Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Missing product placement: Avengers age of Ultron

Imagine how strange it was, for a rather experienced old hand like me to be found googling Audi A3 cabrios, immediately after watching the latest instalment of the Marvel Avengers series, Age of Ultron.  It was a remarkable cinema visit for two other significant reasons; 

(1) both my boys, now 13 & 10, were keen to see the same movie, a rare and beautiful moment beleaguered parents dream of, and 

(2) there is a scene that uses my office building (fleetingly) that I have blogged about and I wanted to experience the movie first hand.  

Of course fraternal bliss could not last long, much of the journey to town was spent arguing, instead, about where to go for lunch, McDonald's or KFC.  Painfully, a Burger King compromise was achieved after some length, but without an excessive dad mediation requirement.  Progress.  

I became aware of some interesting European shaped cars being smashed up early on and began to link this back to the edgy birth of the TTS ad that rather stood out in the pre-feature trailers.  

I wondered if this was a VW group gig, but when the cabrio A3 appeared towards the end of this two hours and twenty plus epic, at a point where my bottom was pretty numb despite an escort visit to the toilets, it was clear this was a futuristic, technological, adrenaline-rush movie that sought to stoke brand desire in the 12+ young adult audience.  And their parents.  And some going to be affluent soon (post student loan pay offs)  young adults.  

So why did German auto giant Audi choose Avengers then ? Sci-fi lovers might be a natural demographic match for premium priced, hi-tech German automotive luxury ?  If (and only if) you have looked at the video link above ponder this - Is there not some irony trying to draw an analogy between Audi headlights and Iron Man - or is it just me ?  

We were on to something when my elder son lent over and mummured "Product Placement", we easily spotted Under Armour and Audi, but felt the adidas running shoe indent was too obvious.  Our hushed conversation in the cinema darkness was very much the inspiration for this post.  But what had we missed I wondered ? - the very subject of a student dissertation I have recently marked.

Overt product placement can easily become cynically viewed as over the top commercialism, perhaps to the point where excessive, contrived and blatant product exposure can engender a negative reaction to the promoted brand or product, rather than the presumed objective of nudging consumers (un)consciously along the path to purchase and eternal brand loyalty, perhaps by way of the AIDA framework.  

Block buster movie franchises such as James Bond have for decades off-set their production costs (& creative integrity ?) by taking large CA$H payments to feature mostly products, rather than rarer services - e.g. Tom Cruise in Minority Report did a memorable American Express feature.      

My favourite section of the marketing curriculum is teaching advertising, but with outstanding colleagues like Professor Chris Hackley in our team at Royal Holloway, I am mostly a bench warmer for our specialist modules in this space.  

My fascination for advertising is perhaps because it taps into common shared experiences, advertising is all around us and nearly unavoidable.  Perhaps because with YouTube it is easy to bring copious exciting shorts into class to encourage real time analysis and allows students to experience tangible examples and some humour too.  Finally, perhaps it is because the theory in advertising is so immature, e.g. The black box concept, you end up speculating around evaluating normative behaviours, rather than bestowing deep rooted "researched" factual paradigms.  Plenty of scope for creative discussion in all that.  

Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action are perhaps one-word single minded proposition statements that can offer a creative focus, although with audience co-creation I suspect Audis multi-product exposure during three minutes of paid  footage could be influencing in a number of different levels, depending on the audiences own context.  Avengers does not really fit in my genre choice, so I had missed the long standing association created with Robert Downey Jr.'s genius techie billionaire Stark character until this 2015 release, and overlooking that the official advertorial video was excruciatingly banal, there is something relevant in the technology association as a long burner.  

In advertising class we often consider the ethics of stealth promotion through subliminal advertising, but this of course is a closely regulated arena, with some interesting research understanding how children develop awareness of paid promotions.  Discussion with permanently head fone wearing elder son during the movie around product placement was a pleasing sign of evolution in our relationship. He spotted the Hulk wearing Beats headphones listening to classical music, as part of his chill out routine, nice !  I spotted the Audi time and time again, it must be working.  

The masculine biased Under Armour spandex tops worn by several characters including Captain America and Quicksilver were bespoke items that lacked blatant branding, however, the UA logo did feature in a rear shot at one point.  

The Samsung/Korea branding for me was too subtle, although a logical association for hi tech that accesses a large, global audience.    Captain Americas Levi jeans placement passed me by too, although with a character tied to the 1940's there are not too many marques with the prerequisite longevity to appropriately be linked here ?  Wrigley's gum ? Heinz  ? Harley Davidson (missed this completely - too American ?  or just not into bikes...)  

The leading American agricultural automotive brand John Deere required a incongruous barn scene and an unbelievable paint job, ummm...but I am not convinced that an aged, broken tractor is necessarily going to drive sales interest, perhaps just reinforcing legendary longevity in Hollywood's key US domestic market place is enough ?

None of the co-branded images appear in the carefully selected images offered up by the studio in their PR media assets, which makes selecting images for this blog pretty tricky, however, having spotted adidas running shoes I then mis-attributed Quicksilver's Danish Hummel track suit for a new adidas version, so I picked the arm of arrows image here. We have seen brand recall mis-attribution noted for big spending brands at the Olympics and FIFA (forgive my unethical lexicon) World Cups. 

Of course, for me the web commentators missed the "product placement" of the Royal Holloway scene, although strictly it was probably paid for (modestly) as a location to give Stellan Skarsgard's mad professor character a cameo context.  It did include a powerful on screen textual name check. Within the universtiy community this feature has caused quite a ripple of excitement, and the real reason I wanted to see the movie !  

When was the last time you went to the movies to look at your own office building ?