By Johannes Helmold
When we think about what the word “advertisement,” we commonly associate it with logos, brand names, slogans, and persuasive messages. Traditional advertising is built around these notions since its main purpose is to send a direct, stimulating message to a particular target audience. Embedded marketing is opposite in its principles but practically identical in its purpose and use. And, as it will be discovered in the following case study, research has proven embedded marketing to be a much more powerful tool than traditional advertising.
Embedded marketing is often referred to as product placement. It is a powerful marketing technique that essentially means placing a certain product into a particular context and causing a potential consumer to perform a desired action (normally, the action is to purchase a product or service). The aim of embedded marketing today most often is to link the brand with certain objects, emotional states, and situations which causes the buyer to experience a certain feeling or express a certain emotion. This feeling or emotion, in return, will directly influence the behavior of buyers and motivate them to purchase a product in order to experience a desired emotional state.
Unlike traditional commercials, which send “… a direct message about a product or service, embedded marketing subtly exposes the consumer to the same without the use of ads” (Chapungu, 2010). Why would the most influential companies around the world want to hide their logo and any other symbol that can directly link their brand with a certain advertisement? There are two ways to answer this question. It lies in the fact that some brands are not allowed to be advertised on television, radio, or in the print media. Those would be mainly tobacco and alcohol-related products. When NGOs around the world started advocating against advertisements of cigarettes in the 1990s, tobacco companies knew they had to find another option to promote their products. And they successfully found the way, which surprisingly turned out to be many times more powerful than regular advertisements.
An example of embedded marketing results would be to ask a random person (not necessarily an active smoker) about their first association with a set of images shown on screen. Images could be: a wild west American prairie with a cowboy with all the attributes (a cactus, a horse, a cowboy hat, boots, etc.); a bright red, glossy sports car like a Ferrari or a Mustang; a cup of freshly brewed, hot coffee being consumed by campers right next to a scenic mountain; a beautiful sunset in the desert; a camel on dunes; a gorgeous white yacht cleaving bright, azure waters. All of these images have something in common. They are associated with a beautiful, wealthy, glamorous, and thus carefree lifestyle. In 98% of the cases, they will cause an active smoker to want to light up a cigarette right after watching such a slideshow. As shocking as this fact may sound, the results of numerous research studies in Great Britain, United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries have proven this fact to be amazingly true (Lindstrom, 2008). This is what embedded marketing is all about.
When scientists and psychologists first attempted to explain how commercials can manipulate the minds of consumers, most research studies showed little results. However, public concern about the first studies on the effects of NLP and the 15th frame back in the 1960s caused the United States government, in cooperation with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), to immediately pass a law prohibiting the usage of any advertising that affects the subconscious. However, today, despite the controversy of the most recent research studies that prove the efficacy of embedded marketing and provide numerous examples of its effects on the subconscious of the masses, little is done to protect consumers from becoming unknowing victims of deceptive marketers.
In his book “Buyology—Truth and Lies About Why We Buy” (2008), Martin Lindstrom adduces a shocking example of how even anti-smoking commercials can achieve a cardinally-opposite purpose from that what they are meant to achieve. A British study in 2006 proved that even the most powerful (or so they are assumed to be) anti-tobacco advertisements cause a much higher desire to smoke another cigarette immediately after watching them than actual tobacco advertisements. Donna Sturgess, the VP of Innovation at GlaxoSmithKline, the leading British pharmaceutical company, explains the phenomenon with a single phrase: the success of embedded marketing in the tobacco industry.
The tobacco industry is not the only sphere where embedded marketing is used. But, it is a solid example of how successful and powerful hidden advertising can be, and what a significant factor product placement is in forming the behavior of consumers. Tobacco giants like Philip Morris (Marlboro) and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco (Camel) have successfully survived all the anti-smoking campaigns and gain more and more consumers every day. Their marketing specialists have achieved the aim of linking brands with a certain desired lifestyle.
Another example of a successful product placement campaign is that of Silk Cut, a British tobacco brand. Back in 1997, when it already became obvious that any tobacco advertisement would soon be officially banned by the government, the company prepared themselves for the inevitable by launching a 5-month commercial campaign that involved demonstrating their logo exceptionally on a silky purple background. When the law was passed and tobacco products could no longer be advertised in the media, what Silk Cut did was put up banners of plain purple silk images, and the consumers in almost 100% of the cases unmistakably linked these banners with the brand (Lindstrom, 2008). The participants of the study could not explain why they associated those blank banners with the cigarette brand, yet they did. The interesting fact here is that since there was no information promoting the tobacco product, this type of product placement achieved a much better result than expected—people perceived it as less aggressive and obtrusive than a regular advertisement, so no inner defense mechanisms were turned on. Therefore, embedded marketing once again achieved its purpose brilliantly.
Embedded marketing today is no longer an innovation—it has already proven to be arguably the most powerful marketing tool existing today, which is not only practically 100% efficient but also often works as a hidden tool which consumers become victims of. When properly launched, such product placement campaigns are difficult to prove to be real, since any association and word-game tends to be considered critically subjective. No law and no act can prohibit embedded marketing since it is so difficult to identify and even harder to prove. This, and the fact that embedded marketing mainly affects consumers’ brains on a subconscious level, makes it both an unethical and extremely dangerous marketing tool.
Chapungu, Gerald. Secret Art of Hidden Advertising Campaigns. Bookshelvel Books, New York. 2010.
Lindstrom, Martin. Frightening Truths about Advertising. Manicore Publishers, Chicago, 2008.
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