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From ‘Squid Game’ to Sentosa – Own the Art of Purpose Placement

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Purpose Placement, or crafting a narrative around a product, is the new and improved version of Product Placement. Vineeta Vasisht, group account director at Serviceplan Group Middle East, explains the three categories of Purpose Placement and how brands should approach such communication

From ‘Squid Game’ to Sentosa – Own the Art of Purpose Placement

Product placement, a medium that was thought to have been forgotten, is back. But not the way you remember it. The days of meticulously placing a product within a story, or what is called purpose placement, are long gone. Now it is all about building the entire story around carefully chosen products, leading to a complex narrative where the story and product are inseparable. 

In the world of Meta, Crypto, and NFT, the old mediums, like outdoor, digital, activations, and BTL still exist. But instead of finding clever ways of showcasing products through them, the mediums themselves are now being reinvented to suit the product intended to be showcased. 

Take Hulu for example; from the very inception of a show, Hulu works closely with a team dedicated to brand partnerships to determine how particular products can be woven into the very fabric of a story. Gone are the days where simply placing a product in a physical space is enough. Now, brands must purposefully consider what story they want to tell by placing a certain product in a given space. 

There are three categories of brands that engage in purpose placements: The Incidentals, The Opportunists, and The Captors. 

Let’s start with The Incidentals. These are the lucky few brands that are able to reap the benefits of similar looking products that were placed coincidentally instead of strategically. For example, in September 2021, Netflix released ‘Squid Game,’ their most successful original show yet. This show that added a dark spin on beloved childhood games was watched by over 140 million households and it earned Netflix a whopping 900 million US dollars. But Netflix wasn’t the only one who benefited from its success. Vans Slip-On sales grew by an astounding 7,800% after the characters in ‘Squid Game’ were seen wearing similar, yet not explicitly branded, slip-on shoes.   

Another notable example is the fortuitous, yet mistaken, identification of a muddled green label in the background of a ‘Game of Thrones’ episode as a Starbucks cup. Given the immense popularity of this iconic show, this simple shadowy green label, appearing for mere moments deep in the background of an episode, earned Starbucks 2.3 billion dollars of free advertising. 

Next, we have The Opportunists. These are the brands that benefit from environmental and situational happenings – things happening in the world that companies have no control over. Looking at gaming as an example; during the ongoing pandemic, the gaming industry has seen massive growth. With more free time at home, people have been increasingly turning to video games as a way to occupy themselves and connect with others. But gaming is no longer just a means of entertainment. It has evolved into a new and complex social network, with social games attracting product placements from several notable brands. 

‘Animal Crossing’ is one such game that virtually brought countless people together during the pandemic. This intricate game is all about customising a beautiful tropical island and then encouraging other players to visit, so naturally, Singapore’s Sentosa Island was one of the many that capitalised on the opportunity it presented. Sentosa Island collaborated with ‘Animal Crossing’ to allow players to re-create the island in the virtual realm of the game. This offered a much-needed escape during the covid-19 lockdowns, allowing players to visit Sentosa and to even host birthday parties, yoga sessions, and weddings at a time when it wasn’t safe to do so in a conventional way. 

Up until that point, the team from Sentosa was actively brainstorming unique ways to bring Sentosa into people’s homes, and then ‘Animal Crossing’ provided a golden platform to truly bring people ‘back onto the island’ in the safest and most engaging way possible. Though some may see this as just a one-off creative opportunity, ‘Virtual Sentosa’ played a pivotal role in the island’s post-covid recovery process and provided joy and a sense of community to many in Singapore and beyond. 

The final category is The Captors. As the word implies, these are the brands that captivate viewers with their unmissable product placements. In 2020 alone, Netflix, one of the world’s biggest commercial-free streaming sites, added 35 million new subscribers. For everyday users, a big selling point for Netflix is that it does not have traditional ad breaks, but that doesn’t mean it is disengaged from the world of advertising. Instead of the traditional ads, 74% of Netflix original series instead contain purposeful product placements from high-profile brands. 

Picture this: you’re watching ‘Stranger Things,’ one of the most popular Netflix original shows, when you notice it. In the midst of a tense conversation at the dinner table, amongst concerns of missing children and creatures from a parallel universe, you notice the distinctive red and white bucket strategically placed on the table. Not only did this purposeful placement inject some much-needed levity to the scene, but it also served as valuable advertising for KFC. 

This leads us into an essential element of engaging in purpose placements: values. The best way to go about this new and improved form of product placement is as follows: determine what your brand’s key values are, identify a game, TV show or movie that represents the same values, and then begin your partnership. Going back to an earlier example, Sentosa is a perfect illustration of how you should go about choosing a virtual partner. 

While the popularity of ‘Animal Crossing’ undoubtedly factored into the collaboration decision, it was the shared family values between the game and Sentosa that sealed the deal. In reality, Sentosa is a family-oriented paradise that is open to all, and so it was imperative that its virtual counterpart echoed these sentiments of community and accessibility. 

Though purpose placement should be a part of a brand’s communication, it should not be the entirety of it; pursuing it as the sole channel of communication would not yield profitable returns. As such, make sure your message is promoted on other online and offline channels, and try to partner with popular influencers to promote your product either directly, or by elevating your virtual partner. Overall, no matter what your brand strategy, choose content, partners, and platforms that engage your audience in meaningful ways. Remember: holistic approaches and new channels are necessary for target groups to engage wherever and whenever they wish. 

Effective brand communication is more than placing a blurry green and white cup in the background of a show or allowing players to create a real island in a virtual game, or even interrupting both with a 30 second advert. To elevate your brand communication, you must utilise the media effectively while supporting these efforts through other relevant channels. 

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Serviceplan Middle East, Wed, 13 Apr 2022 11:28:51 GMT