My children are now old enough to go downstairs and turn on the TV by themselves. It’s an important moment in their lives — and the lives of their parents. The children have the independence of choosing what they watch, and the parents have the opportunity to stay in bed on a weekend morning. This developmental stage has been in place for decades and, I confess, it’s one I secretly looked forward to.
And yet just 10 minutes into their morning viewing on a recent Saturday, my children shouted in annoyance. They rousted me from bed, complaining that something was wrong with the TV. Through the frenetic complaints, I eventually realized that their program had been interrupted by ads.
This was a new experience for them. They were used to watching on demand or recorded programs. Trying to explain to my children that there are advertising breaks so people can sell them things was a
experience. I have since learned that I am not alone in this experience, but that did not help me at the time.
Their incomprehension was total. My argument, that ads are a minor but necessary annoyance, was hardly persuasive. While many have theorized about the decline of interruption-based advertising, I realized as I looked into my children’s faces that the end may be sooner than advertisers realize.
This is a fundamental shift not only for the TV channels, which will have to completely rethink their revenue model, but also for brands, which find it incredibly, and increasingly, difficult to capture the attention of empowered, impatient consumers.
An obvious solution is product placement, a company paying for its product to be featured prominently in a film or television program as a form of advertising. According to PQMedia, the U.S. product placement market grew by 12.8% in 2014, to over $6 billion, and is set to reach over $11 billion by 2019.
The trouble is that the huge success of product placement is causing a dip in its credibility and effectiveness as a marketing channel. Audiences are increasingly skeptical. Research by Eva A. van Reijmersdal of the University of Amsterdam suggests that when product placement becomes too prominent, it affects attitudes negatively because viewers become aware of a deliberate selling attempt. Product placement can also lower audiences’ evaluations of the focal entertainment product (the film or the show), as recently demonstrated by Andre Marchand and colleagues. And it’s particularly true when audiences like the film or show.
This leaves marketers scratching their heads. If interruption-based advertising is no longer an option, and if traditional product placement is no longer the answer, how can brands reach consumers while not offending their sense of empowerment and leveraging their desire for immediate gratification?
I have looked at brand-to-consumer interactions for the last 15 years, and it is obvious that consumers are becoming more impatient, more demanding, and more marketing-savvy than ever before. My research on product placement suggests two new routes that could leverage the evolution in consumer behavior.
The first is interactive product placement, which is technology-driven and leverages the consumer desire for immediacy and relevance while watching a TV show. The second is reverse product placement, an innovative way of launching new brands that can protect the integrity of the show and respect the empowerment of the imaginative consumer.
Interactive product placement. The increasing ubiquity of digital communications technologies and the maturation of interactive video technologies mean that product placement could evolve from a simple promotional tool to a selling tool.
Video technology now allows certain objects, such as products, to be “clickable” within the video. (This sometimes involves actual clicking, such as when you’re watching a video on your laptop, mobile device, or smart TV. It could also involve holding your phone’s camera up to a large screen and scanning an image of the thing being shown.) These interactive technologies allow the viewer to get more information on — or even buy — those brands. If, say, James Bond is wearing a shirt you like, you will be able to buy it immediately.
This will have a significant impact on the design of future product and brand placement campaigns. In addition to introducing a heretofore unknown flexibility to the design and timing of campaigns, these technologies allow product placement campaigns to be targeted, monitored, and measured in real time, as with other forms of internet advertising.
Reverse product placement. A number of fictional brands have been created in order to protect the integrity of the host show. “Red Apple” cigarettes are a fictional brand of tobacco used by Quentin Tarantino in films such as Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Four Rooms. Tarantino seeks to minimize relying on corporate sponsorship and to affirm the nonconformist nature of his movies. The fictional brand conveys a “cool” image, as it is associated with the characters and atmosphere of Tarantino’s movies. It cannot be purchased nor consumed — at least not as cigarettes — though the (fake) vintage ad here can be.
If these fictional brands possess brand equity, is it possible to turn that equity into revenue? The question is moot, because it is already happening — and more regularly than you may think. In 2012 Staples Inc., under license from NBC’s parent company, Comcast, began to manufacture paper using the “Dunder Mifflin” brand name — the fictional paper company in the TV show The Office. Avion Tequila, from the hit HBO show Entourage, has also been “defictionalized” and is now available as a real product in some of New York’s trendiest bars.
There’s no reason to think other brands won’t follow suit, either licensing popular fictional brands from their creators or using popular shows to gauge consumer interest in their own forthcoming or proposed products. Fictional brands can be a method of protecting the integrity of the host show and introducing new brands, but they also can provide an additional stream of revenue to the TV series and film producers seeking to make money in an era when interruptive advertising is dying.
Reverse and interactive product placement could revolutionize the advertising industry. Both of those techniques further blur the lines between entertainment and advertisement, and will accelerate the demise of interruption-based advertising — much to the delight of our children.