It’s Saturday night and you’re hunkered down in the living room watching a movie with the family. It’s a chase scene where the protagonist is being pursued by the bad guys through a maze of city streets, with collisions and near-misses, and harrowing twists and turns. In the middle of the chase, you notice a Hummer approaching from the rear and then you see something unusual: a glowing shadow around the vehicle and a prompt to “Click for More Info.” When you click an advertisement pops up for Hummer with features and benefits, and an option to change the Hummer in the movie to your favorite color. You can also see a list of dealers near you.
Pretty cool or pretty strange? You decide.
Speaking of deciding: in the future you may be able to decide what the living room furniture looks like in your favorite TV show. Determine what brand of clothing the hero wears in an action movie. And so on. Welcome to the future of Interactive Video and Advertising.
What is Embedded Marketing?
Embedded Marketing is a technique where a brand (or a reference to a brand) are incorporated inside of another piece of content, such as a movie, television show, or print piece. The inclusion of the brand in the piece of work must have promotional intent in order to be embedded marketing. Typically, the brand pays for the placement of their brand within the other work. Or payment is implied based on the brand awareness gained from it.
What is the History of Embedded Marketing?
Product placement may seem like one of those modern things that’s a sign of the apocalypse, but embedded marketing actually traces back to the 19th century. Back then, before movies and television, novels and serialized newspaper stories were the primary forms of entertainment. In 1873, French science fiction author Jules Verne included brand names in his novel, Around the World in 80 Days. A few shipping companies reportedly approached Verne before the completion of the book and asked to have their brand names included. Verne complied, but it’s unknown whether he was compensated or in what manner. Maybe Ol’ Jules got free passage on a ship or two.
As early as 1896, a product was placed on screen, when a soap company was included in a French film. In the first few decades of motion pictures, product placement became more common, even drawing some criticism within the industry. The embedded marketing pitches often used some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. In the movie Horse Feathers, a character falls into a river and asks for a “life saver,” which prompts Groucho Marx to toss a Life Savers candy at them.
By the 1980s, the use of product placement in films had far outpaced any other medium. Television shows typically preferred to sell valuable (and lucrative) commercial time to advertisers to be shown in between the story. But movies had no such luxury. In the early 1980s, two movies pushed embedded marketing to new heights.
In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (a 1982 directed by Steven Speilberg), several products are strategically placed in scenes, clearly visible to the audience. The characters in the film also interact favorably with them, almost endorsing them. Even more innovative is the way Speilberg incorporated Reese’s Pieces candy into the plot. A few years later, Back To The Future (produced by Speilberg) featured a DeLorean automobile as the central prop in the film, and became an iconic piece of cultural history.
Product placements in television increased in the 1990s, and some shows earned nearly as much from placement revenue as they did for commercial advertising. Family shows, like Roseanne, were especially well-equipped (and willing) to capitalize on the opportunity.
Embedded marketing is not limited to the visual. Many shows and movies have included songs in their score, usually leading to increased sales or awareness for the artist and recording company.
The Future of Embedded Marketing
In 2018, Netflix released Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, viewers were allowed to choose the path of the story. At various junctures of the film, viewers were asked to select an option, and as a result of their choice, the narrative would move in a new direction. Given the technology used in streaming content, Bandersnatch allowed Netflix to provide a revolutionary experience for their audience. It also provided a new advertising opportunity.
As viewers interacted with Bandersnatch, Netflix gathered data, gobbling up information like Pac Man. That data was used to create new demographic segments and hone the Netflix algorithm for user profiles. It only takes a small step to see how such interaction can lead to custom embedded advertising. When a user indicates a preference for one character over another, the products used in the show can adapt. Even entire scenes could be created to tailor to the desires of certain viewers, creating a more friendly environment for ads.
Already, some platforms are experimenting with interactive advertising in their content, such as pop-up ads inside shows that break the narrative at pre-determined points. These ads offer products and services that were seen in the content of the show or movie. Because it’s so closely related to the content and appears to “jump out” of the show, the emotional appeal to the consumer can be strong.
“If I want to sell my watch brand on a young, hip audience,” says visual marketing expert George Darkow, “I can think of nothing more powerful than having a character in the top rated show wear the watch and allow the viewers to shop for it from inside the streaming experience.”
This type of interactive video is very appealing to the generation of viewers who are consuming content on handheld devices, where they are already slipping between the content and apps like messaging and so on. Multi-tasking while viewing is so common, will it be any more unusual for consumers to purchase products from within their shows while watching them?
The type of technology used for IV (Interactive Video) is here now and prevalent. It’s only a matter of time before advertisers and media agencies start to build networks to funnel advertising into the stream. IV-enabled content includes clickable areas, or “hotspots,” that perform an action when you click on them. The data gathered from these actions, and the options available to advertisers based on that data, is vast.
“Brands are actively seeking relationships with content creators, film makers, and television showrunners, so they can partner in the creation of interactive content,” Darkow explains. “An early pioneer was Red Bull, which started their own channels because they couldn’t find studios that were out in front with them on IV. Red Bull created content that appealed uniquely to their customer base, but in the future they can invest in content creators who are willing to trade placement of Red Bull in their stories for funding for their projects.”