Embedded Marketing: Will Product Placement TV work in the U.S.?

During a recent trip to Seoul, I realized how nice it was to watch a show on regular TV without any commercial interruptions. Korean networks rely heavily on embedded marketing, or Product Placement (PPL), for advertising revenue. Traditional commercials appear between programs, but don’t expect any bathroom breaks when watching your favorite hour-long drama or variety show.

There are quite a few things I miss about Korea, but commercial-less TV has to be ranked high on the list. I mean, how much of our lives do we lose watching commercials? How often do we skip a regular airing and just wait for it come out on Netflix or other Video on Demand (VOD) options?

Example: because I hate watching commercials, I don’t watch shows like The Walking Dead when it airs. I’m waiting for it on Netflix, which appears about a year after the season premiere.

So considering VOD and cable and all the other competition out there…

Why are there still commercial breaks in the United States?

Why isn’t there even one channel that’s free but has no commercial breaks?

First of all, let’s look at how brands benefit from PPL:

How is product placement different from a commercial?


Increased viewership at time of broadcast

I often wait for shows to appear online, which means I’m not watching the original airing and all the commercials that came with it. If there are no commercials, it’s more likely I’ll be watching at first broadcast and exposed to the brand’s embedded product.

The product is more impactful.

The star of the show is using the brand’s product in a scene. Can’t get any more powerful than that. In Korea, when an actress uses a brand’s lipstick or wears a certain scarf or whatever, that item sells out all over the world within minutes. A commercial may be memorable, but it doesn’t have the same level of impact. And if we’re watching the same commercial over and over again, it may actually get annoying.

PPL is forever, anywhere

Subway is crazy about product placement in Korean shows. I’ve seen many scenes where the main characters are holding Subway drinks and sandwiches.

I’m exposed to the Subway brand the first time I watch the show and again if I ever watch those shows again on VOD regardless of platform or where I’m at in the world. Even if the franchise itself disappears into oblivion, it will still be there. I would never know they had sponsored the show had they bought regular commercial time.

You can’t skip it

We skip over commercials when we can, or we simply take a bathroom or snack break. There’s a lot of commercials we don’t watch. PPL can’t be ignored. It’s there in the show.

Okay, now let’s look at some of the cons:


Need to do it right

If not integrated well, it looks silly at best, and disruptive at worst. Using Subway again, I’ve seen some very awkward scenes where our hero or heroine takes a trip to order a sandwich when it does nothing to progress the plot. When watching a PPL show, we are asking the audience to accept some weird shots of products or guys taking a swig of something without any explanation why. Especially these days, it takes a little more creativity to convince audiences and produce a positive response to the brand.

Commercials are more fun

Can’t imagine the Super Bowl without commercials. Often the ads are more fun and memorable than the game. A particularly good commercial can be multi-purposed and repeated whereas PPL can’t.

Commercials are all brand

A product in a scene may or may not be noticed. A commercial is all about the brand and nothing else.

So, back to the question, why are there still commercial breaks in the United States?

Of course, it’s a different culture with different expectations. In the States, you’re expected to tip 15 percent or more when eating out, and customers are OK with it. Could never work in Korea. Likewise, drivers in US yield to pedestrians. In Korea, you better watch out because cars won’t stop for you.

But wouldn’t Americans accept a few seconds of product in a scene in exchange for uninterrupted television?

The answer is yes, audiences would like that.

However, brands want their 30 seconds of me-me-me time. They don’t want to share it with anyone else. The networks cater to that. And there are still generations of audiences who grew up with commercial breaks and are OK with it.

Eventually, as VOD grows and newer generations of media consumers with different expectations have their say, this paradigm will shift.

Embedded marketing will be here in the United States eventually.

What do you think? Comment below.

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