Experiments in Product Placement: The Story’s The Thing
Lately, I’ve been pretty down on sponsored posts and product placement. This has mostly been because I haven’t seen a lot of good placements, and because of my own experience in doing a product placement which didn’t feel right in spite of the best of circumstances. I have come to believe that perhaps some of these problems might have been generic — meaning, that product placements just simply work better on some blogs than they do on others because of the type of blogs that they are, and the kind of feel they already have. I noticed it first with design blogs, because they tend to ease into these kinds of things more fluidly, and I assumed it was because the nature of their content was so closely tied to there being so many products featured in the content anyway.
As I thought more and more about it, I realized the problem with product placement is more about the disconnect between your blog’s “story” and the product you are trying to put into it — it’s really just a narrative problem. If you’re telling a design story, then sure: a placement is going to be much easier because products fit much easier into a design story than they do in say, a creative non-fiction storyteller’s story. But when placements go bad, a lot of times it’s because either the brand or the blogger (or worse, both) is not paying attention to the story of the blog.
Finding Your Blog’s Story, Study One: Making It Lovely
When I was thinking about this, I kept thinking back to a series of sponsored posts Nicole did at Making it Lovely for American Express. The “story” of Making it Lovely, in case you don’t read it, is that Nicole is a designer who runs a small print shop and also documents her process of redoing her home on her blog. Making It Lovely’s design content lead to an elegant partnership with American Express which allowed Nicole to meet the needs of the sponsor as well as the blog’s audience, who came to read about Nicole’s efforts to beautify her home. She was able to use American Express Membership Reward Points to “buy” new items for her master bedroom, and each new post in the series featured the room as it was made over.
When Nicole announced the partnership, she did receive some flak from a commenter or two, which is to be expected, I suppose, but overall the reception of the series was positive, and I think the placement was extremely well done. It fit in to her content pretty much seamlessly, unlike most of the placements I see in the parenting community, which tend to be awkward. Of course, I assumed that this was because we are given the option of partnering with brands that make snack cakes or disposable diapers, which are difficult to to write poetically about or take beautiful pictures of to feature in our blogs without it feeling extremely awkward and staged.
Finding Your Blog’s Story, Case Study Two: Pacing The Panic Room
When Ryan started Pacing the Panic Room, the story of his blog was, I believe, to come to terms with the fact that he was newly married and his wife was pregnant, and he wasn’t sure if he was able to handle the fact that he had become “an adult” so quickly. Over the course of the past few years, and with the success of his creative endeavors, though, I would venture to say (do I presume to speak for him? Why yes, I do believe I do!) that Ryan’s blog has become more about doing what you love in life. How appropriate, then, is it that his new campaign with The Gap (launched today), is titled, Do What You Love, and features women who have been able to be successful at doing what they love in life (and shows them wearing Gap clothing doing it, of course)? This is not a Gap slogan, by the way, it is a Ryan slogan, and there is no Gap signage on Ryan’s blog (nor was there on Nicole’s blog for the American Express placement). The video, shot by Ryan, features one of Ryan’s friends, and has music by Rabbit, another of Ryan’s friends and also one of the artists featured on Ryan’s charity album. The whole thing is very much a Panic Room Ryan joint, just funded by the Gap.
The Gap placement showcases all of Ryan’s talents and features the product but manages to do so without hitting you over the head with the sponsorship. I think the fact that it’s a video is a huge help with this, and the fact that the Gap didn’t insist on making him put a logo anywhere is also to their credit. Other brands need to take note of this: this placement meets all the FCC requirements without being awkward, and that is tough (really, really tough) to accomplish. Nicely done, Ryan (and Gap).
Why doesn’t this happen more often?
1. Story and blog need to match up
I think what we should note here is first of all, that the placement has to be in line with the story of the blog. Most of the time, that is the problem: you might have a product that is, technically, part of the blog’s “story” in a really strict sense, but it’s not essential to it. In those cases, you have to find a way to make it be — with something like a clothing company, you can do this because you are selling a lifestyle more than you are selling a pair of jeans. With a snack cake or diapers, this is far more difficult.
2. Most bloggers do not have this skill set.
And the fact is, most bloggers are simply not talented enough to pull this off: Nicole and Ryan are both creative people who have worked professionally in precisely these kinds of ways, and it shows. That’s another reason their placements are so much better. It may be that brands will have to pull in creatives with skill sets to help bloggers with this type of thing, or that ad companies looking to land these kinds of placements for the bloggers they represent will need to employ creatives to help their bloggers with this stuff.
3. More visual media.
I cannot stress this enough: it is so much easier to do a good placement with pictures than it is with words. We need to move away from words when it comes to product placement and move more towards video and pictures, and I’m not sure why we haven’t done more of that already. These placements just underscore that for me.