Traditional product placement is dead

Alan-PartridgeThis was the message coming loud and clear from an entertainment industry seminar held at Henley Business School on American Independence Day (4 July) that explored emerging opportunities for brand owners to become much more sophisticated in using branded content to reach profitable customer segments.

And with some justification branded content is a marketing discipline where the UK leads the world although paradoxically UK brand owners have been slow off the mark to embrace this as a key component of the brand communication mix – although this appears to be changing.

“Branding and broadcasting have been around a long time but technology is now pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved when a brand becomes embedded into a film or TV programme”, explained Jeremy Summers, partner at Pitmans SK Sport & Entertainment LLP who chaired the seminar.

Redbull was widely credited as having pushed the boundaries in using branded content that effectively killed off traditional product placement when it sponsored Felix Baumgartner in his world record breaking sky dive from the edge of space that attracted a record 8m viewers on YouTube.

Closer to earth, Foster’s lager (owned by Heineken) went from zero to hero as a result of its foray into the tricky world of comedy having brought back the character Alan Partridge for its own comedy channel on YouTube after an absence of 8 years on TV, followed by comedy sketches by Vic & Bob and the hilarious The Fast Show.


“Comedians don’t want to be seen taking corporate money and on the whole feel uncomfortable working with brands,” observed Matt Jagger, senior consultant at the Upfront Marketing Group who was the brains behind the Foster’s campaign when he worked as Head of Branded Entertainment at Naked Comms.

What Fosters did was to understand all its distribution channels for content and create a content strategy that was linked across all of these platforms with the intention of driving loyalty and consumer preference for the second biggest lager brand in the UK after Carling.

Another challenge was the positioning of the Foster’s brand with 18-30 year-old customer segments that could be accurately described as “blokes” who enjoy a drink and laugh with their mates down the pub.

Other content categories were either already taken such as football and music that was a major content platform for its arch-rival Carling or beyond the reach of Foster’s marketing budget.

However, Foster’s felt that comedy was a content category it could ‘own’ – its TV ads in the 1980s/90s were funny and played on its Australian heritage with actor Paul Hogan, although the beer is only brewed in the UK and is a British beer!

The trick wasn’t to slap the Foster’s logo or brand over any of the content but rather act like a broadcaster would in helping to distribute it.

Such content is now popular as a result of social media and opportunities on Facebook to drive audience participation with the content.

Mark Popkiewicz, CEO of MerriAd claimed that his company had created technology that allowed brands to be immersed into live action in such a way so that the audience feels it’s a natural part of the scene.

“When a consumer watches a show they are not ‘defensive’ against advertising as they might be with advertising online or commercials on TV. Instead, they are in receive mode and are not blocking,” he says.

These so-called ‘integrations’ have crossed over into the world of media buying and such opportunities now have a powerful analytical engine that can calculate the value of exposure in a much more precise way even before the content has been made.

“The net effect is an increase in brand awareness, an increase in the intent to purchase and an increase in product sentiment where the brand needs to be in the right place at the right time,” explains Mark Popkiewicz.

Nor is this development restricted to static objects as the technology is capable of placing or replacing moving objects and even replacing products being handled by actors in a movie, like a mobile phone.

It’s fast becoming possible where products can be tailored to meet individual consumer preferences for certain brands like a piece of direct mail.

For example, in a ‘test’ campaign for Lancia’s Ypsilon Methane, the car manufacturer targeted new car buyers and invited them to download a mobile app and they were invited to tune in to a property show broadcast on Italian TV.

When images of the car appeared within the broadcast, users received an inaudible soundtrack that activated the Lancia Interact TV app on their smartphones that offered a promotion for the car, resulting in a 5:1 ROI and 67 new car sales.

With dual screening now the norm, brand owners must now explore more sophisticated ways in which to engage their audiences outside of product placement in a traditional linear broadcast.

Ardi Kolah is author of High Impact Marketing That Gets Results (£19.99) published by Kogan Page. Visit Guru in a Bottle to get 30% discount today!