Understanding the trick with product placement

At the end of February Nestlé coffee brand Dolce Gusto made history by becoming the first brand to be featured on a UK-produced TV programme in a paid product placement deal on ITV1’s ‘This Morning’. This relaxing of the rules around product placement on UK TV presents brands with a new and exciting channel within an existing media, and I’m fascinated to see how this moves forward.

To placate those detractors of product placement, I think it will be a long time before we get to the levels that have been seen in recent movies, such as Sex and the City and James Bond Quantum of Solace, which caused such a public outcry. And while product placement is an area of huge interest for marketers, it will take time for them to get used to the rules for TV.

One of the first things that they need to understand is that the trick with product placement isn’t just in the subtlety of the placement for the brand, it’s actually in the way the placement opportunity is leveraged around this. For instance, the relationship between Spiderman and Doctor Pepper and the James Bond Aston Martin car are all well known to us as consumers, not necessarily because they were all over the film, but because of the smart communication by the brand owners after the event ensuring that their product was in the right place, at the right time, with the right association.

The James Bond car is always held up as the definitive product placement, but you need to look at the activity that goes on around the film to understand where the value is really being added. Aston Martin was engaged in a number of activities to reinforce the relationship, including having the car on display at the screen premieres and an ad campaign running across various media featuring the film and the car. The luxury car marque even took over a whole window display at Harrods to promote its involvement.

While we’re unlikely to see the likes of KitKat taking over a Harrods window display to promote their product’s appearance on Coronation Street, in this situation a simple mechanic like a trade based promotion could provide an effective solution, where buyers are given the chance to win free tickets to an event if they can spot who was eating a particular product during a given show.

It is often said that if you notice a product placement then it hasn’t worked, but if you don’t notice it then it definitely hasn’t worked! While you can be in a position where people are too busy watching the show to notice brands, a similar criticism can be aimed at traditional advertising with people doing other things during ad breaks. The lesson from this is that brand owners need to be doing something additional to reinforce the placement.

To do this, they need to think beyond their 20 seconds of fame and look at leveraging their association outside that. Product placement is not as effective as sponsorship or advertising whereby a dedicated spot can be guaranteed week after week. Big brands won’t just leave consumers to make the connection, they drive their association home through every channel available to them.

Marketers should also be mindful not to gloss over the sales promotion opportunities. Galaxy’s involvement with Bridget Jones, for example, was supported through on-pack promotions and used as a key driver to sell through to the trade. Product placement on its own is quite a subtle media, so brands need to use it to better combined effect with their other channels.

There will, of course, be a cost associated with making that extra connection – unless you happen to be Nestlé, which is currently reaping extensive free PR benefit from being the first bit of UK product placement, but the reality is it’s worth it in their case as only one person can be first:  no one else will gain the exposure from being second or third.

With more placement comes more opportunity and while this has to be a great reason for brands to get involved, for me, the true value is in the hand-picked, big noise and more obvious associations, where the product is featured, PR’d, promoted effectively and spread around social media channels to cement it in the public mind.

Finally, as with any channel, relevance is key – having the right product in the right place at the right time is crucial. There are a number of companies already in the marketplace that are expert at handling product placement and brands need to be tapping into to this expertise if they are to make the most of this new and exciting opportunity.

Pete Davis is managing director of innovative media ideas hub, getmemedia.com