Brands Are Superimposing Themselves Into Music Videos, but Is That a Good Idea?

Imagine feeling nostalgic for the ’80s and throwing on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or maybe Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and seeing an ad for an iPhone. Some of these classic videos might have more modern advertisements in them soon thanks to a new technology.

Recently, Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record label, announced that it had teamed up with Mirriad, a U.K. tech firm, and Havas, a multinational advertising agency, to place ads in videos after they’ve been released, Billboard reports.

“With Mirriad’s highly customizable platform, we have the ability to insure that artists’ and brands’ interests are aligned while we remain focused on presenting fans with the most compelling music experience possible,” Lucian Grange, chairman and CEO of UMG, told Billboard.

Mirriad’s platform scans catalogs of videos for blank surfaces that advertisements can be projected on, and Havas is one of the world’s largest global communications agencies, with clients like Coca-Cola, Sony, and New York Life Insurance and the power to scale the implementation of this technology. Billboard reports that “Havas client Grand Marnier has already purchased space in videos by Far East Movement (‘Rocketeer’) and Avicii (‘Lay Me Down’ and ‘You Make Me’), and a Mirriad rep tells Billboard a pair of Darius Rucker videos will also be part of the campaign.”

If a deal can be brokered, the possibilities are endless. Think Coca-Cola popping up in your favorite Ellie Goulding video, or a bottle of Cristal suddenly appearing on the sand beside Jay-Z and Beyonce in “Drunk in Love.”

But is this a good idea? Will consumers accept the sudden appearance of retroactive product placement?

Stephen Colbert took on the technology earlier this year, lamenting that something about going back in time to market to consumers strikes a negative chord, especially amongst Colbert’s audience of millennials. “Those of us who create the shows, won’t even feel the advertising, they’ll just slip it in,” The comedian said sarcastically, holding a phallic-shaped green screen.

Julie Weinhouse, co-founder of HERO Entertainment Marketing, believes brands should think about more than mere impressions if they want to see their placements work effectively.

“Straight placement alone won’t necessarily help a brand sell out its stock,” Weinhouse explained. “We put Aviation American Gin in ‘2 Broke Girls’ last week. So that was readable branding on the bottle. Then, we tweet out those shots and Aviation tweets them and it gives them as a brand a new way to engage with their consumers online.”

To Weinhouse, Universal’s plans to use retroactive branding are nothing new. She said brands have been doing digitally-embedded advertisements for some time. She points to examples of characters in a TV show walking past a movie theater and the releases on the wall being of new movies despite the age of the TV show.

“There have been brands in the past that have done this. What it sounds like is that they’re bringing it back in the context of music videos,” Weinhouse said. “It’s not necessarily something we’d do, it doesn’t quite fit with our business strategy.”

Weinhouse isn’t quite sold on retroactive branding just yet. She says she has some questions that would need to be addressed first.

“Older videos aren’t going to get the frequency of the hits that a new video will have so I’m not sure exactly how these brands are measuring views with this,” she continued.

There may be room for innovation as time goes on. Think a series of classic pro-America music videos with Budweiser ads placed in them around July 4th, or Beats headphones in Run DMC videos to celebrate the birth of hip-hop. But given the breadth of digital storytelling tools at brands’ disposal, relying on retroactive branding may just make them seem dated.

Image by Jenny McCabe

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