Non-Ad Supported Content is Pushing Way Beyond Standard Product Placement

By | 2018-05-01T16:46:46+00:00 November 17th, 2017|Industry Insights|

While product placement isn’t an entirely new concept, in a world of growing non-ad supported channels, brands must become more strategic, creative and clever if they want to be associated with what audiences deem cultural currency. Today, creating awareness for products outside of paid advertising spots must push far beyond the flash of a logo or the mention of a name.

Take, for example, The Truman Show, which was released in the late 90’s. Product placement felt forced into the scenes of the movie; it was blatant and overt. But it was also clever.

Flash forward to season 2 of Stranger Things which started – and, for binge watchers, ended – on October 27th. Viewers were once again taken back to the 80’s and some of the most popular brands of that decade capitalized on their renewed generational relevancy. However, unlike The Truman Show, the approach around product placement in Stranger Things is much more organic as an extension to the story line and, in some cases, character development.

Whether or not these placements are paid promotions or simply written into the script, products like Cheetos, 3 Musketeers, JVC, Coca-Cola, Polaroid and others have turned their TV strategies “upside down” to capitalize on the success of the show.

Two brands in particular have taken a step beyond standard placement through holistic storyline integrations and offline extensions to create truly innovative brand experiences and amplified exposure.


  1. Eggo Waffles

The association with Eggo runs deep across both seasons of Stranger Things. Aside from persistent placement throughout the show, the waffle is also known to be Eleven’s favorite food, creating a positive association with the brand among viewers. In addition, Netflix has taken this partnership outside the confines of the show to drive awareness and, ultimately, tune-in by airing a vintage Eggo waffles commercial during the 2016 Super Bowl and creating a co-branded line of merchandise including a Stranger Things Eggo Card Game.

One of our favorite examples of an offline extension comes from Google Home and Alexa. With these voice activated devices, you can talk with the character Dustin Henderson (played by Gaten Matarazzo) and, in order to confirm who’s on the other end, Dustin asks the user a question: “what is Eleven’s favorite food?” The answer? Eggo waffles. Whether you know the answer or you need to Google it, Eggo has absolutely increased their brand awareness and recall through this tactic.

What’s even more interesting about the new world of product placement is that other brands are creating their own extensions on the heels of the original in-show promotion. Yet another great offline extension comes from Lyft when, during the season 2 premier of the show, the ridesharing company converted all their cars within the app to look like waffles. Now that’s clever.

  1. KFC

In the premiere of season 2, when Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and Nancy Wheeler (Natalie Dyer) are having dinner at Barb’s parent’s house, they are gathered around eating Kentucky Fried Chicken when Steve exclaims, “this is Finger Lickin’ Good!”

In the 80s, it wasn’t so strange for a family to share a bucket of KFC at dinner and – assuming this was intentional on behalf of the fast-food chain – the brand used this to their advantage. The placement was organic and presumably effective to drive people to retail for yet another clever, strategic alignment to the show…an eleven piece bucket!

The special promotion was used in throwback creative placements across digital, making it the perfect TV + digital + retail execution.

Is this the new world of native advertising on TV? Native across digital and mobile has been gaining momentum for years now and it’s clear that TV is going through a similar evolution given channel and device fragmentation, limited ad spots and growing content consumption across non-ad supported OTT mediums.

Because of this, advertisers have a unique opportunity to define innovative ways to get in front of the consumer using new formats, technologies and strategies to tie experiences together across linear TV, OTT content, digital and other connected devices. And, while the execution of these promotions may become easier, we’ll all need to find ways to make product placement – whether paid or not – measureable. It’s a strange new world… but we’re excited to be a part of it.

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