Sunday, June 04, 2006

On the Placement of Products

The onset of Tivo. A foreboding omen, a dark portent, a harbinger of doom for the advertising industry. After all, if people aren't watching a television show in real time, they'll Tivo it and gloss over all of the precious hundred thousand dollar commercial spots. So something had to be done. And thus was born product placement, the practice of blatantly inserting references to your product into whatever medium you like. The standard issue "creepy secret government organization" black SUVs in 24 aren't generic black SUVs but Ford SUVs. And so forth.

(No, this is not yet another entry about television. It's about advertising practices.)

You know what? It doesn't bother me, really. And it's not going to influence me either. To follow the motif of not engaging in popular cultural practices simply because they're there, but not rebelling against them simply because they're popular either. Traditional-style commercials and product placement: I'm not going to be subliminally influenced to buy a product because I see it advertised, and I'm not going to actively rebel against the product because I've seen it advertised.

So that got me thinking: how effective, really, is advertising? I know it makes sense if you've got a new product or service to display: "here's something that didn't exist before, does exist now, and you might be interested in." To me, it does not make sense if it's "here's something that you already know exists, and here's why you should be interested in it. Watch me demonstrate its amazingness." That kind of approach just doesn't work for me, and I'd like to know in general how effective it is.

Audience poll: are you more, less, or as likely to buy a product/service if you've seen it advertised? Do you find your opinion of a product/service changes after you see an advertisement for it?

The reason I ask is because I recently participated in a strange survey/market research scheme. I received a phone call regarding my television and movie watching habits, and before I knew it, I was agreeing to watch a video mailed to me and provide my feedback on it. I watched said video today, which contained the most God-awful sitcom I have ever subjected myself to, King of Queens included. Before and after I watched it, I was to fill out forms corresponding to what I would like to receive as a prize should I be selected for a sweepstakes. I got (sometimes bizarre) categories to choose from, and had to pick an item from each. Without going into too much detail, if a box containing some Oreos, Aquafresh toothpaste, and Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning salt shows up on my front porch, I'll have a pretty good idea why.

The strange part about it was the date on this God-awful sitcom: 1997. That's an almost ten year old show they're having me watch? For what purpose? This isn't Seinfeld; pilots from a decade ago don't mysteriously resurface, especially not ones that bad. Then take the before/after aspect of the prize booklets. An obvious thought would be that I was supposed to have been influenced by the commercials on the tape to change a few of my selections. Only one of the product categories in the "after" booklet had a corresponding commercial during the show: batteries. Even more strangely, batteries did not show up in the "before" booklet, but guess what the very first category was in the "after"?

So my current conspiracy theory, which my dad and I formulated as these strange events progressed: it's all about the batteries. The show is a red herring; they couldn't care less what I thought of it. They just want to know how the Energizer commerical affected my desire to buy Energizer batteries.

In the "after" booklet, for my preferred battery brand, I picked Duracell.

Currently listening: Weezer (Blue Album)


Gina said...

Sorry. Deleted the above because there were some things I wanted to add.

What I buy really has more to do with what my friends say about it than anything else. 9/10 times it's either because my dad buys it(ie. Blue Plate Mayonnaise, EPSON printers, that kind of thing) or because a friend recommends it to me(my Venus razor, ipod, etc.)I think this is true for most people.

Going on that given, my theory on advertising is as such: What I believe many commercials try to do is simulate this process of “referral,” so that they can get as close to as possible the affect that a friend’s recommendation has on the mind. They can do this to varying degrees.

The first step, of course, is to simply get the name out there. People are more likely to buy things that they know than they are to pick up a random item at the store with no prior knowledge. This “first step” is analogous to hearing something from an acquaintance or even a stranger on the street. Just the name, with nothing else influencing judgment is the first thing people are exposed to.

From there, companies want to give the product they’re advertising as much of a "good rep" as possible. For example, most people are more willing to go to places where the commercials are "clean”--the camera work is appealing, and it’s not one of those one-color screens with a picture, address, and some guy talking to where you can’t understand him. I know this is the case with me: most people think that the more money a company can spend on a commercial, the more money they have and the more valuable their product is. This point can coincide with hearing the name everywhere--making the product’s name common and well-known, relating, of course, to the number of people who buy this product.

Finally, the greatest referral a person can receive is from a close friend. Someone who they trust. This should be rather obvious, as celebrity commercials are one of the best types, depending on the celebrity. Stars are the greatest kind of commercial advertisers(as well as radio hosts, don’t forget), because a) many people know them b) they have a certain reputation about them that makes people trust them and/or listen to what they have to say. Perfect example? The actor who plays President Palmer(Best character EVER in 24) does the insurance commercials. He exudes the aura of his character, and it’s one that has proven time and time again to be trustworthy, so the commercial is very effective.

Each of these methods, of course, is more expensive than the first. So money that goes into advertising is very well spent, and very well managed. However, as you mentioned with the rise of TiVo, advertisers have had to rethink things. Product placement in movies/TV shows is probably a transition from one type of advertising to another, but still trying to simulate the reference effect. Of course, if they do it too much and interfere with the movie or TV show’s plot, they aren’t doing a very good job, so the product placement is probably analogous to that first step of referral, and, with time, advertisers will get more sneaky.

A couple of side notes before I leave this very long comment: I noticed a while back they tried product placement in movies while at the same time referencing to those movies in commercials. So, you’d see a Subaru commercial saying “The kind of SUV Lara Croft trusts,” or, “the SWAT team uses this kind of walkie-talkie” or whatever. I haven’t seen that used nowadays, so I assume they weren’t very effective. I myself thought it was kind of cheesy.

Also, you’ll notice that American Idol uses its big advertisers like Ford inside the TV shows--again, another way that the big shots in advertising are getting sneaky on us. People, of course, know that the Idols are required to do that kind of thing so it doesn’t quite have the “best friend referral” flavor, but it’s clever.

See, this is what you get. You ask me a question, I give you an essay.

Aquafresh toothpaste is nasty, by the way.

Samantha said...

I think I'm really just as likely to purchase a product whether I've seen an ad for it or not. Old Navy and Gap, for instance, have really horrid ads. Their commercials are some of the stupidest I've ever seen, and the outfits people wear on them are usually not to my liking (the hell? I don't wear fleece pullovers, eesh), yet more than half of my wardrobe is comprised of clothes from those two stores.

However, I can't say this is true 100% of the time. I mean, ads will sometimes bring my attention to things I wouldn't know existed otherwise, and then I'll go out and buy said thing, so in that case, yes, advertising will influence whether or not I purchase an item. But it's not really because the ad did a good job telling me why I should buy it. It's usually more of an "Aha - I've been looking for one of those" type things that will run through my head.

If I'm influenced by anyone, really, it is by my friends.


Hope your summer's going well, and that you find a job soon. I just applied to Office Depot today....hoooo boy....