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Social Media and Product Placement

Social Media and Product Placement

Update: What I had earlier referred to as product positioning is actually Product Placement. Please read the rest with this in mind – thank you Esther for the correction.

Product positioning is something that has recently been brought to mind and it took me back to a post I wrote a while back on one of my more neglected blogs (so neglected  I won’t even give it some link love) about product positioning in Kenya. I have rewritten it to make sense in a social media context…

My issue then and even now was that product positioning was so obvious to viewers to the point that they were counterproductive. As I wrote back then;

Why do the chases always end at a Zain shop? That was a question asked by an observant Kenyan who noticed this discrepancy after watching several episodes of a cops and robbers local program. My brother had also complained about the actors in these programs who talk normally but then tend to shout or overly exaggerate when they mention a particular brand name. Yesterday, my younger brother, Kevin, was actually angered when one of these characters on this particular program called Cobra Squad inserted a Zain tariff (Vuka) into a conversation it had no business being in. This guy was asked, “Where are you? You are not reachable these days,” to which he answered, “Ndavuka!” in an unusually loud and unprovoked voice. “Vuka haraka!” was the equally loud retort from the other end of the line, and there after, the conversation continued in a normal manner. It was such an awkward moment clearly depicting the amateurish attempt at advertisement by persons not familiar with the basic concepts of the industry. It may have been the bad acting or trying too hard that made this attempt, pathetic at best.

This was actually Kenya’s attempt at what is known as Product Positioning. Product Positioning refers to that advertising style in which Brands and Brand Names are ingeniously placed in the context of the happenings in programs and movies. The world renowned brands are the biggest users of this form of advertising. They sponsor whole movies and programs if they agree to include their products in the different settings and situations in their episodes. If this concept is not yet clear, look out for the following in the next program or movie that you watch. Appreciate the fact that if a man innocently drinks a coca cola, or that familiar Nokia tune rings, or an Audi car is being driven, and the screen saver reads Cisco Systems, somebody probably paid for them to be there, and this, depending on how it has been delivered may serve to be very rewarding in terms of returns. This is what our local programs are attempting to do, with varying degrees of failures.

Product positioning that is subtle largely appeals to the subconscious mind, a key frontier that needs to be captured if a brand name is to have any measure of staying power. This is what the local programs, in which brand names are randomly shouted, have failed to comprehend or appreciate. Product positioning is drinking coke without announcing that you are drinking coke, it is about promoting a product without shouting it out loud. It is about products subtly fitting-in in such a way that they seem normal. Since, if the end product is to portray a brand as the natural choice, shouting about it on roof tops or placing excess emphasis or being too obvious actually proves counterproductive. Product positioning is standing out by fitting in.

That was in October 2008.

I have just read an incredible article on product positioning where the all important question in product positioning is posed:

Can I communicate it without saying it?

Product positioning is all about perception and as the writer of the above article clearly points out,

It is not necessary to claim something that can be communicated without saying it. However, you can engineer every move in a way that implies that positioning.

For this reason, businesses need to resist attempts to have actors proclaim the names of the brands sponsoring them. On the contrary, let curiosity run its course because interested viewers will always ask themselves “What make of phone was that guy carrying? Is that an Audi A8 and can I find those in Kenya? And from experience, I and many friends have paused movies and watched it frame by frame just to determine what make of laptop some guy was using, or the program running on that laptop etc.  That is what product positioning is supposed to do: make us curious enough to research it.

Social Media in Product Positioning

After developing curiosity through the product positioning, these brands should anticipate that people will most definitely search for these terms online and therefore leverage those. After an episode or a movie with your product shows, you now have the leeway through your company blog and social networks to announce that “Yes indeed! that product that you saw being used was actually us.” This does not dilute the genuineness of it all because it is now about providing information to those whose curiosity was aroused.

I have written an article that mentions the Dettol advert and funny thing is that most search terms that lead people to that article read, “The Voice in the Dettol Advert.” People who were drawn to that voice for whatever reason decided to find out who this person really was. And likewise, businesses with product positioning should not shy away from using social networks in giving information to those seeking. Leverage the keywords of the programme, the movie, the actor carrying the product, and any other keyword that people may search for in looking for information on a product.

What say you? Please hit me up in the comment section below…

  • Hey,

    Very interesting piece. I totally feel you on the weak attempts by the Cobra Squad team in regard to Zain. They were actually insulting their viewers' intelligence. But I'd like to make a slight correction, the right term for this is product PLACEMENT not positioning. This is a kind of implicit advertising, where the viewer is not completely aware of the advertising. It's often used together with subliminal advertising. There are quite some ethical concerns regarding both of these tactics. All in all, it's a great piece.

  • Marvin Tumbo

    Hi Esther

    Thanks for your insight on this. Yes, it is disturbing when such programs get it so wrong and the brands do not understand that it is insulting to viewers when such occurrences happen on TV.

    I am tempted to believe though that the Brands themselves tend to push the production teams to do this because they feel just placement is too subtle and won't do.

    Thanks for correction on product positioning. I have just had a quick look at the term product placement on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_placement and it perfectly defines what I am communicating in the post. Thanks for that.

    I like your blog. I have been looking at a blog that covers the marketing niche in Kenya but was yet to find one.

    Kind regards and thanks for stopping by.


  • Hey,

    Thanks. It's good to know my blog is making headway. I also have been looking for info on how to market products using social media, with Kenyan references. So I sure will be visiting again.

    I bet you are aware of the Makmende viral campaign. Just a Band have done a great job on that. I'm already a “member” lol

    I've never seen anything like that with regard to a Kenyan product. Social media in this country is sure to grow in leaps and bounds in the near future.

    Take care!

  • Marvin Tumbo

    Hey Esther,

    Yes it is. I believe that Kenyan blogs should blog about every single niche areas and become the authoritative voices in their respective areas of expertise. I believe this will only get more prevalent.

    I have seen the viral nature of the Makmende phenomenon and rather than join in, I have decided to watch from the sidelines because I am intrested in what this will translate to in terms of sales for the JAB albums. I am sure this will make for a very interesting case study on the power of social media. I will write an article on this later on when I have some concrete figures.

    But it is hilarious stuff to read and watch and as of this morning got a mention in the Daily Nation newspaper.

    Kind regards

  • I'm also planning on doing an article on social media and Makmende will definitely feature on it. I came across your website as I was doing my research on it.

  • Marvin Tumbo

    Cool. I am eagerly awaiting the article. I have just acknowledged my mistake with regard to Product positioning above.

  • Thanks for the link to my blog. Enjoy your weekend!