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Product placement

September 27, 2010

Consumer marketing via television has become increasingly tricky in an age where nearly every show can be watched on demand. Even the distribution channels for TV advertising have changed with more people watching programs on their PCs and hand-held devices (i.e. i-pads, smart phones, etc.) When you consider these new devices, understanding how your product is being displayed (let alone if it is even being watched) takes on added complexity. As a result over the past few years advertisers have been spending more money on product placement.

The CBS program, “Undercover Boss” takes product placement to a new level. The entire program centers on the product. The story is formulaic; CEO goes undercover and meets hard-working, intelligent employees and is humbled by their dedication despite lack of recognition, training or opportunity to get ahead. Near the end of each program the employees who were featured are brought to the CEO’s office where he reveals his true identity and recognizes each employee for their contribution often times with quite generous gifts or opportunities for significant advancement. The intent is to show the warmer side of a business, which is often portrayed in the media as heartless.

The show consistently draws 10-15 million viewers in the coveted 18-49 year old demographic and leaves those viewers with a more positive image of the CEOs and the firms they run. From a brand marketing perspective this is absolute genius. How much would a firm pay to have a 30 minute advertisement in primetime to promote their brand? I’m not sure I know the answer to that, but I’m certain that there must be a line more than a mile long with Public Relations leaders banging on CBS’ door to get their firm and CEO featured on the show.

From where I stand, Undercover Boss succeeds brilliantly at promoting a firm’s brand. In an age where the DVR rules and traditional advertisements are often cut out by consumers – CBS has uncovered a way to entice viewers to watch a 30 minute advertisement by turning it into a storyline.

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