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Brand-Name products on Stage?

Discussion in 'Scenery, Props, and Rigging' started by erichart, May 23, 2009.

  1. erichart

    erichart Member

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    I am working on an article about using trademarks and brand names on stage. For instance, if the script calls for "beer", do you make a fake label, or do you use a can of Coors? Even more problematic, what do you do if the script calls for a specific brand-name product?

    What I am interested in is any anecdotes you may have dealing with this. Have you ever contacted a company for permission to use their products on stage? What was the result of that? Have there ever been any actual consequences, legal or otherwise, from using brand-name products on stage? Where do you get your information and advice about what you are or aren't allowed to do?

    Thanks!
    Eric Hart
    Props
     
  2. willbb123

    willbb123 Active Member

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    Another local theater, went to a brewery and not only got there permission to use there cans on stage, But they also got them to can water. They still have cases of cans that look like beer, but they are full of water.
     
  3. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    I believe the TV/film industry calls this "product placement," and is a major part of an advertiser's budget.

    I suspect a theatre's audience exposure is so small as it not to be an issue. Sometimes, intentionally circumventing a brand name product only leads to further distraction.

    The best example I can think of is when KitchenAid would not grant "promotional consideration" to Alton Brown of the TV show Good Eats. He still used their stand mixer, but disguised it, covering all the nameplates.
    [​IMG]
    Cookin' at Café D: What Color is your KitchenAid?

    from Blogs - CHOW
     
  4. dvsDave

    dvsDave Benevolent Dictator Administrator Senior Team CB Mods Fight Leukemia

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    Funny side note: Alton Brown's flame jobbed kitchenaid was so popular that there is a company now that makes flame decals for your kitchenaid mixer.
     
  5. ship

    ship Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    Still see gaff tape brand name cover plates at times on TV as has been done over the years.

    Chief question for you is that of focus given a small audience. Is this something you want to draw attention to by way of specific brand or alternate if even comical brand or something that might distract from the focus of the scene?

    Certainly a can of beer could if noticed be considered important as a design statement - what would that character be drinking anyway? Is he or her Schlitz, Old Style, Guiness or something else? But perhaps that question is best not asked in drawing attention.

    Love the idea of water replacing the beer in the can, that's totally cool and something most manufacturers would possibly go for even if their name on the bottle ain't there or perhaps it is and should be.

    Your own label on a beer might just as much draw attention as a normal brand, can't spray paint and silk screen your own lable either so much. Can's gotta open also and 7UP don't look like beer in can label.

    Still though, if the beer company route didn't go so well as an excellent idea I might try spray painting the cans and stenciling my own labels. Might attempt such a thing at least dependant on the show. If nothing else, I might de-gloss the can at least so it don't draw much focus.
     
  6. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Probably the most problematic show is Lone Star it is a one act usually partnered with it's sister show Laundry and Burbon. Lone Star takes place behind a dive bar and as the titlte suggests the characters continually drink Lone Star beer throughout the show. I didn't know it at the time but in college, when we did the show, we drove down over the border and picked up a couple of cases. We didn't know, at the time that we were technically "bootlegging" as Oklahoma is a 3.2 beer state.
    I don't know that I've ever heard of a theatre selling product placement space. When we did The Seafarer ths year we did get Guiness to sponsor the show. they donated a lot of beer and provided all the drinks for opening night. I don't know that I would be totally in favor of companies selling product placement in the theatre. To me there is nothing worse than all those movies that make such a big deal about getting a close up on the Coke bottle, or the Apple logo on the spies laptop. Everybody knows, spies use Panasonic Toughbooks.


    The above reply was in no way sponsored by or endorsed by Panasonic or any of it's subsidiaries. Furthermore it is a work of fiction and any similarities to actual persons either alive or dead is purely coincidential. All Rights reserved. Copyright VJMagick MMIX.
     
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  7. Mather2010

    Mather2010 Member

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    I have used brand name things on stage, I just went to the actual place where they sell the stuff and I just asked if they would be ok with letting me use whatever item it was whenever.
     
  8. propmonkey

    propmonkey Well-Known Member

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    when i worked on Guys On Ice we called up leinenkugel and they sent us a few cases of cans with their labels but were filled with soda water. they said that get calls all the time when the show is done.

    i watched superbad with the commentary and they said they couldnt get any alcohol company to allow they use of their products because there was underage drinking.
     
  9. erichart

    erichart Member

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    It's happening on Broadway, and it may be happening more in the future with larger companies:
    On Broadway, Ads Now Get to Play Cameo Roles
    As the article points out, though, even the largest of theatres are still so much smaller than the smaller television stations and film distributors.
     
  10. wfor

    wfor Member

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    What makes being on stage so different from just being out in public? What is it about being in "performance mode" and normal life so different?

    Is there really a breech of copyrights here? But then again, what makes anthing different about being on TV or in a movie?

    I suppose it could be argued that you are presenting the product to an audience, and especially if it is a hand prop or referred to in the dialog, there could be bias presented.

    I see gaff over "apples" on computers all the time on television, and one Mythbusters, it seems like every product they ever use is "mythbusters brand". But I assumed that was because 1. they had advertisers, and showing other products on the screen may cause issues, and 2. their use of a product may show or somehow portray a fault in the product (like coke being better at cleaning chrome than "commercial cleaner")

    But there arn't commercial breaks in stage shows (yet...(interesting, erichart)). I suppose there may be a difference in theatres that are for- and not-for profit.

    I've always thought it was weird when I see "Beer" or something like that on stage. Its like you're labeling the obvious. If you did have to not use a real brand name, I'd say at least make up a brand.

