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A neuromarketing perspective on product placement in movies and TV shows

October 15, 2015 3 Comments

product-placementProducts seem to be popping up everywhere in entertainment these days. Not just in movies and TV shows, where they’ve become standard fare, but in other kinds of media as well, such as video games, music videos, online videos, magazine articles, and clothing. They’ve even begun to appear in places that would’ve been unthinkable only a few years ago, like novels, comic books, and Broadway plays.

Product placement has become big business, with costs ranging from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars per exposure. Global expenditures for product placement were estimated at over $8 billion in 2012, with over 75 percent of U.S. prime-time TV shows now using product placements in their episodes.

For marketers, the unique benefit of product placement is the fact that the product is presented within a narrative story. The more deeply the viewer is engaged by that story, the less access the viewer will have to deliberative and logical thinking about what he or she is watching. This means the viewer will be more receptive to the ideas presented in the story and less questioning of any claims made or implied as a part of the story. When a product is introduced into the mix, marketers hope it will ride on top of the receptive feelings produced by the story, allowing it to share in the enhanced receptivity to persuasion that the story produces.

Neuromarketing principles behind product placement

Neuromarketing and its underlying brain sciences tell us that product placement should work, but not in a way that can be easily measured by traditional survey research techniques. Although many researchers try to measure the effects of product placement using verbal self-reports of attention, interest, awareness, recall, recognition, attitude change, and purchase intent, these measures are likely to underestimate or miss the most important effects of product placement because they can’t measure the key brain processes involved.

From a neuromarketing perspective, there are two critical outcomes of a product placement:

  • The activation of a brand memory in the consumer’s mind, which may be implicit
  • The conversion of that brand memory into a purchase, which may not occur until long after

The connection between the brand memory and purchase behavior is goal activation, possibly a conscious goal that the consumer is aware of, but more likely a nonconscious goal primed by the product placement below the consumer’s conscious awareness. A product placement is more likely to achieve this conversion if three features are present:

  • The product placement strengthens an existing brand memory instead of forming a new one. It’s rare for product placement to be used for a new brand or product.
  • It leverages existing associations with that brand, preferably in fresh and novel ways (such as was done with the placement of BMW cars in James Bond movies).
  • These new associations link to the brand with strong, positive emotions.

A benefit enjoyed by product placements that are not available to traditional advertising is the fact that the product is presented within a narrative story. The more deeply a viewer is transported by an engaging narrative, the less access he’ll have to deliberative and logical thinking about what he’s watching. This means he’ll be more receptive to the ideas presented in the story and less questioning of any claims made or implied as a part of the narrative.

Neuromarketing also helps us understand how a memory created by not paying attention to something can show up influencing purchasing behavior at a later time. The mechanism, introduced in Chapter 5 (“The Intuitive Consumer: Nonconscious Processes Underlying Consumer Behavior”), is implicit memory, the effortless, automatic, unintentional form of memory that accompanies much of our brains’ nonconscious processing.

Photo credit: screen grab from the film Cast Away.

N4D-cover -120pxThis post is excerpted, with minor edits, from Neuromarketing for Dummies, Chapter 3, “Putting Neuromarketing to Work” and Chapter 14, “Entertainment Effectiveness.”

About the Author:

Steve is a writer, speaker, researcher, and marketing consultant. He is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019), a study of persuasion and influence in marketing theory and practice, and co-author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013), a comprehensive overview of neuromarketing science, applications, methodologies, and ethics. He is Managing Partner at Intuitive Consumer Insights, where he focuses on marketing education and consulting.

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