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What you see is what they want you to get

Ever since 'E.T.' landed, advertisers have been hungry to have their products 'placed' in films

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On its website, Feature This! lists an upcoming film called "I.D.," starring John Cusack. Under a short description of the film it lists "product opportunities." They include: cellphone, luggage, sodas, snack food, and sunglasses.

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Manufacturers will sometimes pay a lot to guarantee that their product is used, and not a competitor's. Product placements usually cost between $10,000 and $1 million, though they often average about $50,000. (Carmaker BMW reportedly paid $3 million to get James Bond to switch to one of its cars in the 1996 movie "Golden Eye.")

Some companies will help advertise a movie in exchange for a product placement. Fast food restaurants (you know who they are) may even include a toy based on the film in its kids' meals.

'Verbal placement' is best

Other companies might let cast and crew use their product in exchange for an on-screen appearance. A "craft services" table on many movie sets may have lots of food and beverages. Many of these items – bottled water in particular – will also appear in the film.

Some product placements are more sought after than others. "Verbal placements" are often the most valuable. That is when a character actually says the name of a product.

Linda Swick, president of International Promotions in North Hollywood, Calif., was able to get a character in the NBC TV program "Leap of Faith" to mention Volvo cars – a client of hers – on a recent episode.

The bigger the star who mentions the product, the better. A company will often pay three times as much to have their product referred to by the main character or a famous actor rather than by someone the audience might not recognize.

It's even better when the star handles the product. In the 2000 movie "Charlie's Angels," the three main stars pick up brand-name high-tech objects (Nokia cellphones, Palm Pilots) throughout the film.

These "hands on" placements win the product more exposure. In the viewer's mind, the product is closely associated with the movie star. (That's what advertisers hope, anyway.)

Product placements are most common in comedies. When people watch comedies, they often instinctively search for an object in the scene that is part of a joke. "The sillier the comedy, the more your eyes roam around, looking for jokes," Mr. May says.

Too many 'Godzilla' products

In dramas or thrillers, the movie director is more likely to focus closely on a specific object or person, leaving less space for products.

Product placements don't always benefit movies. Products worked into a script may seem out of place. The 1998 film "Godzilla," according to Ms. Swick, was filled with banners for many products that did not make sense in the scene. When that happens, viewers stop paying attention to the movie.

"Any time a product draws too much attention by looking inappropriate," Swick says, "it's not good for the movie or the product."

Movie directors sometimes ask that product labels be colored over with black marker to avoid drawing attention to them. But movies without recognizable products may seem unrealistic. To avoid legal problems, movie directors used to write ACME or some other generic label on products. Others made certain that labels were turned away from viewers.

These days, product brands can be found just about everywhere – on our clothes, at work, even in school. Many moviemakers say product placements make their movies seem more true to life.