Product Placement, Marketing or PR?

In Heather Yaxley’s blog, Greenbanana, she discusses the UK government proposal to allow product placement on TV.

Currently, according to BBC News, “References are allowed ‘where their inclusion within the programme is justified editorially’, and goods can appear if they are obtained from a company for free or at a reduced rate to lower the cost of production.”

The new proposal will allow placement of whatever marketers are willing to pay for. Yaxley’s blog discusses how product placement used to be the role of the PR professional. She discusses the relationship aspect that used to be incorporated into trades like these. Deals like “I will loan you our product for free if it is featured in a shot in your production”, opposed to this proposal where the production side won’t use a product unless it is paid to do so. This sends product placement into the hard figured marketing side of the spectrum.

I can see the concern though, with more and more homes adopting TiVo and other DRV services, commercials no longer hit the mass reach they used to. Movie trailers on TV have begun to adapt for the TiVo world, with all the key points posted at the top border of the commercial for its entire length. When I first saw it I was annoyed because I occasionally like to guess the movie before the title shows and with the title and opening date on the top the whole time takes the fun away. Later when watching something I had TiVoed and saw the same trailer I realized the brilliance behind it, even while fast forwarding I still knew the movie title and the opening date. While I am still debating my person feelings towards this new style of trailer I can appreciate the thought process behind it. Other products must create their own TiVo adaptation as well and perhaps product placement in TV is the answer.

As a PR student I may have a bias but I believe that product placements are just done better when it appears more natural as it does in PR then how forced it may seem when marketing is paying for it. But I also believe anything marketing can do PR can do better and for less money, so yes there is definite bias, especially since I have yet to truly be in the real world and have to compete for clients.

The BBC News article goes on to quote Media commentator and former ITV executive, Steve Hewlett, “If it’s done badly the viewers will switch off. If drama directors and producers and writers handle this badly they will undermine their own product, so there is a sense in which this is self-correcting.”

An example that comes to my mind is from the movie The Truman Show, where that cast would stop mid-sentence, turn and face the camera and plug the product they were using. As Hewlett said viewer will switch it off but if it becomes common place is this the kind of annoyance we will have to live with?

What do you think? Is there a way to for product placement to be paid for and have both sides feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth? Will a Pepsi can being left on a table be enough for the marketing side? Will the writers be able to promote Pepsi without compromising their show? Is it better to leave it to PR, and focus on deals that are mutual beneficial, that come from the two sides building relationships with one another? You decide.

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8 Responses to Product Placement, Marketing or PR?

  1. Thanks for the link. It seems inevitable that those making programmes will seek funding from companies keen to market their products – and services. Likewise, as audiences fragment and ignore or skip through traditional advertising breaks, companies are keen to keep their products/services in front of potential customers.

    As you say, product placement tends to feel most natural and less annoying when it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the programme – but if that means it isn’t noticeable, from the marketer’s perspective, what’s the point? But if it is heavy-handed and does affect the programme, then customers may switch off, complain or even boycott the products.

    I tend to feel that product placement in non-drama programmes is less of an issue. The Coke glasses in front of the judges on American Idol are overly prominent, but it doesn’t really matter. Is it effective in selling the product? I suppose only Coca Cola knows (like sponsorship really). But appearing in drama – whether soaps, crime or other genres, the risk is that it cheapens the programme – ie it becomes more like an advert. Which, going full circle, people are avoiding.

    I suppose ultimately, the market may determine where the boundaries are. What I think would be a better use of technology though, is to not go heavy-handed on the in-show promotion, but look for ways in which to connect the product to the programme separately.

    How often do you watch a programme and think that a prop or item of clothing is interesting – but you don’t know where to buy it? Or you want to know what the music playing in the background is? Or a location that looks like it would be good to visit?

    I’d like to be able to maybe go to a website or click my “red button” and find out more about these aspects and ideally connect through to retail. Wouldn’t that be much better marketing?

  2. bjohnson says:

    I too feel that when product placement is more natural (as opposed to intrusive brands slammed in front of someones eyes during a T.V. sitcom or movie) that people respond better to them.

    I like to think of my own fetish with music and the Apple ads. I think the placement of a trendy tune combined with their products is a great way to advertise an iPod or iTouch and allow the (me) as the consumer to be enticed to check out the song on my own.

