‘I Will Not Bow to Any Sponsor’ – Assessing the Evolution of Product Placement 12th May, 2014

The children’s movie Finding Nemo was a box office hit. It would seem however, that it wasn’t just Disney that reaped the rewards from the film’s success.  Since the film’s release in 2003, sales for clownfish (Nemo) and Pacific regal blue tangs (Dory) have rocketed. It’s safe to say that Disney didn’t have a deal with any pet shops and this increase in fish sales wasn’t ever an objective for the film. Nevertheless, the product (fish) placed in the film had an effect on the audience, who were inspired to then go away and buy their very own Nemo and Dory.

Product placement can be an effective additional revenue stream, providing a platform for brands to showcase their products, as well as providing producers with extra capital to use towards their shows. However, for this type of marketing to be effective, for both brand and televised/cinematic production, there are some key points that need to be followed, which I will explore through examples;

  • Brands suiting the audience; if products have no relevance to the programme’s demographic,  the product placement consequently will not deliver good return.
  • Products harmonising with the production; the contribution needs to be seamless so that it is not ‘chunky’ and awkward, but well enough placed so that the product sticks in people’s minds.
  • Interacting with the audience; sales are likely to rise if viewers actually feel involved with the show and are given accessibility to the products.

Brands suiting the audience
Still a relatively new phenomenon to the world of TV, product placement has been gracing our screens in varying degrees. One example that has been criticised, is the rather abrasive approach taken by Coca Cola through their partnership with American Idol. The show is also sponsored by Ford and mobile giant AT&T, but it is Coca Cola that takes centre stage. From huge vending machines to large red branded cups on the judges’ table – their logo is unavoidable. People have argued that this relentless plug not only has no relevance to the show itself, but it is irresponsible in terms of audience demographic; consequently being inconsistent with Coca Cola’s pledge to not directly advertise unhealthy beverages to children .

Products harmonising with the Production
As well as TV shows and films, music videos are a good medium to hit audiences. Adobe suggests that video content now makes up for more than three quarters of viral media posts. Music videos have a unique way of emotionally engaging with audiences, and therefore when brands take advantage of this, their grab is much stronger. Volvo teamed up with Swedish House Mafia for their rerelease of ‘Leave the World Behind‘ with Swedish singer Lune. Not only was this collaboration a charming homage to some of Sweden’s most successful exports, but the product placement of Volvo really captures the essence of the three DJ’s escaping the city and ‘leaving the world behind’.

Interacting with the audience
Online retailer SSENSE have also joined forces with System magazine to produce a series of e-commerce music videos which give the viewers access to buy the clothing worn by artists. SSENSE & System kicked off the series with Sky Ferreira’s ‘I Blame Myself‘ with SSENSE taking full advantage of the product placement by providing a direct link so viewers can purchase all clothing worn in the video at the click of a button.

In the UK, product placement has only been legal for the last three years. Although the UK is still in its infancy, there have been a selection of campaigns that have not only professionally fitted into the programmes, but have also engaged with audiences.

Very.co.uk collaborated with Big Brother last year, which saw the brand design a click-to-buy service which allowed the public to buy items from the Big Brother house as they appeared. Any fan of Big Brother loves the quirky house and furniture and therefore this interactive system gave people the opportunity to feel further involved in the show. Similarly to SSENSE’s music videos, the ease of access to products gives the audience more incentive to consume.

Product placement is an effective marketing tool that allows brands to access audiences in a way that advertising can’t. Product placement shouldn’t be deemed as just a pay package for the production teams either. Although it is subliminal advertising in their shows, the use of real life branded products can actually add to a programme and make the experience more realistic.  It is clear, however, that product placement has a long way to go, but has a huge amount of potential.  The recent surge in second and even third screening has allowed brands an additional layer of interaction with audiences – granting them the opportunity to engage with the viewer on a more personal level.