Time to transform the product placement strategy

I can’t quite recall how Transformers: Age of Extinction goes, considering I only watched the movie last week, all I can remember is how the two main fighters, Cade Yeager and Shane Dyson, love having Bud Light, Chinese Red Bull and Yili milk when battling their enemies.

And they are just among the many egregious product placements in the three-hour film.

For those who have watched the Hollywood blockbuster, perhaps you may also remember the gigantic Armani Jeans billboard in the background in a battle scene; the prominent Victoria Secret tram in slow motion at the final fight in the middle of Hong Kong; and most strangely, when Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) drinks a Bud Light beer after he survived a deadly battle in Chicago.

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As the film industry is inevitably a commercial world, especially when the total box office revenue in China surged 27% to $3.6 billion last year (Motion Picture Association of America), this Chinese targeted Transformers reboot should be a golden vehicle for brands to place products so as to build a presence in the lucrative China market, if only the products were placed strategically.

However, the movie, as the fourth sequel of the high-budget robot franchise, has been widely accused as a failure in product placement strategy.

Not only is the product placement irrelevant to the storyline, to Cedric Lam, general manager of PHD Hong Kong, the off-the-subject product insertion is making the movie “awkward”.

“A successful product placement should be able to deliver not only awareness, but also the function of the products, which is the essential part of product and brand marketing, via smooth integration in the storyline.

“But in Transformers 4, the products and the storyline doesn’t quite match. It seems a bit laboured and failed to deliver values of the products.”

Lawrence Cheung, director of MediaVest, agrees that effective product placement is not about volume, but the relevancy.

“I don’t think the product placement in Transformers 4 is really that bombarding. But it’s the illogical placements throughout the movie that puzzles audiences. Most of the products that appear in the movie don’t really make sense to the movie narration,” said Chueng, who added the badly written storyline amplified the poorly implemented product placements in the film.

For example, the Yili milk bottles “awkwardly inserted” into a battle scene is a ridiculous insertion to Cheung.

“Product placement has enormous value when the product is placed strategically to be relevant to the storyline.”

A good example for which product placement has been successfully tied into the message of a production is for the Korean TV drama My Love from the Star, where two main product placements, LINE and Samsung, saw an image leap thanks to the popular series.

“Product placement influences audiences to develop association and familiarity with the brands appeared. It’s considered to be effective when it can influence audiences’ implicit attitudes towards the brand perception, image, likability, or user experience through different forms of product placements,” said Remy Ng, deputy leader of Mindshare Hong Kong.

“But when product insertion goes too far, it becomes hard for audiences to accept and believe.”

That is why, back in the Transformers 4 case, the plot that saw Dyson (Jack Reynor) drink a China-made Red Bull in Texas makes the audience scratch their heads.

Ng says the key to effective product placement is to create resonance that speaks to the trend.

"Instead of making the products appear in the movie frequently and in some unnecessary scenes, advertisers should think about extending the product placement elements to be integrated on other platforms, such as social media, apps or in games, to maximise the synergy and effectiveness."