Product Placement: Heightened authenticity or cheap distraction?

In Featured on App, Loyalty & CRM, Marketing and Sales by Kevin Kelly


padmalakshmi,, marketing campaign, marketing strategies, customer expectations, product design, branding, brand identity, brand awarness, brand positioning

Dynamic branding requires aggressive and diversified strategy. One such strategy is product placement and branded entertainment. The newest Superman installment Man of Steel featured over 100 product tie-ins from Gillette to Carl's Junior. The film The Internship was touted by many as less a film and more of an extended advertisement for Google. But what does this mean for the consumer that just forked over 15$ to not even have the ability to fast forward? Does product placement create heightened authenticity for the narrative of the TV show or film or does it render the work as simply cheap and distracted?

I would argue both. You know how in the millennial TV shows they used kitschy generic knockoffs to stand in for brands? That's because the show didn't want to pay the brands. Alternatively, the brands could have sold product placement in the show under certain conditions—the label must be front facing, it must not be portrayed negatively etc. In this sense, a selected and focused use of brands can help render the television fantasy world more real with products that each viewer can identify with.

There are, of course, limits. In The Internship, Google was mentioned on average every 2.3 minutes. This renders the narrative so closely tied to a brand that the audience can't tell the difference if it's an advertisement or a feature film. Television shows also suffer from the simple awkwardness of product placement. Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi exclaimed with expletives: "It's hard to make [product placement] sound natural!" Take a lesson: don't go overboard.

That said, product placement uniquely fails when it exits the fantasy worlds of television and cinema. Take for instance the twitter accounts of Kim Kardashian or Miley Cyrus—they intersperse their personal micro-blogging with truly ambiguous product placements. Take a look at the new mother of North West, Kim Kardashian's pre-labor tweet:

Kimmykimkim, Kim Kardashian Twitter


Here, Kim apparently loves (and is lolling about) EOS lip balm. However, blurring the line between reality and fiction here is problematic because the platform of Twitter is purported to be precisely reality—not the understood fiction of television or cinema. The FTC is warning all celebrities that such tweet-ads must include the hashtag #ad. The problem is that they're not paying much attention so it remains unclear what is the taste of the celebrity and what is a paid taste. In one way, this marketing move by EOS lip balm makes the brand look desperate and ambiguous.

Beats by Dr. Dre headphones offers a genius counterexample; the company gave their headphones to select Olympians as ‘gifts.' Thereafter, the headphones were voraciously used by winning athletes. Here's the catch: Beats by Dr. Dre never actually paid for the product placement. It appears that the summer Olympians truly enjoyed the quality of the headphones so much so that they used them publicly (in front of hundreds of cameras).

In these ways, product placement can be tricky. Overall I'd recommend that if you want to place brand your products, do so openly so social media doesn't air your dirty laundry. Once one or two tweets set fire your brand is walking on coals. If you want to place products do so smartly, legally, and creatively.


[PHOTO: Flikr ejmc]