Based on the billboards for Guys With Kids, which debuted last Wednesday, it’s fair to assume that the BabyBjörn company is feeling pretty pleased right now. The ad for the new NBC sitcom features three sunglasses-wearing dads further accessorizing their perma-adolescent outfits with infants, who, in a bit of piggybacked publicity, are strapped to their chests in Baby Björn’s sturdy carriers. This sort of image shows up a lot lately, largely because men with baby carriers have become a stock gag, a preloaded visual punch line evoking the modern incarnation of the eternally hapless dad. But the fact that so many of the baby carriers onscreen are made by the same Swedish company owes a lot to one Caressa Lupold, a California-based product-placement specialist.
Lupold’s formal title is senior vice-president of branded integration for the entertainment-marketing firm Norm Marshall & Associates; in her work for BabyBjörn, her task is to try to ensure that when Hollywood needs to affix a child to an actor, it reaches for her client’s product and not for a wrap or sling, or for a carrier that sort of looks like a BabyBjörn but isn’t one. To do this, she makes friends with writers, producers, and especially prop masters. She checks in weekly with these contacts, asking about coming plot twists and gauging the status of pregnant characters. BabyBjörn competitors like Ergobaby and Britax USA take their own steps to get their products into movies and shows—the baby-carrying business is a cutthroat one—but if all goes well, prop masters think of her when a script says something like “George enters with baby.” (That’s what happened with Guys With Kids, Lupold says—the scene was scripted with generic baby carriers, and the prop master, “a good friend and a loyal friend,” called her.) Sometimes a little more enterprise is required. Reading a script, she will look for chances to turn “stroller opportunities into carrier opportunities,” as she puts it. Lupold’s records show that in the last three years, the Baby Björn has made roughly 60 original onscreen appearances and is being put on men about four times as often as women.
A final, vital part of Lupold’s job is making sure that when a Björn gets camera time, the baby in it is not “sitting all cockeyed.” This makes promoting BabyBjörn slightly more complicated than, say, Dr Pepper, another of Lupold’s clients, which merely has to be held with the brand name facing outward. There are right ways and wrong ways to wear a Björn—straps to fasten, bibs to flip. Little arms and legs, which often have their own ideas about such matters, also need adjusting. Lupold brings prop masters back to her Sun Valley office, where she shows them how to wear the carrier with the assistance of an eighteen-pound baby dummy. On set, the prop masters pass along the proper procedure to the actors. But occasionally a scene will make a brand-friendly use of the Björn impossible, and she will have to intervene. Lupold once nixed a bit that had a dad weed-whacking with a child strapped to his chest. “They thought it would be funny,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Nope, that’s not funny.’ ”