RAZOR BRANDING BLOG: Working on a Mac in Starbucks*

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

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