Modern marketing and product placement embraced each other out of sheer necessity, both dealing with an audience that had grown sick of them. In the early days, marketers had the luxury of handling straightforward campaigns, involving delivery of simplified messages about their products, without the need of modesty or coercion. Yet, the audience grew smart over time and developed immunity to blatant advertisements, demanding storytelling and sophisticated content as part of their user experience (UX). Thus, they befriended content creators and publishers who were able to put creative spins on product-related narratives by nesting them within attractive content.
You Say You Want Value?
The key to successful product placement campaigns lies in creating content that establishes an emotional connection with your audience. When customers develop an emotional connection with the product, they are more likely to see it in a favorable light. The best way to approach this is to create content that offers its audience both information and entertainment, creating what can be termed “value” in the context of their UX. Delivering the value still needs to rely on authenticity, where the content serves as a bridge to emotional customer engagement shifting the focus from the product itself.
This has been the case since the earliest days of the alliance between advertisers and content producers. While many people correlate product placement with film, its true home is actually television, with 71.4% of all placements originating on TV. Thus, it is no wonder that we can easily find great examples of product placement campaigns in motion pictures.
Promoting Products within Engaging Narratives
Expedia is an American travel company which manages several global travel brands. In order to promote its products, it produced videos featuring their different destinations, highlighting the personal stories of the travelers. Shot in the form of a narrative video, these advertisements showcased the product while allowing viewers to feel emotionally connected.
Take, for example, this video made by photographer David Kenward who won the 2015 Downs Association Photographic competition. Despite his condition, David followed his passion which led him to the untamed wilds of Iceland. He finally made his trip by using the company’s ticket service, which, despite being marketed as a product, takes nothing from the narrative potency of the video itself.
Expedia continued producing videos that feature similar accounts of its customers’ emotional journeys. Instead of merely advertising travel tickets, Expedia went after its customer’s heart and soul with a skillful combination of product placement and story-driven visual experience. The company’s senior director of marketing, Andrew Cocker urges people to let the company help them realize their lifelong dreams and play a key role in its advertising campaign. “I’m hoping the stories will resonate with real people up and down the country and they will be inspired by them”, says Cocker.
Expedia promotes its travel business with engaging narratives about its users Image Credit: Youtube Screenshot
Tell Us Your Story
Still, video is not the only media that can be used in product placement campaigns. In reality, they can feature various mixed media, ranging from charts, infographics, videos and interactive graphics. Famous British automotive giant Jaguar Land Rover recognized this potential and asked British Booker Prize nominee and author William Boyd to produce a wholly original adventure novella which will serve as a platform for luxury brand storytelling.
According to the company’s executive, Boyd was free to create any story he wanted while using a Land Rover vehicle of his choice. This inspired the creation of a website (Well Storied) on which Land Rover drivers are encouraged to post their own stories, videos and images to social media, including Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. The final creation was described as a combination of user-generated content and branded storytelling. The project was described as going beyond mere product placement into the territory of a multi-level interactive storytelling project.
Content Takes Precedence
Not all of campaigns of this type need to include a participating audience. They can rely on skillful embedding of advertisers’ products within the content itself. This is done in opposition to its lateral placement dating back to the early days of display advertising. In this manner, the audience is powerless to ignore the advertising content, as it is aligned and fused with the original content they are already engaged with. Seeing the advertiser’s logo or product is the “price” they pay for being offered creative and emotive content.
Out of the whole spectrum of emotions, the satirical website The Onion decided to target our sense of humor, as part of the advertising campaign commissioned by American tax preparation company H&R Block. In order to engage the readers that company wanted to turn into its customers, they produced a text entitled ‘Woman Going to Take Quick Break after Filling out Name, Address on Tax Forms’ in which they tackled a potentially sterile topic of tax calculation in a highly entertaining manner. The satirical article was bordered by H&R Block advertisements, providing a subtle mention of the ad without being too conspicuous.
The successful outcome of this and similar campaigns rests on the content creator’s skill to embed the advertiser’s story with the publisher’s regular content. The goal is for the advertisement to be noted by the reader, without being the main attraction. Honestly Yum gastronomy blog did this with style when they inserted reference to a brand-name chocolate in their post dedicated to a coffee drinking ritual.
It is clear that both publishers and advertisers will have to work closely in order to strike a balance between what is sponsored and original within the content, and this is best done by always keeping your targeted audience in mind.
Today’s tech-savvy and advertising-blind audience needs to be engaged in the manner that caters to their emotions and predilection for storytelling. Inserting brand logos, references to products or sponsored stories needs to be seamlessly fused with the content readers are used to.
The less this content resembles old-fashioned in-your-face marketing pieces, the more easily it will find its way to the audience it has in its sights. As a publisher, you’ll do well to study these examples of content-focused product placement.