A Guide to Embedded Marketing for Small Business Owners

A screenshot from the Netflix Original TV series, Stranger Things Netflix

Modern businesses can struggle with effectively capturing the attention of customers, as ad fatigue increases across consumer groups, and competition continues to rise within markets. Companies must now leverage all possible instruments in their marketing toolbox to succeed in raising brand and product awareness, generating qualified leads and driving conversions.

In particular, one of the more oft-overlooked creative promotional tools available to business owners is embedded marketing, as our in-depth breakdown reveals.

What is Embedded Marketing?

Embedded marketing, also known as product placement, is a type of advertising that sees branded products or services feature in video content such as television series, movies, music videos and social media videos. 

This indirect marketing subtly delivers brand awareness to audiences, incorporating your selected products or services seamlessly into the original content. TV or movie characters may, for example, use or mention the promoted item naturally within the storyline, bringing the desired messaging to the audience's attention without distracting from the overall viewing experience. Alternatively, the products or branding may be incorporated into the set design, achieving the same result. Viewers are therefore less inclined to identify this material as an advertisement and are more likely to retain its key messaging. This makes embedded marketing more effective in generating awareness compared to traditional ads that punctuate video material.

Although this approach often targets large, broad audiences, targeting through embedded marketing is possible to a certain extent. For instance, your business can opt to feature in a production with a more focused viewership, such as TV series that appeals to a demographic matching your identified target consumers.

However, embedded marketing can be expensive – as well as challenging – to execute, since it involves working closely with production companies or TV networks to capture the desired content. Occasionally, embedded marketing can be paid for through an exchange of goods or services, rather than cash.

Why is Embedded Marketing Effective? 

As mentioned, consumers are increasingly resistant to traditional adverts, with ad fatigue growing across all consumer demographic groups. This form of marketing adequately tackles that problem. In fact, in a study conducted in the United States in 2018, 17% of surveyed viewers who witnessed product placement in movies expressed a positive response to the advertising method, revealing that they perceived this promotional tactic as a favourable alternative to traditional ads that interrupt content.

Therefore, it can be assumed that this advertising is highly impactful, boosting brand recognition as well as product desirability among engaged audiences. It can allow your brand to keep its ad frequency relatively low, as other forms of marketing require higher repetitions over a longer period of time to achieve the same results.

In addition to generating awareness, embedded marketing can enable your business to affect positive brand affiliation – something that can be extremely valuable to any company in the long-term. Your organisation can influence powerful associations in the minds of your potential consumers, aligning your brand with principles, actions, characters and themes that can make buyers more likely to purchase the promoted products or services.

When considering these advantages, it is unsurprising that an estimated $11.4bn was spent on product placement in the US alone in 2019.

Embedded Marketing for Small Businesses

As mentioned, this advertising route can be expensive, with multiple representations in popular television shows costing well into the millions; however, small businesses can still find ways to execute embedded marketing, even with more modest promotional budgets.

As a brand owner, you should aim to identify the video productions that most closely target your desired demographic to ensure there is no spend wastage on audiences outside of your consumer groups. Production teams often readily provide audience data, but you can also embark on your own research to identify suitable options.

Approaching streaming services for product placement collaborations can be an appropriate alternative to working with primetime television and blockbuster movies, offering suitably matched pricing. Flourishing companies can also reinvest in successful pilot placements, negotiating for more competitive prices for a recurring collaboration with a television show. Such deals can cost as little as a few thousand dollars in the US, for instance.

Indeed, you can also offer your products and services to networks and production firms for free, in order for them to be incorporated into the sets of video content. Such organic, unpaid collaborations are accepted by set designers, provided they are a creative fit for the context of the TV show or movie. To achieve this, though, you must first cultivate relevant contacts within the industry.

To make the most out of any investment in embedded marketing, you should also run complementary marketing activities during the same period. Digital marketing, in particular, is of considerable significance, as viewers are more likely to research a brand online after witnessing product placement that has successfully captured their attention. Ensure that you have a user-friendly website and active social media accounts, as well as adequate SEO marketing practices to ensure searchers locate your online presence. Influencer marketing can also integrate well with embedded marketing, adding another indirect method of advertising to your marketing strategy.

Despite the higher cost, this form of promotion can greatly benefit smaller businesses. When successfully executed, the investment can offer much-needed market exposure, recruit new consumers, boost brand awareness, affect positive brand affiliation and drive sales.

Examples of Successful Embedded Marketing

While top global brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and Visa have consistently demonstrated exemplary product placement in TV and movies throughout the years, several smaller brands have also recently adopted this form of marketing – to great success.

FiLite Beer is among them. The Japanese Happoshu-style beverage was only launched in 2017 but gained huge exposure when it featured in the 2019 South Korean thriller, Parasite (characters drank the beer during a prominent scene in the film, clearly showcasing the product and its branding). Indeed, this exposure increased exponentially in early 2020, when Parasite won a raft of high-profile global prizes, including four Academy Awards. The success of this collaboration led to the brand securing 93rd place on the 2019 listing of Concave Brand Tracking's top movie product placements.

Similarly, professional gaming headset maker Kotion Each gained impressive visibility from its placement in 2019 superhero epic, Avengers: Endgame. The brand's headsets were worn by one of the film's main characters, bringing attention to the product seamlessly as part of the film's content. Being part of the highest-grossing movie of all time certainly helped the brand, raising its profile with broader audiences and gaining exposure to a viewership extending into the hundreds of millions. The brand landed 77th place on Concave Brand Tracking's list as a result.

Is Embedded Marketing Right for You?

Ultimately, whether embedded marketing is appropriate for your business or not comes down to the flexibility of your marketing strategy, your capacity for innovative advertising activities, and your promotional budget. 

Regardless of the limitations that burgeoning businesses may face, experimenting with indirect forms of promotion such as product placement can pay off in a big way. This practice can be an effective tool to help you tackle consumer ad fatigue, kickstart business growth, expand consumer breadth, and stand out from the crowd.

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