It hasn’t been heralded much by the media thus far, but Universal Music Group, a/k/a UMG—arguably the world’s largest media conglomerate—has found a brand-new means of superimposing brand names and images into music videos, movies, trailers and even apps—as a means of targeting very specific, niche audiences. As of Monday October 6, 2014, they have made a deal with MirriAd, an English technology start-up firm that has developed a means of inserting brand information directly on to video, even after filming takes place.
Atypical is Lady Gaga’s video Telephone, which features at least ten separate brands, including Diet Coke, Hellman’s Mayonnaise and Virgin Mobile smartphones. The video has attracted much criticism for being so commercial, to be sure, yet it has it has more than 200m views on YouTube. A success whichever way you judge it, to be sure
This kind of brazen product placement is on a scale that was heretofore considered impossible and, arguably, too tacky and brazen in a kind of hit the-audience-over-the-head sort of way. MirriAd’s job is to insert varied brands into the same video aimed a specific target audience in a particular region. The Orwellian world where the same video is playing simultaneously in Mandarin in Shanghai, Cantonese in Hong Kong, Basque in Bilbao, and various dialects in England may be an active participant in the death of it all as an implicit kind of universality through capitalism.
Far-fetched? You think? Yet this seems to be the reason UMG and MirriAd chose to work with Havas, a French multinational whose clientele including LVMH, LG, and Coca-Col. Of course, product placement is not new. The genius who created Madison Avenue, Edward Bernays, had been doing it secretly in movies since the late 1940s. According to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 42 (6): 792–798), such subliminal advertising, although its effects were never studied scientifically led to retail sales improvement in otherwise unadvertised products like Jubblies and Vimto (from the Austin Powers movies) and Glock armaments which have been used in movies for decades (Karremans, J.; Stroebe, W.; Claus, J. (2006). “Beyond Vicary’s fantasies: the impact of subliminal priming and brand choice“.
UMG used to be just the music company attached to Universal Pictures film studio. They came into being after Decca Records of England separated from Decca Records of the U.S. in 1934. American Decca then merged with MCA in1962. By 1998, when Seagram’s Liquors merged with MCA, and Germany’s Polygram it all became the behemoth Universal Music Group. Diversification-wise, however, this was the tip of the iceberg.
When General Electric (G.E.) bought Universal Studios, they partnered it with the TV studio NBC. Finally, in February 2006, it was taken over by the French media conglomerate, Vivendi. Thus UMG owns scores of record companies, from Deutsche Gramophon to A&M Records, Def Jam Recordings and Virgin Records, with a breathtaking roster from Tony Bennett to Justin Bieber; Jay Z to the Rolling Stones; John Coltrane to Herbert Von Karajan. All of this merger information is pointless to ponder, however, until you consider UMG’s deal with Universal as a means of inserting a product like Grand Marnier into its movies and videos utilizing these new product placement techniques, according to the International Business Times.
Product placement revenues have been calculated as being worth $25 Billion a year worldwide according to the Marketing Tech Blog. The vast majority of paid placements take place in TV and film, but they are increasingly finding their way into online video and video games. Yet the very idea that the interests of artists and brands would intersect seems a bit hard to swallow when we watch something like this: