Will post-production software revolutionise advertising?

It is understandable that mass-media consumers have become increasingly frustrated with irrelevant and intrusive ads in between TV programmes and films. With many homes preferring to configure their entertainment systems to skip ads, there has been a clear demand from advertisers for new ways of targeting the growing proportion of people who find ‘interruption’ adverts plain irritating.

Against the backdrop of this big challenge for brands and advertisers, it was only a matter of time before sophisticated technology, capable of overcoming advertising fatigue, captured advertisers’ imaginations.

One emerging technique to watch is in-video product placement. This uses pioneering post-production technology to digitally manipulate moving images, allowing targeted, subtle ads to reach a particular audience.

On UK screens, brands have been implementing virtual adverts onto sports pitches for years. However, whether it is replacing glasses of water with Pepsi on The X Factor or inserting Tresemmé into contestants’ dressing rooms on Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model, digitally manipulated visuals have become so sophisticated that now viewers are unable to tell the difference between what has been added post-production and what actually appears in the shot in reality.

From drink products to billboards, virtual product placement employs software tools that allow items to be inserted, substituted and deleted – all in the post-production process. Hence, there are no demands on cast members, scripts or production schedules.

Last year saw India’s Zee TV owner, billionaire Subhash Chandra, invest £3million in MirriAd; the London-based company that sells the digital product placement technology. The investment came after the broadcaster used the technology to overlay packets of Tilda rice to scenes of Indian popular soap, ‘Pavitra Rishta’.

A key advantage is that content owners are not committed to one product. The brands included during post-production can alter depending on demographics and geographical location, for example; a Ford Focus might appear in a programme aired in the UK, whereas a Chevrolet Agile could be inserted when aired in Brazil.

The surge in virtual product placement has recently seen an increasing number of high-profile broadcasters start using the software. Channel 4’s Deal or No Deal was one of the first in the UK, featuring Unilever’s PG Tips logo on contestant’s mugs – inserted post-production.

As Media Director for Cardiff-based advertising agency, Studio Tri, and London sister agency, S3, I am well-aware of the challenges faced when devising a successful campaign for the ‘skip generation’ – those who fast-forward adverts. As technology in the advertising industry develops, being at the forefront of emerging digital technology and foreseeing trends is crucial for brands and advertising professionals. We were the first agency in Wales to introduce Sky AdSmart, a service that allows us to tailor advertising based on demographic information provided by subscribers, so that consumers receive adverts relevant to them.

Digital product placement rules were relaxed by OFCOM in the UK in 2011, offering a greater opportunity for broadcasters and filmmakers to benefit from brand inclusion. No doubt we will see a flurry of brands capitalising on the back-catalogue of older programmes, re-runs and new releases of old material. There is even scope for new productions to be commissioned with space for unique product placement opportunities, in different locations.

As the digital age marches ever forward and technology continues to develop, advertisers should carefully study all available research to understand the effectiveness of in-programme product placement, and the impact it has on viewers.

While virtual product placement provides clear opportunities for brands to gain exposure amongst their target audience, like any new advertising technique it needs to be approached with care.

Such product placement, particularly in ratings-winning shows, will be beyond the budget of many smaller brands. And without the opportunity to attach a message or call to action above and beyond seeing the physical product, it is clearly only suitable for a select number of consumer products.

Product placement is nothing new, of course. But what this does signal is a move towards more subliminal, flexible advertising techniques that can be used on a global scale to appeal to the ‘skip generation’.

However, if products are inserted into acclaimed programmes such as Only Fools and Horses or The Office, this could provoke viewer outrage. Agencies and advertisers should be sensitive to much-loved programmes and not see back catalogues as an endless opportunity for branding. Or at some point, legislation will have to intervene again to control the use of the technology.

So, will digital post-production placement transform the way the big brands spend their advertising budget? Excuse the pun, but it really is a case of watch this space…