Working on a Mac in Starbucks*

* A Blog About Product Placement

It’s another Tuesday morning and I’m clicking away on my Mac, hard at work on a new series of ads. This early, I can only go about 5 minutes between sips from my Starbucks Frappuccino. But it’s alright. Before long, it’ll be lunch time – I’ll go for a ride in my Honda CRV, maybe pick up a Snickers candy bar...

Ok. You caught me. That whole scenario was made up. (Confession #1: I don’t really drink Starbucks Frappuccinos and actually had to look up how to spell it. I take my coffee strictly no frills.)

But what’s been on my mind lately is the idea of product placement. We’ve all seen it – the big screen star that leisurely reaches for a Coke can at just the right moment, or the McDonald’s sign in the top right corner of the shot. Remember E.T. with his fixation on Resse’s Pieces?

After I saw Smokey and the Bandit, I spent all my hard earned cash on a 1978 Pontiac Trans-Am, and spent the rest of the summer trying to convince my friends to call me “Snowman.” But it’s no laughing matter - Smokey and the Bandit is the Grail of product placement. Pontiac reported an increase in sales of 400% after the movie came out.

(Confession #2: I also tried to cultivate a Burt Reynolds mustache to no avail. Who else could pull that off?)

Sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, always devious – product placement is an interesting marketing technique that has captured a market estimated in the billions of dollars and that is only increasing in our entertainment-driven culture

When it’s done wrong…well, let’s just say that I’ve avoided products that were too heavy handed in their attempts to catch my interest. Maybe my one-person boycott didn’t really affect the big corporation, but I was proud to stand on principle.

However, when it’s done right it can be sublime & surprisingly successful. Imagine droves of people, pouring out of the movie theater and heading right to Taco Bell, or seriously considering buying a Mini Cooper without even knowing why. The thing to remember is that you’re not really placing a product; you’re placing a brand. And as the controller of that brand, you have to make sure that the placement doesn’t demean your brand, doesn’t drain the equity you have and instead helps create a new and energized sense of the possibilities of your brand promise.

The thing that interests me the most in product placement advertising (let’s call it what it is) is that it pretends to be without artifice – as if this is how actual consumers interact with actual products. And all of us actual consumers think, “Hey! Me too!” Rather than being told to buy into something, we get to see the positive effects of having bought into it. In reality, there’s probably no greater artifice than having an actor, who is reading scripted lines, pull on his L.L. Bean jacket before saving the world from aliens. Fake aliens.

But still, as I said, it does work. Puzzling. This leads, though, to only one logical conclusion - the idea of identification. Help a consumer to actually see themselves doing something, and they just might do it. That’s what branding is really all about. It all points back to people – not technical mumbo jumbo coded into an ad, not complex strategies about demographic buying patterns. People create the brand and they do so almost without really thinking about it. It just happens. A real story, true emotion, and a touch point for the viewer – these are the things that fuel brand. That’s how total brand advertising works – whether it’s product placement advertising, or a good old fashioned print ad.

Time to go fix my morning snack – Peter Pan Peanut Butter on Wonder Bread.

Gary LoBue, Jr.
Art Director
The Russo Group

Embracing Your Inner Pirate

Jay Chiat’s revolutionary creed, “We are pirates, not the navy,” rocked the advertising world, and changed the ad industry forever. Since that time, countless agencies have modeled themselves after Chiat/Day.

We like to think of ourselves as the pirates too – pirates to the rest of the advertising navy. For us, being pirates means challenging worn out ad philosophies that no longer work in today’s world. It also means leading our clients into the uncharted seas of integrated branding strategies – something that only true pirates can do well.

Why pirates you say? Well, in today’s market, you have to be willing to accept that the world has indeed changed. You also have to be willing to accept that the traditional methods of reaching your audience and building your brand have changed as well.

The truth is, we can all benefit by embracing our inner pirate – whether it’s how we approach our advertising, our business, or our life.

Now, I am not suggesting we all start wearing puffy white shirts and bandanas – but it wouldn’t hurt to perhaps look at things from a different perspective than we are accustomed to.

(The advertising portion of this BLOG and the obvious plugging of The Russo Group branding and integrated marketing agency has concluded. We now return you to the regularly scheduled program entitled, Embracing Your Inner Pirate.)

Ok, so I’ve got your interest now and you’re intrigued by this whole pirate thing, right? So, what now?

Well, it’s simple actually.

All you have to do is raise your sails and set a course for the open seas. You see, one of the main reasons pirates choose to be pirates in the first place is the sea. It’s huge, dark, unpredictable and threatening to everybody but them. They understand the risks involved when dealing with the unknown, but they also understand the rewards.

Yes, the seas may be choppy, but if you have the courage and hold your course, I can guarantee the treasure will come, both metaphorically and literally.

And of course, it's alot of fun being a pirate too – which may be the best reason of all.

Michael J. Russo
Creative Director
The Russo Group

“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.”

Mark Twain