Lights, Camera, Action!
By Joachim Bamrud, Mon Jun 25 00:00:00 GMT 2001

From the just-released Tomb Raider, to James Bond, Mission: Impossible and The Saint, Hollywood is fast becoming the preferred venue for showcasing new gadgets (and a preview for those still in the works).


The bad guys are closing in from all sides, making another attempt to nab Lara Croft. With bullets flying, she manages to get to a phone - or rather a Bluetooth headset from Ericsson that connects to her phone - and establishes contact with one of her trusted aides. The headset allows her to keep her hands free as she shoots back at the assailants, with fatal consequences.

The scene is from Tomb Raider , the Paramount picture released in US movie theaters June 15th and just introduced in Europe, starting with Spain and Portugal on June 22nd.

While the scene doesn't last long, Ericsson is probably quite pleased with the result. The Swedish mobile phone giant partnered with Paramount Pictures in a $10 million deal, which included both the use of Ericsson products in the movie as well as Ericsson promoting the movie and its products on TV and retail stores.

Ericsson's vision


"It was a partnership meant to be," says Rosemary Ravinal, director of public relations for Ericsson Consumer Products in the Americas. "We wanted to emphasize advanced technology statements and show that Ericsson products are an important part of Lara's toolbox. She uses Ericsson to get herself out of tough situations."

In addition to the Bluetooth HBH-10 headset, the film features a cordless Web screen, a concept Communicator and the R310 phone aimed at usage under rough conditions. While the R310 is already out, the Communicator is still only a concept. According to Ericsson's publicity material in connection with the movie, the Communicator Croft uses includes Internet, e-mail, fax and multimedia messaging, Bluetooth connection, built-in camera and microphone, the ability to download music and video files and uses GPS navigation.

Some of these applications are already available in the R380 phone from Ericsson, while others (including the built-in camera) are scheduled for 3G terminals.

The Tomb Raider -Ericsson partnership is only the latest example of technology gadgets playing cameo parts in Hollywood movies. Some of those roles are the result of commercial tie-ins, others were the result of simple plot development and others again a combination.

The latter's the case with the super computer in Stanley Kubrick's 1969 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example. While the plot was initially developed independent of any commercial product placement, in the course of production, Kubrick hooked up with IBM and other technology companies that helped provide the necessary hardware and software to make the film more believable.

Bond... James Bond.


But, of course, no one beats James Bond. In fact, the Ericsson tie-in with Lara Croft comes on the heels of a successful tie-in with the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies . The scene where 007 uses his Ericsson Smartphone to get his BMW going has almost become a classic.

The phone was seen in theaters some three years before audiences could buy something remotely similar in their local stores, albeit without the BMW start-up application.

The movie also featured 200 cordless DT360 DECT phones with docking stations and 100 Dialog digital system phones. These products were used at spy headquarters by both "Q" and Moneypenny.

While Ericsson's brand recognition and sales increased in the United States and other markets as a result, the tie-in was not without controversy. One Ericsson employee wrote in to the company magazine, Contact, to complain that Ericsson shouldn't be associated with a womanizing, violence-prone character.

Ericsson officials, however, disagreed. "James Bond is liked by audiences worldwide because he takes on 'the bad guys' with style and humor, and always with the latest technology," Jan Ahrenbring, vice president of marketing at the mobile phones and terminals business area, wrote in Contact. "We have deemed the risk of negative consequences from this project to be nonexistent."

It's probably safe to say that the inclusion of "Q" with all his gadgets is one of the key appeals for moviegoers. A survey by Trond Heggelund, an editor at Computerworld in Norway, shows that many of the devices first presented by "Q" later became reality.

In From Russia with Love , the first time "Q" appears, James Bond uses a device that can reveal unwanted bugging of phone calls and another device - a camera - that also could be used as a tape recorder. Both can be bought today, Heggelund says. And Bond also used watches that included mobile phone capacity. Such phones are now available in Japan, he says.

