In last Sunday's New York Times, Evelyn Nussbaum wrote about the coming of the "moviemercial." The moviemercial is not just a movie replete with product placement but rather a movie built entirely around a product to promote. As Nussbaum reported, presently in the works are movies based upon Hot Wheels, G.I. Joe, Bionicle toys, Super Soaker and My Little Pony. This seems like the logical next step in advertising.
Consumers have become increasingly adept at blocking out advertising when it is presented in predictable ways. The standard commercial break on television is not only largely ignored by the TV viewing public but completely bypassable by Tivo and the likes. The result has been the rise of product placement -- products are presented in the context of the show you have chosen to watch. Thus, the only way to block out the advertisement is to block out the show itself. Moreover, well done product placement not only features a particular product but stresses the virtue of that product in the context of the show itself.
I believe that the hands down king of product placement is Mark Burnett. Burnett is the producer of Survivor and Eco-Challenge, and his shows not only feature product placement, they are clearly designed around it. After starving the cast of Survivor for many days, the winner of some challenge or other is awarded Mt. Dew and Doritos. Now I'm a fan of Mt. Dew and Doritos, but only someone who's sole sustenance for a dozen days has been rice will derive the same sort of orgasmic pleasure the survivors do from their soda and chips. Yet despite the fabricated context in which the cast enjoys the products, the impact is a powerful one -- wow, Mt. Dew and Doritos must be really fantastic. In a similar ruse on Eco-Challenge, Burnett follows teams of racers as they endure some of the most grueling trekking on the planet for several sleepless days. The racers are beyond exhausted when they happen upon a leg of the course that coincidentally has become impassable, requiring the racers to get a ride to the next checkpoint in an SUV. Like the starving eaters of Doritos, the exhausted adventure racers could not possible gush more about the comfy interior of the car. It strikes me as only one small step removed from the moviemercial.
This increased focus on the blending of advertising and experience is creating real opportunity on the Web. The Internet provides an excellent environment in which it is possible to blend brand and entertainment. For example, take a look at the "Advergames" being developed by 3D Groove. There's a car racing game in which the car you drive is a futuristic Mazda and when you drive through certain parts of the course you hear the trademarked "zoom zoom." There's a RadioShack stunt machine game where you drive around collecting up Radio Shack batteries. There's a pool game sponsored by Jack Daniel's in which the JD logo appears on the pool felt. In each instance the experience is the game but the brand is constantly present and the sell to advertisers is that potential customers are immersed in your brand rather than passing by it quickly. Similarly, Evite has the opportunity to promote sponsors like Pampers on its baby shower invitations and Budweiser on its Super Bowl party invites. The online possibilities for product placment are virtually limitless.
My strong sense is that as contextual selling becomes increasingly important in the advertising world, the Internet will grow in value as an advertising medium. The early promise of the Internet as a powerful advertising tool was briefly derailed but I believe that it will ultimately be fulfilled. As unconnected advertising is ignored and marginalized, advertisers will look to the flexibility of the Internet to bring the value they can no longer derive from traditional print and television advertising. Given that, I suspect that there will be some very interesting companies built around advertising models that have been maligned since the bursting of the Internet bubble.