Mission accomplished, advertisers win?
Product placement in films and television is nothing new – the Bond film Die Another Day was dubbed “Buy Another Day” for featuring 23 products in 123 minutes – but until recently the music industry could have been considered the final frontier for advertising and creative integration. While music is often used as the soundtrack in radio and TV advertisements, products are now being increasingly incorporated into the original music itself.
Recently, chart-topping singer Fergie hosed down rumours that her next album was to be sponsored by a major clothing label and include product names in the lyrics. While her management has denied this partnership, other artists have been less shy; in 2007, as part of a brand partnership he had with American Express, hip-hop artist Kanye West cavorted with an animated red Amex card in his film clip Good Life.
Adam Kluger, Head of Brand Partnerships at the LA-based Kluger Agency, specialises in what he calls “brand dropping” in the music industry. Although declining to name the partnerships he currently manages, he believes music works more effectively than traditional forms of advertising, especially with younger audiences. “There is no other form of repetitive entertainment that is constantly being viewed as much as the music video,” he says. “If the core demographic of a brand matches the target audience of the artist, not only do we have a successful advertising campaign, we now have a product on the fast track to being an iconic brand.”
Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and planning partner for Australian agency Naked Communications, even suggests that younger people are now so used to everything being branded, it can be viewed as a stamp of approval. “If there’s an event that is heavily branded with a whole lot of cool brands and logos compared with an event with none, they are likely to think, ‘What’s wrong with that second event? Why doesn’t it have any brands associated with it?’ Brands are no longer seen as an intruder but more a sign of endorsement.”
When Channel Ten broadcast the ARIA Awards in 2007, eagle-eyed viewers noticed that between the various segments, logos from award sponsors flashed up on the screen for one to four frames, equating on average to a tiny 0.10 of a second. It was literally blink-and-miss-it advertising, but the following year the Australian Communications and Media Authority found that Ten had breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice by transmitting images that were below or near the threshold of normal awareness. Ten defended its position, arguing the rapid-cut graphics weren’t meant to be subliminal but merely in keeping with the fast-paced look and feel of the presentation.
While this exercise resulted in a lot of media attention, industry experts contacted by CHOICE say that subliminal advertising in this form is nothing new. “It’s been around since the 1950s,” says Gayle Kerr, Senior Lecturer in Advertising at the Queensland University of Technology. “It’s never really been proven to be effective and isn’t common, though you have to wonder if the purpose this time was simply to create some controversy – it got a lot of attention.”
According to Martin Lindstrom, brand guru and author of the book Buyology, there are plenty of other subliminal techniques used to sell products, particularly in retail. Interestingly, one of the most common is smell. “Of all our senses, smell is the most primal,” says Lindstrom.
Lindstrom suggests that many smart marketers attach fragrance to the products they are selling. A UK clothing brand was once well-known for pumping its stores with the smell of freshly laundered cotton, while many supermarkets now locate their bakeries close to the entrance to attract shoppers. In Northern Europe, some supermarkets don’t even bother with actual bakeries, instead pumping an artificial baked bread smell straight into the aisles.
“Cute” and “cuddly” are not the kind of words traditionally associated with a car. Yet when a group of German designers decided to conduct research on various car brands they were in for a surprise. Using a range of classic car designs, including Ferrari and Mini Cooper, the company used fMRI technology (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to scan consumers’ brains for activity as they viewed the images.
While sports cars such as Ferrari predictably stimulated a region of the brain usually associated with reward and reinforcement, the compact Mini Cooper caused a far more unusual reaction: its design activated the same part of the brain that “lights up” when people look at a baby’s face.
Martin Lindstrom, international brand consultant, believes the huge success of the Mini Cooper is due to its design, which makes it more than just a car in people’s minds. “It’s a gleaming little person, Bambi on four wheels. It makes you feel like you want to pinch its chubby metallic cheeks and then drive it away,” he says.
Lindstrom says this kind of reaction is the ultimate goal of most brands. “Brand isn’t rational, it’s purely emotional and that’s exactly what the industry would like to activate in our brains. If we have an emotional response to a brand we’ll be prepared to pay a premium price for it.”