A product reminiscent of James Bond and Dick Tracy was released in January, by Timex. The watch enables users to receive e-mail and information from the Internet, using technology from Motorola (as well as SkyTel and Yahoo!).

But Ericsson's not alone


While Ericsson succeeded in placing its products in two major action movies, its rival Nokia can brag of similar achievements. In one scene of the 1997 Paramount picture Mission: Impossible , Tom Cruise holds a Nokia phone while asking a co-star how it works. Nokia paid less than $1 million for the placement and CEO Jorma Ollila called the deal "worth every cent we paid," according to Ad Age, the US advertising industry magazine.

Nokia also had its first-generation 9000 Communicator featured in The Saint , the 1997 movie starring Val Kilmer, who used it throughout the film. The Communicator had already been out in Europe and Asia when The Saint was released, and would reach the U.S. and Latin American markets only a few months after the March 1997 premiere.

In the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix, star Keanu Reaves used a prototype of the world's first WAP phone, the 7110 (as it's known in Europe) or the 7160/7190 (as it's known in the United States). The film was released in March 1999, with the 7110 released in October of that year. (No word yet on what products will be featured in the upcoming sequel, probably out next year.)

On top of that, Nokia had a presence in the recent hit Charlie's Angels . In the film, the elite crime-fighting squad of three took along both the Nokia 9110 and 8210 on exotic missions (and we even heard that distinctive "Nokia tune" ringing tone).

Of course, Ericsson and Nokia are not alone in such placements. Apple Computer has done product placements in You've Got Mail , Independence Day and Batman & Robin . Dell Computer also participated in You've Got Mail , while Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard have participated in James Bond movies and JVC did a product placement in The Lost World .

More recently, MSN Hotmail struck a deal with Miramax, the producer of Bridget Jones's Diary to have Hotmail play a key part in a scene where Bridget flirts with her boss, played by Hugh Grant.

While gadget lovers enjoy seeing techno-devices in movies, there are some who question how valuable product placements are. Some critics say such placements can even cheapen the movie.

But Susan Safier, vice president of product placement at 20th Century Fox, disagrees.

Enhancing the fantasy


"Product placement injects a sense of realism," she says. "The Apple notebook in Independence Day played a prominent role."

Besides, the director ultimately has the last word, Safier says. Despite any deal between the studio and the product placing company, the director can decide whether or not to actually place those products as part of the plot. And there have been examples of a director vetoing such placements, says Safier, but declined to say which movies or products.

Product placements vary from deal to deal, movie industry officials say. Some deals have the product placer pay the studio a certain amount of money. Others may just include the studio receiving the products for free. And others again may tie the product placement to a major campaign for the movie.

The latter can include the use of the movie's stars, indirectly pitching the product - for example Angelie Jolie (Lara Croft) or Pierce Brosnan (James Bond) promoting Ericsson phones and devices.

"It's a lot cheaper to do a placement rather than contract the celebrity directly for such an ad," says an executive at a Hollywood studio, who asked not to be identified.

And, of course, it's a quick way to reach a global audience if you have a global product, says Norm Marshall, CEO of Norm Marshall & Associates, a leading product placement agency with credits that include placing BMW in James Bond and bringing Hotmail and Miramax together for the Bridget Jones film.

"Movies are global, unlike any other medium besides the Internet and music," he says. "Those are the only three global reach mediums to utilize to align your product, whether it's in South Africa, Korea or Los Angeles."

And, of course, both the movie and the product placer benefit if the tie-in makes both look cool, says James Lin, an entertainment analyst at California-based Jefferies & Co.

"If the movie is great, the products have to be cool," he says.

Joachim Bamrud is an award-winning journalist with 17 years experience as a writer and editor in the United States, Europe and Latin America. Bamrud has worked for various print, broadcast and online media, including Latin Trade, Reuters and UPI. He can be reached at jbamrud@hotmail.com.