    In regard to Heather’s comment. I would say that to be able to go to a site and click some type of button would provide very useful for someone searching a specific brand or music song that was included in any given program. Non-intrusive definitely seems better to me than intrusive. As for whether that is a PR or marketing role, I am still asking myself that question.

  3. sferrer says:

    Marketing and public relations go hand in hand. Product placement is so huge in the entertainment industry alone. I watched one of my favorite movies, “The Devil Wears Prada,” recently and there are many scene shots and name dropping of Starbucks,Pellegrino water, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Northwestern University and many other brands. Huge amount of money are traded for visibility/awareness that lasts equivalently to a New York minute.

    Interactive TV will emerge and affect marketing, PR and advertising. Viewers will be able to actually click on ads or product placements on their own TV screens during commercials, movies and TV shows with their remotes and find more information about the product (i.e: where to buy it, how much and etc.). Informing the public about the product itself is a PR task.

  4. sdoyle says:

    I think that would be a much better idea. I have thought about that a lot when people have cute clothes on or great music in a TV show. Some channels kind of do it with the music anyways, like the CW at the end of most of their shows tells you the artist’s music that was playing and shows the album cover. But I agree a link on a website is a much more effective way of advertising than enormous coke bottles on a set.

    That is a very interesting concept of interactive TV and I’m sure it’s coming, that will be a great way of advertising and not having it be blatant and obnoxious.

  5. bihrig says:

    I find commercials so annoying. I always either change the channel or fast-forward through them. With TiVo peoples aren’t forced to watch the commercials so product-placement in television shows might be the only way for company’s to market their products.
    If production companies start charging for product placement it could defiantly hurt the plot of a show. I notice product placement shows all the time now, I couldn’t imagine if they increased the number of placements. It would get annoying.
    I think it would be hard for the marketing side to feel that they are getting what they paid for. Product placement in a show doesn’t mean the actors are talking about how wonderful it is, they are just naturally using it. I’m not sure this will be enough for companies who are paying. TiVo has caused some big problems for all kinds of companies, but I love it. Sometime commercials are so bad or annoying I purposefully avoid the product. This is a sticky topic, I am interested to see what solution they come up with.
    Also, I haven’t noticed the movie trailer name and release date at the top the entire advertisement; I will have to look out for it.

  6. sclarke says:

    Marketing and PR are two concepts that I constantly think about when dealing with product placement. Which one is more beneficial? Or do they go hand in hand?
    When I worked at my last internship, I got to work in both the Marketing and PR department. I got to see first hand how different the two are but how important they can BOTH be. I agree with when a product is strategically placed somewhere, it has a bigger impact on consumers. I was actually just viewing this concept on TV the other night. I watched a show that only places Dr. Pepper sodas in their show, You never see a different brand and it is very easy to tell that the producers are strategically viewing in on the Dr. Pepper. It is a very interesting concept. However, to answer the question, I feel that both PR and marketing are needed to get that equal balance.

  7. ecain says:

    I think it is great that you mentioned The Truman Show, because when I started to read your blog post, I immediately thought of The Truman Show and how incredibly unnatural their product placements were. In my opinion, I think that there is a way for product placement to work. People are very influenced by what they see others doing. For example, you see Spider Man drinking a Dr. Pepper and the next time you go to the store you may find yourself wanting to buy a case of it. I have never really seen a movie or a TV show where product placement has been so obvious to me that it compromises the show. I actually find it more distracting when I see the characters on a TV show such as Friends drinking a “Diet Cola” that has the exact same design as a diet coke can.

    Overall I think that if anything marketers are on the loosing side of the deal in product placement. Putting a Pepsi in the main characters hand does not mean that everyone who sees that movie is going to go out and buy a Pepsi. I think that as long as product placement works for both sides, there is really no harm done.

  8. sdoyle says:

    So I guess Tivo can be good for something if you are avoiding products based on bad ads than perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise for some. Wow what show only has Dr. Pepper? That’s interesting I’ve never noticed anything like that before but want to be on the look out now. And yes I now exactly what your talking about with the look-a-like cans or boxes of things that you know what they are but they aren’t in name so no one has to pay for anything. Those just make me laugh.

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