We’re always on the lookout for new technology in advertising. Many media owners are currently trying to update veteran systems to contest with the rapidly growing digital mediums.


In Japan media owners are using facial recognition software in digital ad screens to react to audience type and assess engagement. Both incredible and a little scary.


Advertising on billboards and outdoor screens has been re-assessed in the last decade in comparison to more modern, digital media formats. The latter can target far more effectively and provides valuable audience insight and statistics. However, new technology, like facial recognition, is enabling media owners to update more traditional media so it remains relevant in the contemporary marketplace.


The most recent bit of software which has caught our eye, is an update of a classic media proposition, product placement or, if you want to be fancy, embedded marketing.


And Accenture (a global management consultancy) are definitely trying to be fancy.


Their R&D department have developed software that will insert a brand on to existing space within an online video, be it film or a TV series.


The technology assesses space that could host brand imagery or even existing labelling and cleverly pastes a client’s desired artwork into the space. Assessing depth of field, movement, shadow and a thousand other variables to make it look as natural as possible.


So in the future, Walter White taking a swig of coffee from a non-descript mug could now be Walter White drinking a cup of Kenco’s finest, all with a mere click of a mouse.


You have to admire the technical ability involved in programming software to recognise precise spaces within existing media and seamlessly adding new elements. It’s a process that takes post-production houses many man-hours to accomplish currently.


It gets smarter though. The placement of this branding is done programmatically (using the existing technology at work across the majority of digital space that buys space for clients based on relevance and spend in micro auctions carried out in under a second) so only relevant products are placed in front of the right eyes. What’s more, Accenture are talking about tracking, so you could be looking up a specific pair of trainers on your phone, then flick on Netflix and you’ll see the same footwear advertised on a billboard in the background while Daredevil fights some ninjas.


Clever stuff, but it’s a concept that is certainly set to split people.


Products and their ad agencies may well praise the ingenuity and drive to reinvent on older advertising medium. But product placement has never really endeared itself to audiences – particularly in the UK where it’s often seen as a tad ostentatious and rather too ‘American’ in its commercialism. In fact product placement is so heavily regulated in the UK that it’s barely ever seen.


And even in acceptance, in the land of product placement and the home of the Big Mac, it’s often poked fun at:





So if it was laughed at in a film in the early nineties, surely it’s an out dated concept today – something that modern audiences will scoff at instead of rushing out to buy Kenco’s new ‘Breaking Bad: Blue Blend’. Modern audiences are more likely to make a meme out of it.


So what actual marketing value does it have? One of the glaring problems with it is that, despite the clever technology that places the media, there’s no change to product placement’s historical issue – it’s not measurable.


We won’t know if seeing Walt sipping Java from a Kenco mug has directly resulted in a purchase. The value of digital advertising is the ability to track and measure all ‘click-throughs’ and engagement, providing measurable insight into a campaign’s performance. It’s something all media is increasingly being judged against. ‘How do we know that billboard has any effect?’, ‘did anyone actually react to that radio ad?’ – measurables are more in demand than ever before due to the accountability and efficiency of digital advertising. It has always been difficult to measure product placement on TV and Accenture don’t seem to be making great strides in that area with this invention.


Another issue is one of the often cited flaws with programmatic – the software might be precise and effective, but human error occurs none-the-less. If agencies don’t set the right targeting or exclusions, their clients’ product might end up in the wrong place, like Marie Curie ads showing up on a pro-Nazi website (yes, that really happened). So the controls need to be clear and carefully regulated, lest brands accidentally end up having their product beamed into a sensitive scene by accident; an advert for another kind of stimulant in Breaking Bad for example…


So there are snags with this new tech, but we still applaud it, if only for its ambition and invention. Media owners need to keep innovating to keep their product fresh, relevant and, most importantly, effective and that’s exactly what Accenture are trying to do.