protocols in place on productions around the globe. COVID-related measures can add as much as 10% to a total production budget. Producers are turning to brands to help fill this gap and are increasingly open to finding opportunities for products that will help them get their story made in the best way possible.

A box of Cheerios appears in the kitchen in the series "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"