When Product Placement Is the Real Star
Bloomberg Businessweek|July 26, 2021
Goods featured in TV shows and films capture the attention of viewers who ignore ads
Kelly Gilblom

Hiram Lodge, the manipulative crime lord who targets the fictional town of Riverdale, sits back in his office chair. After plotting his latest scheme with a cohort over submarine sandwiches, he takes a bite of a Doritos chip, holding the bag in clear view of the camera while looking away pensively.

Frito-Lay, which got the snack on the CW Network’s teen drama Riverdale with the help of the No. 1 product placement company BEN, hopes audiences noticed enough to crave their own bag of Doritos, but not so much that they became annoyed. That’s the delicate balance companies strike when using product placement, which is becoming an ever more popular form of advertising thanks to factors including increasingly sophisticated data collection and the rise of streaming and mobile video.

Linear television, the old-school version of programming in which viewers have to be on their sofas at a scheduled time, is becoming an activity of the past, reducing promotional opportunities for brands. Meanwhile, more people are tuning in to Netflix or other streaming services that eschew conventional ads. “If I’m starting to cobble together my viewing experience as a series of streaming services, I potentially don’t get exposed to traditional television advertising anymore,” says David Schweidel, a marketing professor at Emory University. “So product placement becomes the way of cutting down the cost associated with production when you don’t have advertising to support you.”

To do that, product placement is morphing into a more tech-focused and targeted business that can mesh nicely with the data-driven strategies that have proved so successful for digital marketing companies such as Facebook Inc. and Google. While advertisers still try to weave their products into the fabric of a film or TV show’s plot, a lot more is happening behind the scenes to guarantee those marketing dollars will turn into a sale.

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