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Your favorite shows are filled with ads. Many people are aware of this, but most casual viewers don’t realize how important integrated ads and product placement have become to marketers of big brands. With the best shows and the best ad integrations, you may not even be aware you’re watching an ad. Here’s how they do it without you noticing.

Why You’re Seeing Ads in Your Favorite Shows

Advertisers love placing advertising inside shows for two reasons. First, a product placement worked into a scene can’t be skipped over like a commercial break. Impressions for traditional ads are falling. Only 33% of TV viewers are watching those ads aired during commercial breaks.

Advertisers also love integrated ads because of the psychological effect such ads produce in viewers. Psychology Today points out that brand placement in your favorite show can give you a subtle positive association for that brand. Watching a favorite fictional character use a particular real product can even cause a vicarious experience where you the viewer imagine using that product. That’s surely what happened when tons of young male viewers boosted sales of Ace combs after Jim Stark (James Dean) ran one through his hair in Rebel Without a Cause.

How Ads End Up in Your Shows

As HubSpot details, brands can and do approach film and TV producers with product placement proposals. Such deals can be costly, with integration into multiple episodes costing between $3–10 million and full series deals reportedly over $50 million.

However, that’s not always how it happens. Brands and entertainment creators also understand the benefit of mutually beneficial partnerships. Hershey paid nothing to have Reese’s Pieces featured in E.T.. Instead the chocolate maker spent $1 million to help promote the film via a partnership.

Often, such partnerships are necessary just to make a piece of entertainment happen. Sarah Jessica Parker is on record saying it would have been impossible to produce and market the Sex and the City movie without deals for product placement from Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo.

Where Ads Work Best

Just because they’re expected and even necessary in today’s TV shows, doesn’t mean product placement ads have to be awkward. Done right, these ads can integrate well.

As is true in other types of advertising, the best use of advertising within a TV show doesn’t feel like advertising.

Ads that connect the make-believe world of the show to the real modern day world can make that story world seem more real. When “Silicon Valley” characters play around with Oculus Rift or use Dropbox or Google, it’s believable, because real people in tech are talking about or using these products. When the “Big Bang Theory” uses Uber as a punchline, it works, because the joke connects with the audience. We all use Uber.

When props and scenery fit into the fictional universe of your favorite show, they make the show more believable, not less. When “House of Cards” characters use Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge and Apple’s iPhone 6 phones, and it’s more believable than those same characters using a smartphone viewers have never seen. Even the “Hawaii 5-0” over-reliance on Microsoft products — Surface tablets, Bing, Windows Phone, and even Windows Live SkyDrive — passes muster.

Where Ads Are Too Over the Top to Work

However, it’s not always true that integrated ads and product placement work. Consider this 50-second scene in “Hawaii 5-0” which, in its entirety, is an ad for Subway sandwiches, specifically a sweet onion chicken teriyaki with jalapeno and banana peppers and a turkey BLT. Elsewhere, “Chuck” goes overboard describing the package options of a Toyota Sienna during a tense stakeout, and “Days of Our Lives” eventually got called out for filling episodes with cringeworthy grocery product placements.

What’s Next for Product Placement Ads

Of course, you won’t find ads in all your favorite shows. For some fictional worlds, products from Apple, Toyota, and General Mills would be completely inappropriate. Take “Game of Thrones” or “Lost,” for example.

For others, there’s a need to balance authenticity of the world with the real need for brand sponsorship. Advertisers are tackling the issue in intriguing ways.

It wouldn’t make sense for characters in the CW’s “Arrow” and “The Flash” series to suddenly have an impromptu game of Guitar Hero. Instead actors from both series appeared in a Guitar Hero competition commercial that aired during ad breaks. It’s a new direction for integrated advertising, but one you’re likely to see more of.

Curious what opportunities your brand might be able to take advantage of? Call 313-338-9515 or email to learn how our full-service digital marketing agency can help you reach your goals.


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