Is digital product placement the future of advertising?

Advertisers want to engage more deeply with content - and ad technology firms are coming up with innovative ways to help them do it.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 25 Apr 2016

'Native advertising' is one of the most talked about concepts in media and advertising circles nowadays, as brands fight to be heard over all the noise and get themselves in front of the eyes of consumer. What it means in a nutshell is integrating advertising with media content, like TV shows, websites or music videos in a seamless way, so it doesn't really look like an ad at all.

Consumers are growing increasingly savvy about avoiding ads, whether it's fast-forwarding through them with their Sky+ box or turning the speakers off when listening to songs on Spotify. For this reason, advertisers and content producers are looking for new ways to engage viewers.

Product placement is nothing new, but in the past it has generally been a bit of a faff, with space sold ad hoc and agreements having to be finalised before content is made. But now UK-based ad technology firm Mirriad is allowing brands to arrange for their ads to be placed within video content - after it has already been produced.

Before and after: A Grand Marnier ad slotted into a video by hip hop band Far East Movement

This means that not only can media companies sell this space post-production, but it can also be chopped and changed - for instance to account for different locations or if a new ad campaign is launched at a later date. While viewers in the UK could see a character pictured with a packet of Walkers crisps, French viewers could see them with a bag of Lays.

The type of ads that can be slotted into the content vary from basic billboard banners (like the example above), to actually placing the products themselves into the world depicted – from a car on a character's driveway to a bottle of sauce on their kitchen table. 

The idea of music videos and TV shows morphing according to new ad sales might sound a bit disconcerting to begin with, but Mirriad CEO Mark Popkiewicz insists consumers have responded well in market research.

'The advertising is really good because it's contextual to the content, so it's not interruptive of your experience, it's not damaging your experience,' he told MT. 

Mirriad, which was founded in 2008, is keeping schtum about revenue figures, but employs 100 people in four offices from London to Sao Paulo. It's also just signed a deal with Universal, the biggest music distributor in the world, to place ads into selected music videos, after securing a deal with the major online music brand Vevo to do the same back in May. It looks like we can expect to see this kind of thing much more often in the near-future, then - except we probably won't even notice it.

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