Microsoft, Gates master the art of product placement

April 2, 2009

There is no better way to learn about the art of product placement than to learn from the masters. Today, that means Microsoft Corp and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which were the subject of articles about how they’re delivering their messages like little pills wrapped in the sugar coating of the entertainment you consume.

Ad Age:

Can Microsoft market its way out of the search basement? Probably not, but it’s going to try, entrusting [ad] agency JWT to craft a campaign for its new search engine, alternately dubbed Kumo or Project Kiev or Live Search, depending on who’s talking about it. … The service is being tested and is expected to make its debut in the summer. … Industry executives expect JWT, part of WPP, to unveil an estimated $80 million to $100 million push for the new search engine in June, with online, TV, print and radio executions. Microsoft spent $361 million on U.S. measured media in 2008, the bulk of it devoted to brand advertising and smaller chunks to other Microsoft brands such as Xbox and MSN, according to TNS Media Intelligence data.

The New York Times:

The huge [Gates] foundation, brimming with billions of dollars from Mr. Gates and Warren Buffett, is well known for its myriad projects around the world to promote health and education. It is less well known as a behind-the-scenes influencer of public attitudes toward these issues by helping to shape story lines and insert messages into popular entertainment like the television shows “ER,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Private Practice.” The foundation’s messages on H.I.V. prevention, surgical safety and the spread of infectious diseases have found their way into these shows.

Now the Gates Foundation is set to expand its involvement and spend more money on influencing popular culture through a deal with Viacom, the parent company of MTV and its sister networks VH1, Nickelodeon and BET. It could be called “message placement”: the social or philanthropic corollary to product placement deals in which marketers pay to feature products in shows and movies. Instead of selling Coca-Cola or G.M. cars, they promote education and healthy living.

The Times story uses expert comments from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been doing this issue placement for years, and gave advice to the Gates Foundation about how to do this. One of the Kaiser officials told the Times that this “is not about planting a message.”

That’s exactly what Viacom must have been thinking when it was depositing Gates’s check.

Keep an eye on:

  • Job cuts at Conde Nast and Forbes made an inordinate amount of news on Wednesday, even though they’ve already been gut-gut-gutting away. (MediaMemo at AllThingsD)
  • Old media cable TV executives discuss strategies for making money when there’s less of it running around. (PaidContent)
  • The Newspaper Association of America doesn’t generally crave publicity about the sad state of the business these days, but there’s an exception to every rule. Maybe that’s why the NAA got CEO John Sturm onto the Colbert report of all places. Our favorite part: Colbert suggested newspapers consider product-placement in stories, took a shot at the New York Times and asked Sturm: “If you’re serious about wanting to compete on the Internet, why don’t newspapers have a huge porn section?” (Chicago Tribune)
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a Lobby – Newspaper Lobby
NASA Name Contest
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor

(Photo: Reuters)

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