Helium, VR/AR

Product Placement Just Became Cool (And Affordable) Thanks to AR

Product placement hasn’t been cheap.

We’ve all seen or heard it. You’re watching a movie, show, or listening to a podcast (or the radio for those who remember what those are) and the host just keeps mentioning or showing a product. It’s generally a sponsored product placement.

Product placement is a powerful form of embedded marketing. It allows you to conceptualize the product in it’s intended form, and it’s generally pretty expensive. How expensive? Heineken paid upwards of $45MM for significant product placement in the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall which included a 30-second commercial starring Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Integrated or embedded marketing is usually expensive because you’re almost always broadcasting it to a very large audience without much say as to who and when people will see it. If you’re placing your product in a movie, or popular TV show, you’re paying for millions (if not billions) or eyes to see it. Are all those individuals qualified or part of your core customer segment? Unless you’re Coca-Cola or another ubiquitous brand that everyone uses, probably not.

“Well, Hass, what do I do if I want to use a product placement strategy but don’t want to pay James Bond money to do it?” Glad you asked.

Bringing product placement to the masses.

Given the advent of mobile devices and the advancements of augmented reality (AR, think Pokemon Go), we’ve created the ability to insert digital objects into our world through our mobile phones. Pokemon Go was the first mass-market application that kicked off this craze and introduced a new set of possibilities for digital/physical engagement to the common consumer. This creates massive opportunities in dozens of domains — one of them being marketing and product placement.

Myriads of companies from high-end and fashion and retail, automotive, construction, and interior design, to electronics, are all experimenting with ways to leverage AR technologies to decrease the cost of sale and increase the adoption of their products or services through product placement.

Imagine being at a store and being able to ‘try on’ that new jacket or a pair of eyeglasses without actually putting it on, or seeing that new car parked in your driveway through your mobile phone.

Welcome to the future.

Well, welcome to the future, because it’s already here. Numerous companies are working on either integrating AR product-placement into their apps or partnering with various publications and social media companies to build AR product placements into their existing apps. Warby Parker took advantage of iPhone X’s new front-facing camera and sensors to allow customers to find their “perfect fit” right in the app.

Just the other day I opened my Quartz news app (this isn’t a product placement. I just love their app) and they’ve launched a ‘explore it in AR’ function — I was able to play around with putting a Roland’s 808 drum machine in my living room. An 808 drum machine was very random, and I doubt it was a targeted ad. But it definitely drove engagement. I probably spent a good three to five minutes playing around with the app.

Blurring the lines of reality.

If you’ve used Instagram or Snapchat and tried one of their face filters, you’ve probably seen one of their “sponsored filters”. Those goofy McDonald’s or Home Depot filters are great examples of the first wave of AR Product Placement. Those filters are less about placing product into your reality - rather, driving brand recognition with a face filter, but I’m convinced we’ll soon see social media companies allowing brands to focus more on AR product placement than just brand recognition, the same way social media celebrities do with their sponsored posts.

The lines between physical and digital will continue to blur, and I think that’s a great thing. Our digital and physical identities are becoming more intertwined than we originally expected when the internet first went mainstream. We make as many if not more decisions in the “digital world” than we do the physical one. In 2016, Pew research found that 79% of Americans have bought something online. That number will undoubtedly trend towards +90% in the next few years. Augmented reality, along with things like mobile payments and geolocation services, and are both catalysts and accelerators to assist in this change.

Conventional product placement strategies aren’t going away anytime soon, but the introduction of AR product placement sure makes economical sense. Once companies start to integrate these applications into the rest of their customer engagement and marketing stack to track and target qualified customers, the cost of engaging a qualified customer goes down and the impact or influence on that customer will undoubtedly go up.

What’s your thought on AR technologies and their role in driving customer engagement? Are you excited or do you think we’re overextending the intended use of technology?


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Helium is a digital strategy and execution company focused on working with brands to create elevated experiences.