Is Influencer Marketing Still Trending? Product Placement Online

by | Jan 20, 2021 | Blog, Infographic

As the world settles in for another year of pandemic uncertainty, marketers are continuing to hedge their bets on influencer marketing as the most effective online advertising strategy

Online marketing has not been subtle. The idea of product placement has been replaced with a much more catchy phrase – influencer marketing. People who have social media presence have been flashing various products in subtle and not so subtle ways for years now. From known personalities, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, to unknowns who have gathered a following, influencer marketing remains a staple of online marketing in 2021.

However, the rules have changed. The lockdowns of 2020 highlighted the separation between the haves and have nots. Many wealthy athletes, actors, singers, and socialites complained about having to remain in their expansive homes and apartments while their followers were boxed into 1 bedroom apartments shared with too many people and no outdoor space. Influencers who traveled during lockdowns attracted ire from those who were respectful of the necessary limitations placed on people’s movements to ensure the pandemic was controlled as much as possible.

The result of such negligent behavior by some influencers has seen a drop in their sponsorship by brands, meaning a drop in their income. For many consumers, 2020 was a time to turn away from luxury brands and reassess their lifestyle. With money fast disappearing for young people in hospitality, and lifestyles transforming for parents trying to work and teach their children from home, and pajamas becoming the fashion ‘must-have’ of the season, there was little room for the season’s bagel clutch or iconic pumps. The idea of an influencer with no discernible skills or talent pushing a Gucci jacket onto an audience of frustrated captives seemed grotesque. So product placement stepped in, in a more traditional way.

What Is Product Placement?

Product placement is the placing of branded goods in the view of a large audience. Also known as ‘embedded marketing’, product placements are found in movies, video clips, TV shows, social media videos, and radio. In exchange for product placement rights, companies may pay a production company or studio in cash, goods, or services.

For example, in the 2004 movie ‘Fight Club’, there is a Starbucks Coffee logo or cup on every scene. While it is used as a device to discuss addiction and consumer culture, as are many other brands such as IKEA and Krispy Kreme, the corporation agreed to the use of their brand in the film.

The subliminal messaging that is delivered through product placement serves large brands well. In 2021, it is a chance for luxury brands to again reach us, as audiences are ready to again consider an indulgence, throw caution to the wind and begin to spend again, and listen to their desires for expensive items that give monetary relief from the drawn out drudgery of the pandemic and all that it entails. Product placement can boost online searches for brands up to 300 percent.

Dr Jean F Milburn, played by Gillian Anderson, in Sex Education, uses an Apple Mac in this product placement.

In the absence of IRL events and the boredom of extended lockdowns, audiences have turned to platforms like YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Tik Tok in search of entertainment. And it is in this arena that big brands are finding their way back into the collective psyche.

But how do brands choose who will use their products and which audiences are most likely to be receptive to the messaging? Bill Gates’ Branded Entertainment Network (BEN) is a specialist brand integration company that aligns brands with film, TV and music video audiences that are most likely to be receptive to product placement influences. The company has worked with luxury labels such as Chanel and Bulgari and uses AI to find the right talent or characters to convey a brand message, based on who they want to target and the desired ROI.

“Content has grown in its power exponentially and advertising dollars are getting more and more expensive,” BEN chief strategy and client service officer Erin Schmidt said. “We are finding true alignments with characters or artists are not only changing brand perception but actually driving purchase.”

While Schmidt thinks that luxury brands could further exploit alignment, it is fashion product placement in esports that has attracted attention from brands such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton. However, some analysts argue that luxury buying is about a customer journey, which is yet to be fully understood by the advertising industry.

Aligning with influential talent

According to a BEN study:

  • 46% of consumers consider purchasing a brand after watching an integration in a music video
  • 42% of consumers report having made a purchase based on seeing a brand integration
  • In 2017, a 217% search spike for Louboutins followed their inclusion in the lyrics of song by Cardi B, ‘Bodak Yellow’
  • In 2018, a 72% uptick in searches for Balenciaga Speed trainers followed the release of the song ‘I Like It’, by Cardi B
  • The singer then starred in Balenciaga’s Winter 2020 campaign
  • 60% of consumers are aware of product placement, and say that doesn’t lessen its impact

In Asia, Chinese entertainment streaming platform iQiyi has adopted branded entertainment. Its popular reality show ‘The Rap of China’, includes products as part of the entertainment, asking audiences to choose which contestant will rap about a product.

“We’ve seen significant increases in social media discussion around iQiyi’s partnership brands. For example, the partnership between The Rap of China 2020 and vitamin drink brand War Horse (战马) achieved an online viewership on Weibo of 30 million,” iQiyi commercial content sales general manager Dong Xuanyu said. The embedded marketing technique, while obvious and not hidden from view of the audience, is highly effective in creating associations that benefit the brands.

A study to be published in INFORMS journal Marketing Science titled “Measuring the Impact of Product Placement with Brand-Related Social Media Conversations and Website Traffic,” authored by Beth Fossen of Indiana University, and David Schweidel of Emory University, saw researchers analyzed data on 2,806 product placements for 99 brands that aired in the US’ 2015 autumn television season. Researchers used two measures of engagement that manifest as online behaviors:

  • the volume of online word-of-mouth mentioning of the brand;
  • and the volume of traffic to the brand’s website

They found that product placement can be associated with increased online engagement, and that prominent placements are related to larger increases in online conversations on social media and web traffic for the featured brand.

Influencer Marketing Bigger Than Ever in 2021

Influencer marketing is on track to become a $15 billion dollar industry by 2022.

  • Video Content will be a major focus
  • Diversity and inclusion will feature in conversations
  • The number of ongoing partnerships will increase
  • More social platforms and creator tools will enter western mainstream social media

While many Instagram ‘stars’ and other influencers of little discernible fame will continue to push products for companies, it is the established talents of the entertainment and music industries, as well as sports stars, authors, and other known entities who will lead the way for brands in 2021. The marketing industry is on fragile and quick-shifting ground, and brands need to protect their image by choosing those ‘influencers’ who represent their values.

In 2014, at the 86th Academy Awards, TV personality and ceremony host, Ellen DeGeneres organized a ‘selfie’ with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Years on, the photo has been edited to exclude Kevin Spacy at the request of all other actors in the picture who did not want to be associated with the former star after allegations of sexual assault were launched against him in 2018.