Preemptive Product Placement and Ethics
Last month bloggers, paparazzi and Hollywood-obsessed teenagers all wondered where Snooki’s Coach purse was when the Jersey Shore star appeared with a Gucci bag. Apparently Coach was sending her competitors’ items in efforts to protect its image. “Unbranding,” “preemptive product placement,” “negative product placement,” “celebrity undorsement” or whatever else you want to call it is the new marketing trend among luxury brands trying to disassociate themselves from undesirable celebrities. When “boring“ stars like Christina Hendricks don’t endorse your product, at least make sure that Gen Y’s out-of-control, narcissistic and always drunk role models like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Polizzi (Snooki) don’t ruin the image of your brand.
The best part of this tactic: it is easy, you just give a celebrity the competitor’s product, and relatively inexpensive; compare the price of a few luxury bags to the $50 billion brands spend on corporate sponsorship and endorsement yearly.
I guess that in an age of celebrity obsession and constantly increasing celebrity influence we should have expected this to happen sooner or later.
Although some call this tactic of preemptive product placement brilliant and clever, I have a few questions for Coach and all other brands employing it, or considering it:
- How ethical do you think this tactic is? If Snooki isn’t good enough to wear your products in public, think how your own behavior reflects on your brand. Unethical marketing tactics mean unethical brands, which is not the smartest strategy when 84% of consumers want to see ethical behavior from brands. This is especially true for Millennials (the exact same people you are trying to turn into loyal customers) who pride ourselves on being the most civic-minded generation in US history.
- Did you really expect that this would go under the radar? In the age of WikiLeaks, when even Apple and Microsoft have hard time keeping secret documents and products away from the public, how can you expect that no one will cover this unethical tactic? Remember the whole transparency thing everyone is talking about?
- What would happen if you competitors employed the same tactic to sabotage you? Yes, I used sabotage because that is what preemptive product placement is.
Instead of wasting time on keeping Snooki away from your products, focus on providing utility and experience for your loyal customers,connecting with them in meaningful ways and building long-term relationships.