The future of Advertising: How crafty marketers are chasing after your cash

Everywhere we go, we are bombarded by a myriad of pesky ads. You name it, they are all over the place. Television, radio, billboards, magazines, news bulletins, the internet, buses, ATM screens, flyers, street signs, mailboxes and even people wearing ads. Advertising is all about attention. Grabbing people’s attention these days is no piece of cake. Given a chance, most people are eager to banish these countless and irksome “in-your-face” product promos. Proof of this is the overwhelming success of PVRs (Personal Video Recorders). So what are companies expected to do? The traditional 30-second spot on TV doesn’t seem to bear much fruit. Moreover, newspaper advertising can be very treacherous and unrewarding, unless you can burn plenty of bucks to afford a full-page exposure.

Broadcasting networks which rely heavily on the multi-billion dollar advertising industry to survive are taking a new approach, with the introduction of “ads-free” television shows. But wait a minute. Television networks are not exactly turning down the cold, hard advertising cash worth billions just to please their viewers. The new trend is to conveniently place ads and product logos in such a way that they do not appear advertorial. In other words, products will have to seamlessly integrate with television shows in such a manner that they do not steal the limelight, but rather appear to be part and parcel of the show. Does it seem like a strange twist of coincidence that the judges on the popular “American Idols” show are always taking coke with the “Coca-Cola” logo constantly facing the audience? Also take note of the “Coca-Cola” couch used by the contestants and the endless mention of the name “AT&T Wireless” by the show’s host. You may also be familiar with the Apple logo which hits you straight in the face every time Carnie Bradshaw uses her laptop from the hit series “Sex and the City”. What about Jack Bauer and his CTU cronies always riding high in Ford SUVs and their penchant for Dell computers in the hit show “24”? You may also recall some of the more memorable examples of product placement from classic movies such as “Back To the Future” (Pepsi products), “You’ve got mail” (America Online, Apple, IBM, Starbucks), “I,Robot” (Audi RSQ), “Men In Black” (Ray-Ban sunglasses, Burger King) among others. The king of them all is probably James Bond. The latest Bond flick, “Casino Royale” is awash with a plethora of product promos from the magnificent Aston Martin, Range Rover SUVs and flashy Sony-Ericsson mobile phones. A recent trend has been the 45-minutes priceless exposure companies like Unilever, Dairy Queen, and Burger King among others have enjoyed in Donald Trump’s recruitment show, “The Apprentice”. I guess nothing is more pleasing to the CEOs of these companies than watching a group of young hopefuls battling among themselves to create marketable products for their companies and selling them to the public. Whatever the outcome, this strategy is highly effective, brilliant and is easily a zillion times more valuable than a simple 30-seconds TV commercial.

Product placement or Covert advertising is the new fad in marketing. It was mainly confined to movies from the moment Gordon’s Gin ran the first promotion in the 1950s classic “African Queen”. The concept is now widely used in other media forms, namely songs, books, television shows, and now even on Video games. Remember that most people hate being at the receiving end of a sales pitch. Skillful marketers will ensure that their products are clearly visible, without being the center of focus to the public. That is no easy task, especially when fitting brand names within the context of a movie, book or music video while at the same time, adding a feeling of realism. From a psychological perspective, Product placement involves “re-wiring” or training the unconscious mind through some kind of hypnosis. The end may be hard to justify, but it surely does work. The logic behind this concept lies in a simple truth. Generally, the human brain does not have the time to process the thousands of advertising messages flooding today’s society. If the brain is constantly used to watching particular ad messages over time, there is likelihood that people will be compelled to purchase the product when presented with the opportunity. That is debatable, but is the main idea behind covert selling. Is this ethical? I presume that from a vendor’s perspective, it is not only ethical but highly rewarding.

Product placement has had its fair share of problems and controversies; an example is the blatant violation of advertising requirements for harmful products like cigarettes without including the Surgeon General’s warning. Another controversy is the negative portrayal of products, for instance smashing the windscreen of a popular automobile in a film noted for its violence. Some movies like “Minority Report” and “I,Robot” have been subject to negative criticism over their insensitive depiction of the same products they have heavily promoted.

However, Product placement has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years. The fundamental goal is exposure, which will hopefully translate into higher conversion rates.
With the rapid advancement in digital technology and the perennial aggressive advertising scene, advertisers will keep coming up with innovative marketing techniques to lure potential customers. There is little doubt that we will be seeing well-known television personalities, sports figures and movie stars using a multitude of popular household products for many decades to come.