Subliminal Marketing is Going Mainstream

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Subliminal Marketing is Going Mainstream

As we’ve discussed many times, the 30-second TV ad is losing its effectiveness. Consumers have seized control of entertainment content, using technologies like TiVo, iPods, and DVDs to avoid commercials.

To persuade consumers to buy their products, many of today’s marketers are turning to approaches that are more subtle, more complex — and more powerful. We can refer to these approaches as subliminal, because in many cases the consumers aren’t even aware that they are being exposed to marketing messages.

Consider product integration, which is a technique for building awareness of a product by incorporating it into the stories and scripts of television shows and movies. Product integration should not be confused with conventional product placement, which means simply showing a character using a product. For example, the judges on American Idol drink from cups with Coca-Cola’s logo and make no reference to the soft drink. That’s product placement.

Product integration requires the product to actually play a starring role. According to the Los Angeles Times, in the 2006 season premiere of the show 24, the main character needed to send photos of hostages to his team. He snapped pictures with a Sprint Treo 650 camera phone and told his colleagues, “They should be clear enough for you to identify [the hostages].”

On Donald Trump’s TV show, The Apprentice, competing teams are often judged on how well they promote a real-life product, such as the M-Azing candy bar. And on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, houses are always transformed with the help of products from the show’s sponsor, Sears Roebuck.

Nielsen Media Research counted 108,261 instances of product placement or integration last year, an increase of 30 percent over the previous year.

Marketers are also creating entire programs to promote their products, and then sending them to networks as video news releases, or VNRs. These are essentially commercials designed to look like news stories. At many television stations that are facing shrinking resources — ironically, because traditional advertising revenues can no longer support their newsgathering budgets — these VNRs are too tempting to pass up. A study by Nielsen Media Researchfound that four-out-of-five news directors broadcast VNRs as part of their news programs several times each month.

Another subliminal marketing technique that is working is sensory manipulation at the point of purchase...

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