Stories of the little-known business of product placement were spotlighted on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable in the person of Chicago’s George Simkowski of Let’s Go Hollywood.
Placement pioneer Simkowski got into the business years back when he was ad manager of Webcor phonographs and tape recorders, and an MGM producer called to use a tape recorder as a prop.
“And I said, ?what’s a prop?'” he recalls. “Those were the days studios contacted brands directly and asked to use them as props.”
Since then, Simkowski estimates he’s placed over one hundred different brands in one thousand movies.
His current clients are Budget-Rent-a-Car, Jim Beam and Zenith TV?clients of nearly 20 years?as well as American Intercontinental University Online, Voicestick transmitting device, Cobra Electronics and Paul Mitchell hair products.
The retainer he’s paid guarantees he will place their products in 12 movies a year. “And I’ve exceeded that number every year,” he says proudly.
The process begins with Simkowski reading scripts about upcoming movies. If he feels there are placement opportunities he sends a synopsis to his clients with a note saying, “You’ve got to be in this.”
When the client agrees, Simkowski calls the production company and asks, “where do we send the product, how much to you want and when’s it needed?”
Simkowski tends to be very fussy about the movies he recommends. “If a script has violence I turn it down. I don’t want a Jim Beam bottle used to hit someone over the head.”
To keep his relationships fresh, Simkowski visits L.A. a week every month to make the rounds of studios, usually calling on the propmaster or set decorator, whom he calls key to placement.
Let’s Go Hollywood is Chicago’s only dedicated product placement company, to the best of Simkowski’s knowledge. He knows of only one such company in New York and 15 to 20 placement specialists in L.A.
Those companies are dwarfed by the huge number of advertisers that have become increasingly reliant on product placement for exposure. They have their own placement staffs to assure getting screen time for their beer brands, soft drinks, cars and airlines.
Simkowski considers his placement of a Budget truck in John Hughes’ classic “Home Alone” to be his crowning achievement?which landed the truck in Hollywood’s Product Placement Hall of Fame.
What made the Budget truck placement so amazingly successful were its three minutes of screen time, Budget’s business increase, and audience reaction to the scene. That’s where John Candy uses the polka band truck to get the mother, Catherine O’Hara, home.
“People were calling Budget to thank them for getting that poor woman home,” he recalls.
“I asked John to mention Budget’s name and he did,” Simkowski adds, gleefully reminded that Bill Murray specifically asks for a Jim Beam in “Groundhog Day.”
Phone for Norridge-based Let’s Go Hollywood is 708/456-5900.