It was the '60s - peace, love, and music was in the air. Every kid wanted to be a rock star. If you were serious about playing guitar, you wanted a white Fender Stratocaster. Why? Hendrix, of course.
Jimi Hendrix played and burned a white Fender Stratocaster on stage. Fender, the marketer of that now infamous guitar, may not have realized it was product placement, but it certainly knew the value of putting that guitar in Jimi's hands.
The Strat was launched in the face of strong competition, entering the market three years after the launch of the popular Gibson Les Paul model. By placing a Strat in Jimi's hands, Fender ensured that its guitar was exposed to the right target, placed in the right context, and that it was endorsed by an über celebrity. Fender benefited from a hot product, the cultural zeitgeist, and a burgeoning communications environment. In the end, no one sold more white Fender Stratocasters than Jimi.
Fender, wittingly or not, correctly identified its target market's communications aperture - delivering its message at the best time and place to ensure maximum receptivity. In today's fragmented media environment where commercial avoidance is a concern for marketers and media executives alike, product integration is all the rage. Like all things "hot," it's occasionally used well, but more often it's not.
What's the primary motivation for product integration? Rather than consumer connection and receptivity, marketers are placing products within programming to combat commercial avoidance. Taking subliminal messaging a step further, they're placing products within programming so viewers will be less likely or able to avoid seeing their products. But where's the burning Stratocaster? Trust me: The can of Coke sitting on the counter is not the same as a living and breathing demonstration of the product in a real-life setting. The benefit of product integration has everything to do with product demonstration and little to do with product display. Consumers tell us where to connect with them when they're looking for information and open to the contact. While they are certainly overloaded with messages, they still say they want to get more information on the products that they purchase. The consumer aperture is open to messages that demonstrate or show products and services in action. Product integration, done right, and as part of a total communications program, can satisfy that need in most categories.
What gets in the way of clever consumer connections? The big questions: Can we measure the value of it? Can we even put impressions against it? How do we know it was worth it? If we compare a media schedule which includes "non-traditional" elements to one that is more traditionally focused, we will always come up short in the area of traditional measurement.
Ah, measurement - the beauty and the bane of the media strategist's existence. This, truly, is our next most important area of focus. We need new ways to track awareness and to model return on investment using all communication elements. These things may not have moved Hendrix, but in time, they'll allow us to make all of consumer communications "sing."
Steve Farella, president-CEO, and Audrey Siegel, executive vice president and director of client services, are co-founders of TargetCast TCM. (firstname.lastname@example.org)