Product Placement Campaigns Need Purpose or Viewers Won’t Be Impressed

Consumers can tell when it isn’t an authentic effort

People in theaters watching computer monitor with products on screen
The advertising methods that resonate most with modern day audiences must be authentic. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Elyce Henkin

In a world where consumers are demanding that their favorite brands take ethical stances, purpose-driven advertising has become top of mind for brands, including product placement efforts.

According to an Accenture Strategy research report, nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers globally prefer to buy goods and services from companies that have a shared purpose that reflects their own values and beliefs. Having surveyed over 30,000 consumers globally, the study found that companies that stand for something bigger than their bottom line are more likely to attract consumers and gain a competitive advantage within their field.

However, many are quick to jump on a bandwagon cause without considering what it truly means or stands for and can be too quick to partner with brands that might not share the same values. These campaigns need to be executed in an effective manner that meets the needs of the modern day consumer.

Effective purpose-driven advertising in product placement is more than an actor or influencer drinking out of a temporarily redesigned soda can or driving a car with obvious logos painted on the sides. The advertising methods that resonate most with modern day audiences must be authentic, leveraging a brand’s values and tying their product to them.

Purpose-driven placement 

How do you go about doing this? It starts with advertisers identifying and interacting with brands that place a high value on a shared social responsibility and putting together an advertising strategy that seamlessly integrates their product into the campaign, all while promoting a worthwhile cause. Think of it as product placement with a purpose.

Before you can achieve effective purpose-backed product placement, consider the following:

  • Do the values and commitments held by this brand match the values and commitments that you are known to exhibit and that resonate with your consumers?
  • Does this brand care about its values and commitments as much as its bottom line?
  • Are they serious about promoting their values?
  • Is this something that can create an emotional connection with our audiences?
  • Will we be able to feature their product in a way that doesn’t detract from the value-backed messaging?
  • Will this be a seamless product feature that won’t get in the way of the audience’s experience?

These questions are vital in informing your purpose-driven advertising strategies, especially with product placement. If you answered noto any of them, then the efforts to push the product(s) and the purpose will be lost.

Effective purpose-driven advertising in product placement is more than an actor or influencer drinking out of a temporarily redesigned soda can.

The rise of the conscious consumer 

Effective product placement is all about not interfering with the consumer experience. Nobody wants to be interrupted with a blatant advertisement, especially if that advertisement doesn’t resonate with their values. Consumers and advocacy groups are taking notice and speaking out when they see product placements that are transparent cash grabs and go against a brand’s stated purpose.

For example, Lego had a longstanding partnership with Royal Dutch Shell stretching back to the 1960s, featuring the oil company’s logo on select toy sets. In recent years, Lego made a strong and public commitment to corporate social responsibility initiatives, particularly when it comes to environmental sustainability, by partnering with groups like Unicef and the World Wildlife Fund. Seeing the contradiction between Lego’s values and its product placement partnerships, Greenpeace launched a public campaign in 2014 calling out Lego and urging the company to end its deal with Royal Dutch Shell. In this case, it was worth more for Lego to properly address the outcry and maintain its integrity than extend the terms of a (lucrative) multi-million-dollar partnership.  

Bringing brands and purpose together

An example of purpose-backed product placement executed well was Absolut Vodka’s partnership with RuPaul’s Drag Race. Absolut was one of the first major sponsors of the show, which featured the vodka prominently throughout several seasons. Among the many product placement features that took place, the cast members held Absolut drinks while the judges deliberated their fate, did interviews that featured Absolut plugs and designed platform shoes that were inspired by Absolut mixed drinks. In scenes where contestants were getting emotional, they dabbed their eyes with Absolut-branded napkins, going out of their way to make sure the logo was visible for the cameras.

Like the show itself, these product placement examples were fun and campy and didn’t take the viewer’s intelligence for granted by trying to be subtle about it.

There was purpose behind it, too, one that had already been baked into the brand’s identity. Absolut has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ+ community since the early 1980s. This was a big risk for a brand at the time, given public sentiment toward the gay community at the start of the AIDS crisis. Over decades, they have remained a major presence and sponsor at Pride parades and events, while donating over $40 million to LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations.

This is the model that advertisers should follow when gearing up for a product placement effort. Behind it, there is an authentic partnership forged by shared values and a desire to stand up for the right reasons. Consumers can see when a brand isn’t doing enough to stand up for causes, know when those causes are being exploited for profit and headlines and see when a partnership and product placement is nothing more than a cash grab.

Ultimately, advertising is meant to sell a product, regardless of how much purpose is put behind it. However, consumers who feel an emotional connection to a product or brand tend to be the most loyal customers, so by growing your brand’s purpose, you simultaneously grow your customer base.


@AKA_NYC Elyce Henkin is the director of partnerships and brand experience at AKA N.Y.
Publish date: December 5, 2019 https://stage.adweek.com/tv-video/product-placement-campaigns-need-purpose-or-viewers-wont-be-impressed/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT
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