Brand placement – often called ‘product placement’ – is a common practice in a rapidly increasing number of media. Through placement, a brand is included as part of a mass media program in return for some form of payment from the advertiser.
In effect, brand placement is a way to put your brand in a setting consumers wouldn’t expect it. Pizza Hut shows up in Wayne’s World. The judges on American Idol have glasses emblazoned with Coke logos in front of them.
But is that the end of brand placement? I’d say no. In fact, I believe that’s probably the dullest way to put your brand in front of unexpecting consumers. Let me explain.
Brand placement means shaking up the aisle
When we go to the supermarket for toothpaste, we stride purposefully to the oral care aisle. Mission accomplished. But for the dozen toothpaste brands fighting for visibility in that aisle, becoming the choice is a costly, frustrating job.
So why can’t brand stewards take their toothpaste brand out of the toothpaste aisle, even if their product still resides there? What about advertising their toothpaste in the candy aisle, or on apples? What about doing a joint promotion in the school lunch kit section, with a mini-tube included gratis with each lunch kit?
This brand placement strategy is more than creative (speaking of creativity, I believe it can be learned – here’s a thoughtstarter). If done properly, it can disrupt your consumer’s habits and give your brand valuable real estate in the consumer’s brain – in space unoccupied by your competitors.
Here’s how to do it right.
In the early 90s, radio and bus ads were no-go zones for respected financial institutions. I was working on Richmond Savings, a small west coast credit union with neither the resources or the desire to slug it out in the ad media of choice for banks – national newspapers and television.
So we advertised on bus sides and the radio.
This choice enabled us to virtually own these two media, despite a limited ad buy. Because we were the only financial sector advertisers using these media, we stood out like a sore thumb. And our media buyers gained outsized freebies from the bus and radio reps trying to attract more business from our sector. Wins on all fronts.
(Disruptive brand placement isn’t the only highly effective tactic you should explore: here’s a story on tuning up your testimonials.)
The lesson here is obvious. Look around.
Chances are, you’re moving in the same media circles as your competitors. Take a moment to pause and check out ad space that media buyers in your category would never consider. If you’re the only one there, it will take relatively little effort to look like you own the medium. And you’ll be one step closer to owning that priceless real estate in the consumer’s mind.
Unexpected, but relevant brand placement
Exaggeration, comparison, and metaphor are three of the oldest tools in creating effective ads. What they do is create the unexpected out of the expected.
They can also help you find logical media that nobody in your category uses.
Consider this image. Clearly, the person who dreamt up this ad said to him or herself Hmmm, if people are sick of a grimy barbecue, how can we make that thought top of mind? The solution: exaggerate.
And with this exaggeration – is your barbecue as grimy as a sewer grate – comes a media idea. Suddenly, your brand is placed out in the street, speaking to people where there’s no competitor in site.
(If you’re reading this, you already know you don’t want to build a commodity brand. Here’s how to prove it.)
Now, it’s easy to see the immediate correlation between a grimy grille, and a grimy sewer grate. Both are metal. Both look the same. Neither should touch your expensive steaks. I get it. There are multiple nodes that connect the metaphor to the reality.
And here’s where I ring a cautionary note. You need to keep that relevance front and centre.
Look at this image. What the heck does a Visa card have to do with a subway?Certainly, I understand the ‘swipe’ implication. But apart from that, there is very little ‘there’ there.
I still like the fresh use of a new medium for Visa. I would challenge, however, that simply being unexpected isn’t as powerful as being unexpected in ways that relevant on multiple levels to the message or product.
The lesson: let the tools that create unexpectedness (metaphor, exaggeration, comparison) work their magic to present great new media. But also strive to create as many points of relevance as possible, to avoid becoming a fun, but forgettable sight gag.
Great brand placement goes viral
The beauty of advertising today is that a great idea is no longer just one moment (or one brand placement) in time. Ideas that disrupt consumers are often captured by those consumers on their smartphones. Presto – your media reach just grew exponentially.
The best part of having your brand placement go viral in a photo is that the viewers of your ‘fun’ execution trust the person sending the photo – which makes them far more likely to click, view, and share themselves.
Case in point: I saw the barbecue ads I profiled above featured in a German ad magazine, on Pinterest UK, and on a site called Weburbanist, to name just a few.
Does this mean your toothpaste ad on grocery store apples will make a viral victory lap around the world? Difficult to say.
One thing is certain, though. Brand placement delivers great visibility when you take it beyond the obvious.
Want help with your brand? Book a time in my calendar.
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Want some more great reads on brand placement? Check out my stories:
- Trump and the Brand Gap
- Bootstrap Marketing and the Beautiful Idea
- Christmas, Insincerity and the Death of Advertising
This post was first published in 2018, but was updated in 2022 just for you.