Already an established feature of Hollywood blockbusters, product placement remains a largely neglected revenue stream from UK film productions. But that seems finally set to change with the rising number of product placement companies focusing on film. The latest to join the fray is Earmark, which will compete with the likes of BFG, the film division of Prop Portfolio, for a slice of what it says is a growing market.

The company, headed up by Steve Switzman formerly of the UK's Entertainment Film Distributors, has been set up within parent company Eardrum. Eardrum, run by partners and creative directors Ralph Van Dijk and Martin Sims, writes, produces and directs radio commercials as well as supplying sound design services for television and the internet.

The company handles many blue chip clients such as Red Bull in the UK, Vodafone and Warner Bros, FilmFour, Pathe and Momentum Pictures, and works regularly with Coca Cola, Burger King, Esso, Nescafe, Hewlett Packard amongst others.

Earmark intends to get involved at script stage, with clients' products written into the scripts.

This early involvement may become less necessary, however, with the advent of virtual-advertising, a relatively new technique, which allows placements to be added in post-production. Switzman believes that product placement is an area of advertising that has been under-exploited in the UK and represents a massive growth opportunity.

In related news, the Wall Street Journal online has reported today that Vivendi's Universal Studios unit is planning to announce a global marketing alliance with the Toyota Motor Corp which will see Toyota cars getting product placement in Universal productions. In addition, the automotive-giant will sponsor theme-park rides, and its dealerships will distribute promotional CDs of Universal music. According to the terms of the three-year deal, which has an option to extend two further years, Toyota will spend $50m-$80m on advertising the joint promotions and will receive benefits including a 'first look' option to place their cars in Universal films.