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Fiji Watergate: Strategic Product Placement at Golden Globes Goes Viral

We took a bit of a hiatus over the December holidays from issuing our weekly newsletters, but we’re back at it.  We always love it when pop culture and the law intersect and so this week’s newsletter is dedicated to the Fiji water bottle product placement at the recent Golden Globes.

What Happened?

At the recent Golden Globes step and repeat red carpet celebrity photo op segment (basically, the “who are you wearing” interview segment of the night), a female model hired by the Fiji water company appeared in the background of a number of celebrity photo.  

Although corporate sponsorship on step and repeats and surrounding signage on the red carpet is not unusual, this is the first time we have seen a live activation as part of the step and repeat on the red carpet.

Multiple photographs with prominent celebrities were taken with the Fiji model in the background, which then were shared globally in an organic viral marketing campaign.  Media outlets ranging from TMZ to Business Insider picked up the story.  

Where Does the Law Come into Play?

At Froese Law, we see the law in everything we do.  We just can’t help ourselves, especially when it comes to branding.  Of course, we do have to state that we neither represent the Fiji water brand, nor the Golden Globes brand, and so our commentary is based on conjecture. 

It is likely that the exposure that the Fiji brand had at the Golden Globes was not accidental.  It was paid sponsorship that may have included significant product placement conditions.  This commercial relationship between the Fiji water brand and the Golden Globes was likely governed by a sponsorship agreement, or some variation thereof.  As with any other type of commercial agreements, fundamental terms and conditions are codified in the contract such as compensation, performance, trademark licensing, indemnification, representations and warranties, termination, etc.  Some of the poignant conditions that may have been negotiated and agreed upon is: 

  1. granting access of the Fiji brand model to walk the red carpet behind the celebrities carrying a Fiji water bottle; and/or
  2. granting access to a photographer hired by Fiji water to a key location across from the Fiji water model to enable Fiji to capture unencumbered.

Brand sponsorship deals with major global events is not a cheap endeavour and so taking into consideration these types of nuances to best ensure maximum exposure for the brand is important.  Moreover, setting contractual obligations is key.  

Was the Campaign Successful?

For the most part, yes.  The campaign went viral and talk of the Fiji water model overshadowed the “who wore it best” in the media commentary covering the red carpet component of the Golden Globes.  In fact, we’re dedicating an entire newsletter on this marketing campaign and heralding it as noteworthy and strategically impressive.  

Interestingly, however, a road bump did surface.  Following the Golden Globes, an actress with significant clout within the industry vocalized her disdain for the viral campaign.  Her position was that each of the celebrities (by being present in the photos with the celebrities) were being used as unpaid pawns for the Fiji brand.  Brand endorsements/ambassadorships are significant sources of revenue for celebrities, who in themselves are their own brand.  By structuring a photobomb opportunity for the Fiji water model, Fiji was able to circumnavigate endorsement deals with each of those photobombed celebrities.  This may cause significant issues for celebrities who are exclusive brand ambassadors for competing products (i.e. Smart Water, Perrier, Voss, Evian, etc.), which may make the indemnification clauses a relevant shield for Golden Globes.