Will the sports car driven by James Bond entice movie-goers to consider test driving that car? Are television viewers more likely to increase their purchase of the snack product they see their favorite sitcom star consume? Would a song blaring in the background of a computer game get gamers to purchase the artist’s CD?
Marketers hope with the assistance of product placement promotions the answer to these is yes!
Product placement is a marketing practice that is designed to intentional insert products into the content of entertainment programs, such as movies and television programs. In most cases the placement is subtle so as not to divert significant attention from the main content provided by the program or media outlet. As we note in our Types of Advertising Media tutorial, placement can take several forms such as:
- visual imagery in which the product appears within the entertainment program
- actual product use by an actor in the program
- dialogue spoken by an actor that contains product information
Product placement opportunities have existed in movies for over 50 years but did not evolve significantly until the 1970s when tobacco companies recognize the advantages of this promotional approach. In recent years, marketers have become more aggressive in identifying outlets for product placements, especially in television programs, and many marketing agents have set up shop to negotiate deals between product suppliers, and movie and television producers. Often deals are made either in a barter arrangement, where a company supplies free product in exchange for placement, or an outright payment is made for placement.
From major, international brands, such as BMW, showing up in James Bond movies to smaller, regional brands, such as Perry’s Ice Cream, being prominently displayed on the NBC television show The Apprentice, product placement is an effective and often indirect way to build brand awareness. However, product placement is not limited to movies and television. Electronic games, such as EA Sports Madden Football, have becoming wildly popular and are often on par with television for attracting the entertainment attention of many teens and young adults, in particular, those in the important 18-25 year-old demographic. These games also have helped spawn a new option for product promotion – the musical product placement.
Placement Goes Into New Territory
For many of today’s gamers, their gaming system includes not only the gaming machine attached to a television but also includes connections to an advanced audio system. Game developers have taken advantage of the enhanced gaming environment by populating their software with numerous songs from genres aimed at younger players. Most songs are up-tempo tunes that help create an atmosphere of excitement while players battle on the screen. After playing a game for many weeks, the gamer may be exposed to a song well over 100 times. In fact, for avid gamers, they will hear the song much more when playing video games then they will through local radio outlets. The result is that many new artists have benefited from this intense exposure and the placement of their songs within an electronic game can be a key factor in helping to launch successful musical career.
In addition to musical placements, electronic games have also seen visual product placements within scenes presented in the game. Outside of gaming new opportunities for visual placements can also be seen within photography for magazines and within stories of top selling books where a character within a story may mention a product by a brand names when a generic name would do just as well.
Future Placement Options
The visual and audio product placements seen so far may only be the tip of the iceberg with regard to product placement opportunities. One can see the day when product placement invades other sensory areas such as smell, touch and, possibly, taste. For example, a few years ago a company called DigiScents tried to bring to market the idea of transmitting smell over the Internet. While things did not pan out for this innovation and the company did not survive the dot-com meltdown, there is no doubt that some time in the not-too-distant future smell will invade media programming. In fact, amusement parks already include olfactory elements within their shows and rides. A broader consumer market will almost certainly develop with gaming most likely being the first to seriously explore this sensory product placement option. As smell becomes a recognized sensory experience for media programming, there is little doubt smell related product placements will follow. For instance, a bathroom scene in a movie may one day result in the smell of brand name room deodorizer wafting through the theater.
Touch or feel sensations may also be a product placement opportunity. Today’s gamers use feel devices to heighten the experience by way of such items as vibrating controllers and motion chairs. Some time soon a television viewer may experience a program from several sensory angles including a tactile one. For example, a television show may not only show the visual product placement of a certain brand of automobile, the inclusion of tactile placement could suggest the smooth ride one might get from being in the real thing.
The one sensory experience that may be a little harder to justify product placement is taste. While it is conceivable that taste could be used (e.g., a movie-goer receives consumable packets of food and is told to consume during certain parts of the show), the required level of involvement on the part of the user may detract from the entertainment program they are watching. With the exception of novelty entertainment, such as a one-time television program, producers of entertainment program may be reluctant to allow marketers to use taste for product placement.
In addition to multiple sensory options, marketers will continue to seek new opportunities for product placement that are outside of current media use. Here are a few possibilities:
- Companies may support painted murals on buildings or other structures to improve plighted areas in exchange for subtle inclusion of the company’s products within the painting
- A newspaper may agree to use a certain retailer’s name any time favorable stories are written about the general state of the retail industry
- An Internet content site focusing on computer information may be able to offset costs associated with developing multimedia software tutorials by showing examples of someone using software while on a certain computer manufacturer’s product
- E-book publisher may find ways to insert images or links into digital publications
Product placement is not without its critics. Many groups, and especially those concerned with alcohol and smoking abuse, have fought product placement arguing that placements leads to increased use. Marketers should expect opposition voices to grow even loader as new placement opportunities are explored. However, as a marketing tool product placements are likely to gain in popularity and eventual be as pervasive as other common forms of promotion.
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