In Mad Men’s fourth season, fictional 60s ad genius Don Draper is celebrated for his spaghetti Western-inspired TV ad for Glo-Coat floor cleaner. The spot is so entertaining that it doesn’t feel like an ad at first – one character even praises that he didn’t realize it was an ad.

In this age of consumer empowerment, TV viewers have lost patience with ads. They fast forward through commercials on their DVRs, or stream shows online commercial-free. I often write about the death of interruption advertising – consumers simply don’t want to endure a forced brand message before they can see what they came for. But the death of interruption doesn’t mean the death of TV advertising. It means ads that viewers choose to engage with – ads that hardly feel like ads.

Opt-in marketing through mobile devices and connected TVs

Product placement isn’t a new concept, but expect it to become a much more central part of television marketing strategy. Viewers don’t want to be interrupted – and no longer have to be – so instead, brands will increasingly make the marketing pitch part of the content consumers want to watch.

But future product placement won’t just be about subconscious impressions. Internet-connected TV and mobile will make placement more active, encouraging viewers to opt in to learn more.

Connected TV penetration should reach 45% this year, and expect that figure to climb. With an internet-connected TV, a viewer could simply tap a button or give a voice command to add a featured product to a queue they’d like to learn more about later – never interrupting the program. After their show ends, they could browse their selected products, watch videos, view reviews and additional color options, and order right from their TV.

Some commercials already use Shazam in this way – including a third of this year’s Super Bowl ads. Shazam is a mobile app that listens to a song and tells the user the title, artist, etc. But some brands now encourage viewers to use the app during TV spots, leading to a mobile site where consumers can learn more about and even order the advertised product. Imagine a similar strategy without the commercial – consumers are subtly encouraged to use their phone to learn more about a product shown in the program.

Synchronized mobile second screen experiences

About 3 in 4 smartphone owners (74%) use their phones while watching TV – and 38% of them use their phone to occupy themselves during commercial breaks. To capture this attention, some networks like Showtime have launched “second screen experiences” that actively encourage the audience to use their mobile devices while watching popular shows like Dexter and Homeland – answering polls related to the plot, chatting with other viewers, and more.

These second screen experiences offer another opportunity for brands to advertise without interrupting the program. Brands could time messages in the app with product placement in the show. As a character uses the sponsoring digital camera brand, an ad for the camera inside the second screen experience would invite viewers to see features and reviews.

Brands could even create their own second screen experience altogether. For example, an apparel retailer like Urban Outfitters or fashion publication like Teen Vogue could offer a second screen experience for a fashion-minded program like Gossip Girl. As characters appear in new wardrobes, the app would identify the clothing they’re wearing and offer available sizes, colors, and online ordering. It could include polls or discussions about the apparel seen on the show – what’s cute, what’s not, etc. – creating a social marketplace around the program.

This post barely scratches the surface of marketing opportunities connected TV and multi-screen television experiences will bring. But the underlying theme across most will be the same: You can’t force-feed TV viewers a message anymore. Weave your marketing seamlessly into content and experiences they want to engage with, and let the interested consumers come to you.

6 Responses to “The future of TV ads: Product placement, second screen experiences, and freedom from interruption”

  1. Hi SunsetBob, interesting question, and I admittedly don’t know the answer. I imagine the rules are different for alcohol brands, but I can’t say for sure.

    Thanks for reading!

  2. SunsetBob

    Can an industry such as distillery’s pay to have a product appealingly placed within the plot of a TV series?

  3. Ognyana T.

    Great Article. Captures major and important trends.
    Thanks for the overview :-)

  4. A couple of articles I’ve read recently illustrate some executions of these ideas.

    YouTube is experimenting with “shoppable video” that lets the viewer click items seen in the video, like clothing, and be taken to the product page.

    And NBCUniversal is partnering with American Express on a mobile companion app that lets viewers shop for products related to shows they’re watching.

  5. Hi Mike, thanks for your comment. I agree with what you say about media — it simply has to engage. I think physical media is the same. We can get free pens and koozies, but how engaging is that? It’ll have to be relevant, entertaining, useful in some way that relates strongly to the brand. Not just a “casual impression” as I say about product placement above. I’m having a tough time thinking of a good example though…

    Thanks for your comment!

  6. On your previous blog this week I posted a comment that was in line with the jist of this blog. People want engaging media period. This can be the show or the ad. Make it neat and it WILL attract users. Although we have a screen in our eyes every moment of the day is poisonous to society, in my opinion, it does have its advantages. Will physical media make a comeback? Billboards have gone digital and newspapers are drying up. I wonder what the future of physical marketing materials are? We all get trapped at sponsored events as scantly clad girls hand us cheap chinese swag in hopes we buy something later in time, but does this even work? Curious as to what your opinions are.

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