How Effective is Product Placement?

By on July 11th, 2012

So last week, Transformers 3 came on Netflix, and I thought to myself, how effective is movie/media product placement? I remember when I first watched the Michael Bay blockbuster in theaters, I laughed out loud when I saw the blatant placement in pristine glimpses of Macy’s, Citibank within the wreckage of Chicago. But the movie has many more products splattered throughout its two hours like Lenovo, Cisco, Mercedes, just to name a few. This is a little departure from the digital things we normally talk about here, but it was just something on my mind..

Normally, I wouldn’t have called any movie out for its products, since it’s only natural that some brands and some objects come up. The best writing is specific, as always, so when Ken Jeong’s character names Shu Hua milk, it makes the humor more apparent while giving some script time to the Chinese brand. But I’m not the only one to be entirely conscious of Michael Bay’s many corporate collaborations in this movie. The blatant presence of slow panning shots of brand logos on products such as Lenovo computers and also Cisco systems is overwhelming. In contrast, it’s easier to shake off knowing that the demon car is a Mercedes Benz, a sic one at that, because the fact that it’s a Mercedes is not thrown in your face strongly. According to Brand Channel, this movie wins the 2011 award for most searches of “product placement”, with almost 2 million searches in six months. It also managed to cram an amazing 78 brands onto the screen.

So just how effective is product placement? I suppose it depends on what goals you’re looking for. On one hand, by increasing your brand’s prominence in the media, you create larger awareness for it. According to Nielson ratings, there is quite a high recall for TV. You’re staking the claim that your brand is big enough that stories and movies circulate around it. Modern Family is now one of the most sought after product placement spots – the show is very selective and sparse in their placement.

But this could just as easily backlash with your audience being annoyed. Brand Channel quotes blog Slashfilm who critiques the Cisco placement in Transformers quite succinctly,

“…Cisco shows up at so many random points in this film — for video conferences that, in other films, would not be branded, and as a strangely prominent router in another situation — that it’s absurdly distracting. Assuming Cisco did sponsor this movie, what did they hope to gain? Is there a huge overlap between the target audience for this film and Cisco Telepresence? Are high-powered executives really watching this film and saying, “Hey, we should get that for our international offices!” Are military brass really watching this film and saying to themselves, “Glad we integrated that Cisco Telepresence!” What possible purpose could this sponsorship serve?”  Watch an excerpt of Cisco here.

Still, the sponsorship serves quite basic means: to ingrain the brand name in your mind. In that, Transformers succeeds! Hundreds of blogs are talking about the product, and despite the critique, the brand name is making its way through the masses. It’s a simple strategy. Customers are most likely to choose the brand that resonates with them, the one they remember.

The more interesting side of Transformers’ product placement is the rise of Chinese brands in the mix. Chinasmack notes Lenovo, TCL, Shuhua and Meters/bonwe (fashion), as just some of the big names appearing. The WPP press release for Lenovo by Ogilvy says that this collaboration with Transformers is part of a global branding strategy, aimed precisely at amplifying awareness internationally.

But let’s consider the future of product placement and ad-spots. Ad Age writes that commercials and content are becoming indistinguishable nowadays. Writer Brian Steinberg even goes as far as to blame consumers for product placement, by reminding us that advertisers now weave marketing into programs and movies because 30-second ad breaks in programming just aren’t cutting it anymore. We have remotes that fast-forward, change the channel, and with Netflix, non-commercial streaming as well. We can’t ignore that these corporate sponsors are also responsible for funding the programs we love so dearly such as American Idol and more. Product placement becomes somewhat of a necessary evil…

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