Trendway Joins Placement Parade

    HOLLAND — Trendway Corp., following in the footsteps of its larger competitors in the office furniture industry, has added a new wrinkle to its marketing scheme: product placement.

    The Holland Township-based firm has landed a deal with the producers of The WB Network’s “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” for its new “IN” office seating. The show, now entering its seventh season, will use Trendway’s IN chairs on the set of the workplace for the show’s main character, played by actress Melissa Joan Hart.

    In the show, the character takes a job this season at a trendy new music magazine. The setting provides an excellent opportunity for Trendway’s first-ever product placement, an avenue that office furniture manufacturers have increasingly pursued in recent years as a way to build visibility for their products.

    The stylish setting of the show “is exactly the reflection we are seeking for Trendway’s new seating line,” said Trendway Seating General Manager Brad Fritz, who has actively courted television studios to use the company’s products.

    While office seating doesn’t carry a recognizable label that identifies the brand as consumer products do, getting involved in product placement does give Trendway a new vehicle to generate visibility for its products, Marketing and Communications Manager Susan Zalnis said.

    Trendway can leverage the visibility gained from a product’s placement in a TV show or movie within its overall marketing strategy. The company is actively pursuing other product placements, according to Zalnis.

    “The tradition was to just send out product literature and advertising. This just puts a different spin on it and it catches someone’s attention,” Zalnis said. “We have a product that is visually really cool and people are responding to, so it makes sense to make a push.”

    Product placement by Trendway and others in the industry comes in two forms: The deliberate pursuit of product placement in the production of a TV show or movie; and incidentally through the regular use of a product by a media customer.

    In the latter form, for instance, Herman Miller Inc’s. Aeron chair is a mainstay at the anchor desk of many network news organizations such as ABC, MSNBC, CNBC and CNN and on ESPN’s popular SportsCenter. Steelcase Inc’s. Leap chair also is seen on the set of news programs.

    In the entertainment arena, Steelcase products are used for the set of NBC’s “Law & Order,” “The West Wing,” “ER,” and on FOX’s “Allie McBeal.”

    Tune in to ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show” and you’ll see Herman Miller’s Resolve office system and Aeron and Caper chairs in the background.

    Haworth Inc. has done product placement for years to build visibility but put the practice on hold more than a year ago because of the economic downturn, public relations specialist Nicole Tallman said.

    “We’re just not giving away a lot of stuff right now,” Tallman said. “It was very good for us to do and hopefully we’ll be able to get back in there.”

    Haworth products have appeared in several TV shows — NBC’s “Third Rock From The Sun” for example — and in movies, including “Men in Black II” and “Artificial Intelligence.” Among the ways the company capitalizes on the visibility is using clips of a TV show or movie at trade shows, Tallman said.

    Products also pop up in commercials, such as a new VISA spot where Aeron chairs are used and one of the actors quips, “I love these chairs” as he twirls, or the Sprint long-distance ad two years ago that included actress Sela Ward playfully roller-skating around the office with an Aeron. AT&T and Sony also have used Steelcase products in ads.

    In most cases where the Aeron chair or other Herman Miller products appear on TV, “we haven’t had anything to do with it,” said Mark Schurman, the company’s director of external communications.

    When a production does request products, office furniture companies try to accommodate them wherever possible, often for no charge or at discounted prices. Herman Miller views such requests as a good way to increase a product’s visibility to consumers, presuming of course that the production doesn’t conflict with the company’s corporate image.

    “Where we think there’s good visibility and a return on a modest investment, we certainly give it consideration,” Schurman said.

    But office furniture doesn’t carry a brand identity such as a soft drink or motor vehicle used by a character.

    The benefit, instead, comes in the opportunity to build an awareness of a product’s appearance and style. “You can develop it just with a look. It doesn’t have to be a specific label,” Steelcase spokesman Allan Smith said.

    But not just any furniture will work. Quite often producers are looking for furnishings that offer an innovative or iconic look that sets a mood for the show.

    The key is to match the product with the right show or commercial, said Brian Sackley, a marketing and communications manager at Steelcase who specializes in product placement.

    “If you just had another office chair out there, it really doesn’t do it. You’re just providing them furniture,” Sackley said. “You’ve got to have the right product in the right place and it’s got to be a product that’s going to get noticed and makes a statement.”

    Trendway views product placement as just one small aspect of a broader marketing and promotion strategy, Zalnis said. The practice is particularly beneficial if a company can link up with a successful TV show that remains on the air for years, she said.

    “It’s always there in front of people,” Zalnis said. “It’s longer running than any advertising splash you’d ever buy.”

    While the results are hard to gauge, especially for a business-to-business product like office furniture, Trendway is convinced the practice is beneficial in building an image for a product, according to Zalnis.

    Even if the results aren’t tangible, spotting your product in the background of a TV show does add a certain amount of fun to the job and makes a great conversation piece.

    “If nothing else, it adds some levity,” Zalnis said.           

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