Consumers who watch television sitcoms and see product placements through covert marketing have better memories of the products and better attitudes toward the brands, according to the results of three joint studies led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“Frankly, we were a bit surprised at the power of covert marketing across a variety of studies,” said Margaret Campbell, a professor of marketing at the Leeds School of Business at CU and author of an online article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. “Even though most U.S. consumers know that marketers pay to surreptitiously get their brands in front of consumers, consumers are still influenced by covert marketing efforts.”
The studies also found the disclosure of paid product placements in a sitcom decreased the influential effects, especially when the disclosure occurred after the consumer was exposed to the marketing.
In one of the studies, people watched a sitcom that included a few seconds of exposure to a breakfast cereal. When asked later to list the first cereals that came to mind, people who’d seen a brand name cereal during the sitcom were more than three times as likely to include that cereal in their top three compared with those who’d seen a fictitious cereal. Consumers also reported a much higher preference for the brand.
However, if prior to watching the show people saw a disclosure that sponsored product placements were included, they were less likely to list the brand in their top three, although they still reported a higher preference for the brand.
If people saw a disclosure after the show that sponsored product placements were included, they also were less likely to list the brand in their top three. But they didn’t report more favorable attitudes toward the brand compared with a time they hadn’t been exposed to product placement.
“Disclosures after the placement appear to alert people to the impact that covert marketing efforts can have, in which case they’re less likely to be influenced,” Campbell said.
There have been calls to require disclosure of covert marketing in the United States to be consistent with other requirements for disclosure of sponsorship. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, already require some disclosure.