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Product Placement research

The broadcasters have commissioned research projects looking into how product placements work, how it differs from other advertising and what works best. Here’s a summary of their findings.

Key points

  • Product placement is well received by viewers and content ‘fit’ is key
  • Product placement works on an implicit level
  • Over time product placement does have an explicit effect
  • Product placement makes other TV advertising work harder 
  • Product placement leads to purchase

Channel 4

Channel 4 commissioned Work Research to summarize the current knowledge on product placement. They identified five reasons why product placement works and how it differs from other advertising.

  • We have para-social relationships with characters on TV. In the same way brands can inform opinions of people in reality, they can shape our perceptions of people on TV. If we see characters using brands that don’t fit, it feels weird. These para-social relationships can reinforce opinions of brands, or for new brands, can build brand associations.
  • What we know about one thing informs our view of another. So a known character using a brand will inform our knowledge of that brand and this effect is increased when the association is repeated over time.
  • Product placement helps normalise brands. One of the most influential ways product placement works is to normalise brands. TV often reflects the real world, so seeing brands exist in a ‘real life’ context helps them look like a normal part of life, particularly if we often and consistently see it in a programme.
  • Product placement provides an implicit route to learning. Non-verbal cues can be stronger in shaping opinion because, put simply, they are ‘felt’ rather than ‘thought’. Once a brand has built up a set of associations, simply seeing the brand again can trigger and reinforce these associations. 
  • Product placement doesn’t prime consumers in the way that traditional ads do. By placing brands in a natural context, product placement equalises the consumer/ brand relationship. 

We are learning that PP works on implicit and subconscious levels, which has implications for how to measure it. Channel 4 used a test and control approach where viewers and non-viewers were matched on a variety of factors such as age, gender, social grade, commercial TV viewing, so that the only difference between the two samples exposed to the test material could be inferred to the PP activity. They then used some gamification to draw out the implicit responses from viewers.

Here is an example of how the gamified questions look. Viewers need to choose the brand that fits, the one they think “should” be in the space:

Product placement research demo

They don’t include a don’t know option for respondents as we want to force them into choosing a brand even if it’s a guess – this is aimed at drilling down to the implicit nature of Product Placement

And the results are impressive and show clearly that Product Placement is working on an implicit level. In the above example, 35% of viewers placed the Nokia Lumia as the blanked out brand when they played the game. In the follow up “ prompted” question where they show the picture with the brand in and ask about recall. Less respondents actually recall seeing the placement. It’s very rare to see prompted lower than the spontaneous measure. 

This echoes findings of a 2009 JAR paper suggested that successful product placement often involves ‘implicit processing’, where information about a brand is acquired “passively and automatically” by the viewer – ‘explicit processing’, when the viewer notices it, adds additional benefits.

Product placement research trollied

Sky Media

Sky Media demonstrated this in their research into how product placement works. This study amongst over 6000 respondents and over 300 hours of programming across a variety of sectors revealed four key findings about product placement:

  1. Product placement works harder if its noticed . The research revealed that product placement had a positive impact amongst viewers in general, but when comparing non viewers (those who have not watched the programme with the PP) to viewers who recall the PP, there were significant uplifts in metrics from Spontaneous Brand Awareness to Talkability and Purchase intent. In other words, the impact is stronger amongst those programme viewers who recall the product placement.
  2. Product placement is the sponsor’s friend. They found that Product Placement and Sponsorship really do complement each other:  if you notice one you are more likely to notice the other, and if you notice both the effects on the brand are amplified.
  3. If you notice product placement, you are more likely to notice other activity. Sky found that product placement in an important additional brand touchpoint; from outdoor & social to retailer point of sale. Product placement is an excellent platform for wider activation – the sum of the parts serves to have a multiplier effect on each element of the association with the programme and content
  4. Brand and programme fit is key. Common sense prevails here: authenticity is key. If it’s the right sort of brand used in the programme then the product placement is acceptable to viewer. Viewers must still come first: placement needs to be natural and not forced. They are favourable to products being used, demonstrated or integrated into the action, as long as the products serve a purpose in scene.

Product placement research visa coronation st


ITV research also looked at implicit effects using timed emotional responses to Nationwide brand attributes.  They found that viewers exposed to PP show significant increases in brand recall & brand opinion over time, for example for Nationwide’s cash machine placement in Coronation Street. 

And long term placement activity improves and embeds perceptions of fit with the programme audience. The association and fit gets stronger as time goes on.

  • Relevant PP does not detract from or interrupt the viewing experience
  • It can add depth and reality (when done well) to a programme
  • A majority (91%) of viewers to treated episodes agreed that seeing the placements made no difference to their enjoyment of the programme, with some (7%) citing that it enhanced their viewing.
  • Viewers enjoy PPs, with the lack of disruption to the viewing experience being an important quality

This viewer research also highlighted certain editorial implications for product placement:

  • Relevant PP does not detract from or interrupt the viewing experience
  • PP must always fit the storyline – right time, place, product and programme. Authenticity is key.
  • PP’s are  seen as “natural additions” to programmes and make things seem “more real”
  • The consistency of PP across episodes is important, frequent product changes (eg: cereals) will be noticed, but outdoor advertising placements could be changed.

It also revealed that PP’s ability to shift brands attributes is significantly improved when combined with other media activity, for example in combination with spots (e.g. for Samsung’s product placement  in the X-factor)

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