Are Your Product Placements 'Spectacularly Average'?

Study of 1,000 Brand Integrations on Reality TV Finds Marketers Not Using Category Wisely

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NEW YORK ( -- When it comes to product placement, conventional wisdom says a reality TV show is your best bet. Notable appearances by famous names such as AT&T, Chrysler and Coca-Cola in programs including "American Idol" and "The Apprentice" have provided textbook examples of how reality programs can help burnish popular goods. But what if marketers aren't using the programs as wisely as they could?
Are Coca-Cola cups sitting prominently on the 'American Idol' judges' table really making the most of product placement?
Are Coca-Cola cups sitting prominently on the 'American Idol' judges' table really making the most of product placement? Credit: Fox

Lots of attention is paid to reality shows as a platform for in-show advertising, but an Australian academic group believes such product placement is, overall, "spectacularly average." The research suggests that marketers have begun to rely on standardized methods, rather than trying to create placements that are unique and tailored to the reality programs in which they appear.

Placements 'pass people by'
Even though reality shows seem to welcome product integrations, "if you actually look at the numbers, [placements] are no more prevalent than in some other genres," said Jenni Romaniuk, Ph.D., head of brand equity research at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, based at the University of South Australia. "The gut feeling at this stage is a lot of the placements are just going to pass people by," she said. "It just seems unlikely in the vast majority of placements that the average viewer is going to notice them, let alone remember them in the future."

Researchers at the Ehrenberg-Bass examined more than 1,000 brand placements in 85 hours of programming on U.S. prime-time TV across 11 broadcast and cable networks. Among the elements they examined was the length of on-screen exposure and the amount of "clutter" -- or other brand appearances or mentions -- on screen at the same time. Ms. Romaniuk said placements included any mention of a potential product or service, no matter whether the appearance was paid for or not. If an actor or celebrity mentioned an upcoming project or if a destination was cited on screen, those counted as product placement, she said. Researchers found placements in reality shows lasted no longer than those in other genres. About 70% of visual exposures were less than five seconds and 19% lasted between six and 15 seconds.

Moreover, 41% of brand placements in reality shows were "slightly obscured," while 57% were "fully exposed"; in comedies, 94% of visual placements were fully exposed. Moreover, comedy programs had three times as many "dual mode" placements -- where the product is presented both visually and verbally -- than did reality shows.

Thought to be a good fit
Reality shows are commonly looked upon more favorably by advertisers seeking to showcase their goods, services or corporate identity, because the appearance of a product is thought to be less disruptive to a reality show's action than a scripted show. Reality shows can feature a mix of scripted and unscripted scenes and often require less production lead time because they are filmed live on a week-by-week or even day-by-day basis.

One ad executive who specializes in branded entertainment suggests marketers ought not to be content with just getting their stuff some screen time. "The best opportunities in reality shows are where real people in true-to-life situations are interacting favorably with the product. If the person is an expert and has credibility in the field, the integration is even stronger," said Fred Dubin, managing partner-director of entertainment marketing and promotions at WPP Group's Mediaedge:CIA. "We also see real value if the integration is in a game show when the product is used as an integral part of the game."
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