    The script for Almost, Maine calls specifically for "Naddy Light", so our empty bottles, and coke cans wrapped in printed labels got plenty of teacher and parent questions post-show at our high school. Yea, we really gave 17 year olds the real deal.
     
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  11. erichart

    erichart Member

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    First, I wanted to clarify that we're talking about trademarks here, not copyrights.

    I think your first assumption is by far the most common reason for blurring product names on TV. If a show has Pepsi as a sponsor, and they film people drinking Coke, Pepsi won't be too happy about Coke's free product placement. Also, with all the money in product placement, producers don't want to give it away for free.

    Your first two questions are exactly what I am trying to find out. All the information I've been able to find out deals with TV and movies, which are different from theatre. I suppose you can differentiate theatre from normal life by the fact that you sell tickets to it. Still, if you sell tickets to enter your house, and brand-name products are visible, would that be the same as having brand-name products visible on stage? And is that even a trademark violation?

    Maybe these are questions for a lawyer. I'm more interested in people's perceptions and anecdotes dealing with this. They've been great so far; keep 'em coming!
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2009
  12. BrianWolfe

    BrianWolfe Active Member

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    Re: Soda Can Labels

    Sorry Rob no diet Pepsi. When we first made these for Cats many companies did not want their products associated with a garbage dump and we could not use the products without their permission. Coke came in early and actually supplied some of the graphics for us to photographically enlarge for the labels for both their cans and bottles.

    [Edit: This post was copied here from another thread.]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 9, 2009
  13. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    My minimal knowledge of the legal system tells me that there isn't going to be a problem for most products as long as you are a small production and you aren't showing the product in a negative light.

    My policy here at the college is: If a character is just normally using the product it's okay to show the real label. If the character is doing something that makes the product or it's use look bad we use a fake label.
     
  14. NickJones

    NickJones Active Member

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    I see Apple Macs in almost every movie, look out next time, if someone is on a laptop, its a Macbook, if its a computer its a iMac. While writing this I'm watching How I Met Your Mother, and just saw 2 Macs. Just saw a 3rd.

    I must say it drives me insane when watching a show when the line "What do Big Sister & Backyard Idol have in common." it really bugged me. I don't think it would have been super noticed if they did say "Big Brother" or "Australian Idol"

    Nick
     
  15. kiwitechgirl

    kiwitechgirl Well-Known Member

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    I did Miss Saigon recently and the props department bought a lot of Tiger beer; the crew drank the beer over tech week and the bottles were filled with water - it was far enough away that the audience wouldn't notice - recapped and used in the Dreamland scene. There was some argument amongst the crew that it should have been Budweiser, given that Dreamland was a club for the GIs, but Tiger it was! We regularly use real labels on stage - most often on drinks, both soft and alcoholic - and have never run into any issues.
     
  16. BrianWolfe

    BrianWolfe Active Member

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    I only mentioned getting product companies permission because I thought it was funny. On Broadway, in movies and on TV are the only places I think you really need to be concerned. As was said as long as the product is shown in a positive light free advetising is great. I think it is very funny that we had to fight for permission during CATS, a show that was eventually seen by billions. The worst problem we had was for the hamburger containers, you remember the old 1/4 pounder styrofoam boxes. Neither McDonald's, Burger King nor Wendy's would give permission to use their logo. In the end we created a Chef Burger logo. Many other companies were delighted for the free advertising and were very helpful.
    [media]http://www.costumearmour.com/catschefburger.jpg[/media]

    We worked on Miss Saigon too. If I remember right they used stacks and stacks of old Coke bottles and Schlitz beer.
     
  17. jwl868

    jwl868 Active Member

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    In many general aspects, trademark law is similar to copyright law: it is a civil law, not a criminal law. If one infringes on a trademark, the trademark owner’s actions are through their lawyers, not the police.

    A trademark (or something very similar to an established trademark) cannot be used by others on similar products. This is also known as infringement.

    Trademark owners are also protected against “dilution”. This essentially allows the trademark owner control over where the trademark appears in media, etc. The impact or damage from dilution, if any, is up to a court to decide after the trademark owner starts a suit.

    Protection against dilution also includes the trademark owner’s rights over the trademark’s use in “tarnishing” situations. (But it is up to a court to decide if the situation is tarnishing.)

    There appear to be few hard and fast rules as to what constitutes dilution, and a big grey area about what could be dilution. I suspect that this is why large-audience shows (such as TV shows, movies) either get permission, sell product placement, or choose to show no marks/labels at all so that they don’t have to defend themselves against a dilution suit, or the threat of one.


    The following links are helpful, although the law school sites have the better discussions about infringement.

    United States Patent and Trademark Office

    United States Patent and Trademark Office Home Page


    Harvard Law School

    Overview of Trademark Law


    Cornell Law School

    Trademark | LII / Legal Information Institute



    Joe
     
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  18. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Necroposting to this thread as I thought of it while seeing Blue Man Group tonight, and wondered if they receive any promotional consideration from Cap'n Crunch or Twinkies? Also interesting that they use Stay-Puff marshmallows rather than Stay-Puft.
     
  19. WDS

    WDS Member

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    Another big difference is what the trademark is on. If you have an actor drinking a Starbucks coffee or wearing a Mickey Mouse T-Shirt then you will probably be just fine. On the other hand if you build a Starbucks sign for your set or make a Mickey Mouse costume for someone onstage then I would not be surprised if the lawyers came to opening night.
     
  20. chris325

    chris325 Active Member

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    When a local community theatre did "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Subway gave them a couple of sandwiches to use for each show in exchange for showing the sandwiches on stage.
     

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