For those thinking that subliminal forms of communicating is dead, think again. It’s alive and doing well – may be not overtly, but in surreptitious ways in the form of product placements and branded entertainment. Even a casual look at today’s film or television content amply shows an array of product placements some very subtle and others clearly overstepping the line separating advertising and factual media content in order to sell products, ideas and services. Why is it subliminal? Because…our brain filters that normally weed out overt advertising messages from media programming, don’t step in to block these covertly placed product placements and their built-in meanings and messages. It simply registers into the consumer’s subconscious.
Both television and films are rife with examples. Anyone miss out on the Coca Cola tumbler on the judges tables on the American Idol television show? I don’t think so. The new James Bond film CasinoRoyale, packs more than its fair share of product placements from automobiles (Ford) to branded airlines (Virgin Airways). It’s even more interesting how the concept of product placements has been extended in this movie. There’s a person placement! A person that subliminally gets associated to Virgin Airways. This is none other than Virgin Chairman, Richard Branson – a brand icon – himself. If you observe closely the particular scene set in Miami airport, there’s Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson in the security check line, followed a few seconds later by the shot of a Virgin jet landing. Coincidental, you say. Not according to sources. CasinoRoyale producer Barbara Brocolli set up a deal with Virgin that included a plane for the airport scene, with the jet, the crew for over three days of filming. In return, along with some promotional tie-ins with CasinoRoyale, the producers offered to stick Branson and his son in the film for fun as thanks. The cost to Virgin for this non-paid product placement- a few hundred thousand pounds!
Marketers are increasingly using product placement techniques to reach consumers as new technology and an expanding range of media options makes conventional advertising a less feasible way to promote brands and ideas. Be it television or films, product placements can be used to reach a mass audience or as part of tailored campaigns targeting specific audiences. While critics may blame product placement marketing for blurring the line between reality and media content, the actual world of product placement marketing, both paid and non-paid forms, is thriving. According to a 2005 PQ Media report, paid product placement spend globally (this obviously does not include all the non-paid product placement costs, figures for which are not available that easily) stood at $2.2 billion, with United States product placements accounting for over two-thirds or about $1.5 billion. Not surprisingly, The PQ Media report projects these numbers to grow significantly world-wide to around $7.5 billion by 2010, again with US taking a lead.
In the fast emerging markets, notably India and China – the usage of product placements and branded entertainment has seen an explosion. The same PQ Media Report lists India’s overall product placement spend as the fifth in global product placement rankings and predicts a strong growth matching USA over the next three-four years. The influx of product placement in India has been so phenomenal that Bollywood has embraced branded entertainment’s role and has set about finalizing huge financial deals for marketing tie-ups with leading product marketers like Reebok, Sony, etc. For example, in a forthcoming Bollywood movie Goal, the show maker will have the brand’s active involvement in the look and feel of the movie – a la infomercial for Reebok, wherein the stars – John Abraham and others will wear Reebok footwear and apparel, use sports kit and shades and virtually allow Reebok to influence the feel and looks of the movie.
How does strategically inducted product placements or branded entertainment in the Hollywood’s CasinoRoyale and Bollywood’s Goal help Virgin Airways and the Reebok brand respectively? Does the person (Branson) placement and the brand (Virgin) placement help to a higher propensity of an air traveler to book his or her ticket the next time on Virgin Airways? Does John Abraham’s wearing Reebok brand increase Reebok sales in India? Or for that matter, from any lead character on any television show that sips and enjoys Starbucks coffee – will this result in a notable rise in consumers slurping down Starbucks? It should according to marketers, because, Branson’s fleeting appearance helped create a subliminal association with Virgin and his entrepreneurial airlines and an opportunity for ‘people’ to talk that up… the exact reason why Virgin loaned its resources to Brocolli in the first place. And in the case of India’s movie Goal, the supposition is that Reeboks strong association with soccer will rub off on the movie and that viewers will line up at Reebok stores in India!
While subtly placing product placements may be an approach, the ultimate goal is unquestionably creating a perception among viewers that will help increase the product’s bottom line. It is this end in view that drives product placement and branded entertainment – the need to increase a brand’s consideration and opinion from just a simple brand awareness. If in the process, one needs subliminal tactics, the product placement and branded entertainment gurus have a full arsenal at their disposal they can utilize!