As viewers of film and TV we can only see what the camera includes in the frame. But prop masters and set dressers don’t necessarily know what the director or cinematographer will choose to include, so they have to build the scene much wider and deeper than the superficial view we get. For instance, on the classic TV series Family Ties, the Keaton’s made their home in Cleveland, Ohio. Nothing we could see on the set announced that fact, but if one were to pull out the kitchen drawer near the phone, they would find a Cleveland Yellow Pages, etc. Every detail of the house had to conform to normal Cleveland living even if the home audience wouldn’t ever see it. This hyper-efficiency was as much for ‘just in case” scenarios (the writers might want Alex to look up a local business in the phone book) as it was for creating a reality for the actors to get lost in.
Some brands in product placement are what they are. In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Howard holds a box of Tastykakes. While the brand’s limited distribution does help establish the location where it’s being eaten, there are no further details required for the placement. But, if a scene were shot in a RE/MAX real estate office, then reality affirming details would be abundant: signage on the wall, a “For Sale” lawn sign leaning nearby for delivery to a new to market home, logoed writing pads, pens, paperweights..;even a lapel pin for the agent. Details matter when the job is to approximate reality.
In the picture below taken from a recent episode of NCIS:LA, the character whose room is being created is a video gamer. Production agreed that HERO client Guild Wars 2 would be a perfect favorite game. What you can see immediately is the poster on the wall, but less obvious are the game box, branded keyboard and even an action figure from the game on the bookshelf. Should a subsequent episode require actual game play, cleared footage is ready and waiting.
When a brand is considering hiring a product placement agency, they should take stock of all of the possible tools that could be provided to the agency to allow for more numerous, and more importantly, more detailed results.