|Intelliseek's chief marketing officer, Pete Bradshaw, said blogs provide a meaningful way to measure the impact of product placements.
General Motors Corp. scored a buzz coup when it gave away free Pontiac G6s Sept. 13 to 276 audience members for the first show of Oprah Winfrey's 19th season. Mentions of Pontiac popped up on more than 1,500 blogs within 24 hours of the stunt, more than quadrupling the brand's usual level of online buzz, according to Intelliseek's BlogPulse, which monitors about 2 million of the most active among an estimated 6 million blogs.
Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Intelliseek, doubts Ford Motor Co. will score nearly the buzz payback by giving away F-150 pickup trucks later this year on ABC's Extreme Makeover.
On the other hand, being the first brand integrated into a new season of NBC's The Apprentice proved less buzzworthy than going second, Mr. Blackshaw said. He said Mattel's appearance in the premiere of Apprentice 2 drew mentions for the brand on only about 70% as many blogs as Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest brand got a week later.
The lesson may be that product placements get more attention, and word-of-mouth, if they're not in the first show of a season, Mr. Blackshaw said. "A lot of the [online] references to Mattel were overshadowed by the fact that consumers had so many things to say about the first show," he said. "By the time it got to Crest, a lot of the buzzers ... started to fixate on the particular challenge [of selling Vanilla Mint Crest]."
Mr. Blackshaw argues that how much play a placement gets in what he terms "consumer-generated media" in blogs and other online forums is one good, quick way to gauge effectiveness. Product placement is a "fuzzy area in terms of measurement," he said, "so any type of data on whether it works or not should be used as an auditing tool."
Not all product-placement buzz is favorable, he said, noting that a second wave of blog mentions of the Oprah-Pontiac giveaway focused on the fact that recipients would have to pay income taxes on their prizes. But the good buzz easily outweighed the bad, he said.
Potentially worse than negative buzz are product placements that generate more buzz for the competition than for the sponsoring brand. That was the case for an Intelliseek client Mr. Blackshaw won't name when it did a placement deal with a movie. As a result, the brand canceled plans for integration into the second of the two-part movie franchise.
"We found the vast majority of discussion [online about the movie placement] was all about their competitor, even though the competitor hadn't put one red cent on the table," Mr. Blackshaw said. No. 2 or lower-tier brands risk having their placements backfire, he said, because viewers may be more likely to associate the placement with the leading brand.
Mr. Blackshaw believes online buzz a TV show or movie routinely generates should be a factor in how much entertainment marketers charge, or sponsors pay, for placements.
The buzz, he notes, is a gift that keeps on giving as online content is archived and retrieved via search. On average, about 600,000 users a month do searches on the word "Oprah," Mr. Blackshaw said. Even a month later, the No. 6 listing on Google for that search yields a CNN.com story about the Pontiac giveaway.