Monday, August 4, 2008

Product placement and Audi

We are now seeing more and more product placement in movies. Whether it’s Bruce Wayne in his black Lamborghini or giant space robots turning into General Motors vehicles, we’re inundated by brands everywhere we turn. It’s not only in movies, but also in TV shows (ever see those nifty Sidekick sliders on Gossip Girl?) and video games (KFC in Crazy Taxi, anyone?). There’s one company that in my opinion, has done a great job picking and choosing its product placements. Also, I’m a huge fan of the brand!


But, in what sense has Audi done a great job? Well, let’s think about the purpose of product placement. On the one hand, there are those who’ll say that advertising is meant to sell, and product placement is therefore used to surreptitiously convince consumers to buy the product. However, I disagree. The function of product placement isn’t necessarily to make you buy things, it’s to present the brand in a different light. It’s all about spin and brand image.

An experiment from class illustrates the phenomenon of how consumers align their views of a product or brand to the characteristics of how it is being presented to them:

  1. The class was split into two groups
  2. The first half was given a survey about Ford cars
  3. The second half was shown a scene from a James Bond movie where he drives a Ford and then given a survey about Ford cars
  4. The first group saw Ford as being ‘old fashioned’, ‘too mature’, and ‘boring’
  5. The second group saw Ford as being ‘exciting’, ‘sexy’, and ‘I would buy that car’


If after just one exposure the class showed such stark differences in opinion, then imagine the impact that multiple exposures can have on people’s opinions!

So product placement works at fomenting a very real perceptual change of a brand in the minds of consumers. Audi’s strong brand position is the result not only from the movies in which the Audi cars are featured, but also how seamlessly the cars are integrated into the movie.
For example, in ‘I, Robot’, Audi designers and engineers actually created a car specifically for that movie. They went onto the set and looked at the props and created a car that would fit in that environment. And in the recent summer blockbuster Iron Man, Audi’s PR lead described that:

"…the billionaire technophile has his Audi R8 parked nearby which fits Stark's
Super Hero guise very well: The slits through which Iron Man views the world
resemble the all-LED headlamps on the R8; Stark's artificial heart with its ring
of lights recalls the sports car's exposed mid-engine and his immensely tough
armor is matched by the Audi Space Frame, the high-strength aluminum structure
on which this hi-tech automobile is built. The film's hero along with his
favored mode of transport both underscore Audi's famous technical leadership
claim: 'Vorsprung durch Technik."

So strong product placement is a function of fit and form:

  1. Does the product fit the movie?
  2. What form does the product take in the movie?

These two factors together make a pretty potent combination.

At the end of the day, product placement works. It works in the way that it needs to. So what if people don’t go running out to buy an Audi or a Ford tomorrow? The positive impression created in consumer’s minds is far more valuable.

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