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What is this ad trying to sell? (The future of product placement: It’s so subtle, it’s not even there)


Bad product placement is as convincing as Tom Cruise’s shoe lifts. Fittingly then, Cruise has been front and centre in some of the most shameless pimp-my-product moments in modern celluloid history.

Exhibit A: Minority Report. In the 2002 flick Cruise’s character tries to solve a murder he’s yet to commit. If director Steven Spielberg’s to be believed, this involves Cruise ogling his Omega watch, hooning about in his Lexus prototype, and shopping at the Gap.

The product placement that has today’s advertising industry in a Gillette-induced-lather is a far subtler beast. ‘Subtler than Cruise’s acting?’ you ask. Shocking, we know. Viral video product placement is increasingly so ‘lightly integrated’ you may not even be aware you’ve been sold to. Sneaky.

Stateside, a number of companies specialising in VVPP (catchy acronym, no? Spread the word.) have cropped up in recent years. And with YouTube averaging more than two billion video views a day, we’d put money on this segment getting even hotter.

Companies like Tadcast, Zadby , Poptent, and Hitviews arrange deals with online video stars and brands. In just two wee years, the New York-based Tadcast has served over 40 million branded video views across the interwebs on a CPM basis with no upfront.

In a recent interview with TheNextWeb, Tadcast CEO David Parker said: “Were measuring our success in two ways. One, by how happy the video creators are that we’re doing this. The spine of our business is to help online video creators.”

“And two, we want to help brands and ad agencies get into social media without banner ads, overlays and pre-rolls.”

Way back in January 2009, Mashable summed up the pros and cons of Tadcast’s model.

“On one hand, product placement would, in theory, be a great way for video producers to monetise, especially versus the alternative of far more intrusive overlay and pre/mid-roll ads.”

“On the other hand, one reason product placement works in traditional media is that it’s aligning products with known entities like TV and movie stars.”

So what does a good VVPP (is it growing on you yet?) look like? In May 2010 we reported on a clip that teamed footwear company Hi-Tec with extreme sports to peddle its waterproof running shoes in a very Jesus 2.0 kind of way. The video has been viewed nine million-plus times, and counting. It also spawned some very hostile YouTube debate about whether people could, in fact, walk on water. And, randomly, whether people from Portugal speak Portuguese.

Can you walk on water (or spot the product placement)?

Then there are those products’ viral vids so cutting edge they ditch the placement altogether.

New company ThinkModo’s video of two men claiming to have hacked the big screens in Times Square recently had us flummoxed. Turns out, the video was created to promote new Bradley Cooper flick Limitless.

Personally, those among the Anthill crew who like ogling men (guilty as charged) think promoting a B-Coops film sans B-Coops is sacrilege, but we give them an A++ for effort.

Product placement without product placement at all!

And then there’s this, from a close friend of the ‘hill.

If you talk to the creator of this clip, he’ll tell you that good marketers (like good entrepreneurs) test many approaches to advertising frequently — so long as they never bet the bank.

This video was created on a shoestring budget and looks it. (But that surely adds to a viral ad’s appeal, no?)

We have a prize for the first person who can guess what the advertisement is for and which ‘close friend’ we’re referring to. And, of course, it’s a video. We’re giving away R-rated business documentary The Man Who Souled the World.

What’s he doing? And what’s he selling? It’s not handcream.