Understanding product placement

We’ve all seen it happen — there you are, watching a movie, when all of a sudden something flashes before your eyes. Sometimes it’s done smoothly, sometimes it feels like sandpaper against the eyeballs, but however it was done, the goal was achieved. You just saw Brad Pitt driving Ford’s new SUV, talking on a Motorola cell-phone, drinking Diet Coke and winking suggestively from behind a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.

The increasing popularity of ad-free television, with services like TiVo and Sky+, has given marketers a new challenge of getting their products onto screens in ways beyond traditional
TV commercials.

“The power of traditional TVCs is diminishing,” says Synovate Media Research Director Steve Garton. “An ad needs to be genuinely outstanding to get noticed on television these days.”

The solution? Product placement — also sometimes known as stealth advertising. The fundamental idea behind product placement is that the product, whatever it may be, is somehow woven into the viewing experience. Whether it’s just sitting on a table, or being picked up and actively used by the actors, marketers aim to create a rapport with the viewer by creating a scenario that they can relate to and identify with. Done well, it can feel like art imitating life. Done badly, it can turn a show into one big infomercial.

Product placement in Hollywood movies is nothing new. Its big start came in the 80s with movies like Back To The Future championing the likes of Pepsi, Tab, and who could forget the time-travelling Delorean — which arguably became more famous in that film than it ever was on the road.

Nevertheless, recent years have seen a huge influx of placement ads on television shows, and indeed several other forms of media as well. This has been propelled in many ways by the popularity of reality television — shows like The Apprentice and

The Real World, in which real-life products aren’t just merely seen, but their applications championed in the prime-time spotlight. The Apprentice sometimes prominently features several brands in a single episode, with contestants doing everything from painting ad murals for Sony PlayStation to designing sales brochures for Pontiac.

Another area that has seen product placement spread like wildfire is within video games, where advertisers can accurately focus on niche interests. The car-racing game Need For Speed: Most Wanted gives gamers the chance to drive the hottest cars from manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes, Porsche — and then kit them out with after market parts from 5Zigen, GReddy, Momo and many, many others.

We like what we see

Tracking the effectiveness of product placement is clearly an important measure determining its success and value. In early 2005, media agency MindShare North America conducted a study of American TV viewers to gauge whether their views toward product placement were positive or negative.

A staggering 80% responded positively toward placement in TV and movies. The survey also revealed that those polled said they notice more product placement than they have in the past, and a third claimed to be responsive to placements by trying a product after seeing it on screen.

“Product placement has emerged as one of the most powerful ways for a marketer to connect in a meaningful way with their consumer,” says MindShare North America CEO Marc Goldstein. “Our findings indicate that the critical factor in making product placement work is how it’s done, underscoring the vital role that agencies continue to play in working with marketers to make their messages relevant to consumers.”

These findings were similarly echoed by a Synovate study presented at the 2005 Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association Asia (CASBAA) convention. Covering five Asian countries with an online survey, respondents were questioned on brand recall based on active and passive placements in a wide range of clips.

When it came to asking viewers about their feelings towards active and passive product placement, most gave favourable responses, and showed a preference for active placements
over passive.

Considering the general disdain TV-watchers have for commercials, it may seem surprising that viewers actually claim to enjoy seeing active product placements in shows. But for Garton, this makes logical sense.

“[Viewers’] responses haven’t been negative at all,” says Garton. “What they are seeing is a reflection of reality — objects that they use in their real lives every day. They can relate to what they are seeing on the screen.

Garton adds that another benefit of certain product placements is that they can also help demonstrate how a product can be used, such as the use of beauty products or gadgets like cell phones.

In the European Union, however, it’s a slightly different story, as various regulations prevent product placement in TV programmes. However, recent changes to legislation may give the green light to branded content in the near future — opening up yet another vast market for the medium.

But how far could it really go? Is a Starbucks TV show about the secret lives of baristas just around the corner? “Why not?”, says Garton. “It’s a tremendously successful way to market a product — there is no limit to its potential.”

Source:  Synovate


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