For those who think that unconscious forms of communication are dead, think again. It is alive and doing well – not openly, but in cryptic ways in the form of product placement and branded entertainment. A casual look at today’s film or television content also shows a range of product placements very subtly and other clearly beyond the line separating advertising and factual media content to sell products, ideas and services. get out. Why is it unconscious? Because…our brain filters what would normally remove open advertising messages from media programming, do not take steps to block these secretly kept product placements and their underlying meaning and messages. It is simply recorded in the subconscious of the consumer.
Television and film are both replete with examples. Can anyone miss the Coca-Cola Tumblr at the judges table on the American Idol television show? I do not think so. The new James Bond movie CasinoRoyale packs more than its fair share of product placement, from automobiles (Ford) to branded airlines (Virgin Airways). What is even more interesting is how the concept of product placement is extended in this film. There is one person placement! A person who unconsciously joins Virgin Airways. It’s none other than Virgin’s chairman Richard Branson — a brand icon — himself. If you look closely at the particular scene set in Miami airport, in the security check line is Virgin President Sir Richard Branson, seconds after the Virgin jet landing was shot. Incidentally, you say. Not according to sources. CasinoRoyale producer Barbara Broccoli struck a deal with Virgin that included a plane for the airport scene, with the jet, for more than three days of filming for the crew. In return, along with some promotional tie-ins with CasinoRoyale, the producers offered to entertain Branson and his son in the film as a thank you. This non-paid product placement cost Virgin a few hundred thousand pounds!
Marketers are increasingly using product placement techniques to reach consumers as new technology and a wider range of media options make traditional advertising a less viable way of promoting brands and ideas. Be it television or film, product placement can be used to reach a mass audience or as part of tailored campaigns targeting specific audiences. While critics may blame product placement marketing for blurring the line between reality and media content, the real world of product placement marketing is thriving in both paid and non-paid forms. According to a 2005 PQ Media report, paid product placement spend globally (this does not explicitly include all non-paid product placement costs, figures for which are not readily available) was $2.2 billion, including $2.2 billion in the United States. Product placements accounted for two-thirds, or about $1.5 billion. Not surprisingly, PQ Media reports projected that number to rise to around $7.5 billion worldwide by 2010, with the US again leading.
Rapidly emerging markets, particularly India and China – have seen an explosion in product placement and use of branded entertainment. The same PQ Media report lists India’s total product placement spend at fifth position in the global product placement rankings and predicts a stronger growth than the United States in the next three-four years. The flow of product placements in India has been so phenomenal that Bollywood has embraced the role of branded entertainment and geared up to finalize major financial deals for marketing tie-ups with leading product marketers like Reebok, Sony, etc. For example, in the upcoming Bollywood film Goal, the brand will have an active involvement in the look and feel of the show maker’s film – a la infomercial for Reebok, in which the stars – John Abraham and others will wear Reebok shoes and apparel, sports kits and shades. and virtually allow Reebok. To affect the feel and look of the film.
How does a strategically incorporated product placement or branded entertainment help the Virgin Airways and Reebok brands aim for Hollywood’s Casino Royale and Bollywood? Does person (Branson) placement and brand (Virgin) placement help an air traveler have a higher propensity to book their ticket on Virgin Airways the next time? Does wearing John Abraham’s Reebok brand increase Reebok sales in India? Or for that matter, any main character from any television show who sips and enjoys Starbucks coffee—will that lead to a significant increase in consumers loathing Starbucks? It must be because, according to marketers, Branson’s fleeting presence helped forge a subliminal relationship with Virgin and its entrepreneurial airlines and gave ‘people’ the opportunity to talk it over… He lent his resources to Broccoli for the first time. And in the case of India’s film Lakshya, the speculation is that Reebok’s strong association with football will impact the film and audiences will line up at Reebok stores in India!
While fine-tuning product placement can be one approach, the ultimate goal is undeniably to create a perception among the audience that will help increase the product’s bottom line. It drives product placement and branded entertainment with this objective in mind – the need to elevate a brand’s views and opinions from a simple brand awareness. If in the process, one needs a subliminal strategy, product placement and branded entertainment gurus have a complete arsenal at their disposal that they can use!