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Branded Product Placement: How Obvious Should You Make It?

When you are watching a video, there is nothing more distracting than a big fat brand shoved into the camera’s face. The actors uncomfortably and unnaturally chit chat about how much they love the product or why someone should buy it. Everyone has seen this before and almost nobody likes it. In fact, people often feel negatively towards the brand while it’s happening, creating the exact opposite effect of the company’s intentions.


Now more than ever, people are tuning out commercials by fast-forwarding, moving towards platforms that don’t have ads (like Netflix), using AdBlock…pretty much doing everything in their power to avoid watching commercials. In fact, according to Adweek there is evidence that around 90% of people skip ads when given the opportunity. That means there is a huge market for branded product placement in which advertisers can sneak their brands into content where they have a captive audience.


This is a great way to boost not only brand awareness, but also revenue. In Hollywood Branded’s recent survey, 85% of marketers stated that entertainment marketing works to boost sales. So how can you go about it without coming across as annoying and pushy? What do you need to watch out for and what are the alternative ways you can advertise your brand through film?


Successful Bold Product Placements


If you boldly brand your product in a video, people might see it as a commercial with an aggressive sales pitch. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Think about this: every product has a story behind it waiting to be told. There are creative ways to go about making branded videos so that they are entertaining and unique.


Additionally, if you are upfront and honest that your video is an advertisement (unlike most product placements), viewers won’t feel deceived because they are not being tricked into watching. For instance, you could put your brand name in the title of the video, so the audience knows what it’s about and can choose to engage with it.




AncestryDNA Case Study


One company that does bold branded product placement well is Green Buzz Agency created a branded documentary for in which it promoted the company’s DNA kits. Rather than saying “Ancestry’s DNA kits are awesome,” we showed that they were awesome. These videos told the stories of people whose lives were better off from having used AncestryDNA. It’s not just a cheap pitch for getting your DNA tested, but rather a collection of inspiring stories about reclaimed identity, community spirit and empowerment.


Through this emotional storytelling, painted a bigger picture than the product alone. Making your product relate to shared human values is a great branding tactic. This video was very successful, with over 2.3 million Facebook views and 4,000 shares within the first month.



Buzzfeed’s “Tasty” Meets Butterfinger


A different bold approach is integrating your product throughout another company’s video and making it clear that it is product placement, labels out and all. You can make it obvious, but not annoying. How do you do that? By owning up to it, showing your product in its natural context and demonstrating its purpose in a fun and creative way.


For example, Butterfinger partnered with Buzzfeed’s popular “Tasty” videos (which teach people how to make unique and delicious recipes) to incorporate their candy bar into a whoopie pie recipe. This was a smart move on Butterfinger’s part because Tasty’s videos get very high viewership and the product makes sense for the subject matter. The video opens with a still shot of a Butterfinger displayed amongst other ingredients. It is showed again in the middle of the video immediately before being used, and at the end the name “Butterfinger” is displayed prominently as a reminder of who brought you this video.




This is more of what we typically think of as product placement, where labels are face out to the camera and we are continuously reminded of its presence. In this example, however, it comes off as less pushy because the product serves a real purpose, as opposed to product placements where the product has nothing to do with what is going on. The Butterfinger bar is worked in seamlessly and used in a fun way that will definitely get people thinking about, and even buying, Butterfingers.


Butterfinger® Whoopie Pies

WHOOPIE! These are yummy.Make these Butterfinger® whoopie pies for your next occasion.

Posted by Tasty on Thursday, June 7, 2018


Successful Subtle Product Placements


Branded short films and “documercials” (a cross between documentaries and commercials) are very subtle and often successful modes of product placement. With this type of content, your company doesn’t have to push its products at all to create a feel-good brand association.


Cricket Wireless Gives Back


For example, Green Buzz Agency made another branded documentary for Cricket Wireless. In this documentary, Cricket Wireless sponsored the story of an up-and-coming nonprofit called Fill My Basket, a group that spontaneously buys strangers groceries to “pay it forward.”

The Cricket Wireless name does not even show up in the video until the last 5 seconds. Even though the film has nothing to do with service providers, it increases brand awareness and aims to give the viewer a positive feeling the next time they hear the brand name. It’s also a chance to prove corporate social responsibility, which makes the company more respected and well liked.


It was the most viewed branded content video on Facebook during November 2016 and in the top 5 most watched branded videos of the year. Similar to, Cricket Wireless takes an emotional approach and connects their service to universal values like kindness, compassion and humanity.



H&M’s Christmas Miracle


Another subtle approach can be showing the product in use, but not forcing it on the viewer. It’s there, but it’s in the background and it’s secondary. This is exemplified in H&M’s short branded Christmas film “Come Together.” Director and producer Wes Anderson tells a story of a delayed train that won’t make it home until the day after Christmas. To compensate, the staff pulls together a Christmas party for the passengers on the train.


It is a sweet and engaging story where the viewer almost forgets it’s an underlying advertisement. You only see “H&M” at the very beginning and end of the film as a reminder. And of course, the characters sport H&M’s winter line apparel throughout the video. The (original) video was very successful and reached over 9.6 million views.



The Pros and Cons


When exploring a bolder approach, there are certainly benefits to consider. Brand recognition is higher, it can spark conversations about your company and sales will likely increase if it’s well done. There is opportunity to engage with your brand’s community and give a call to action that will be heard.




On the flip side, it can be harder to get a large quantity of people to see and share it because the first viewers will probably be those who already like the brand and have a preconceived notion of it. They are watching it because they know it will be about something they enjoy.


Additionally, a general audience might not watch it because they don’t want to listen to a sales pitch. Instead, they’d have to be convinced to watch. That means this approach can be risky if you’re looking to increase your brand reach. Bold product placement may reinforce brand loyalty, but make it hard to convert those who are not already fans. It works better on a predetermined, niche group.


When exploring the subtle approach, your video will likely get a larger audience. It’s about something bigger than just the product and therefore will appeal to more people. There is more leeway for emotional and relatable content, and it will feel more natural amongst the content that is not sponsored or branded.


However, the viewer may not recognize or acknowledge that your company has sponsored this video. The main focus is the storyline rather than the sponsor. Conversations may be sparked, but with lower brand recall those conversations may not include your company’s name.


No matter the approach, if your brand is less well known, partnering with a company that is well known may give you a sense of authenticity and credibility.


Make Them Forget, Then Remember


According to Statista, American companies will spend roughly $11.4 billion on branded product placement in 2019. This method of advertising has been present in tv, movies, radio, podcasts and videos for years now, and will only continue to increase. Whether you take the bold or subtle approach, the key is to integrate your product placement fluidly and let the story feel natural. You want the viewer to forget that they are watching a branded video, but then remember your brand’s name. Either approach can be successful as long as you are careful and strategic about your placement.

Alanna Goodman - Green Buzz Agency's Marketing Intern

Alanna Goodman is the marketing and communications intern at Green Buzz Agency. She wishes her life could be a Wes Anderson film.

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