Everyone is aware of product placement, the deliberate incorporation of a product or brand into a movie, television episode or other media vehicle to promote it to the viewing audience, typically in a subtle way to create affinity and recognition over time.

However, there’s more to product placement than simply placing a Papa John’s pizza box in clear view in a major sitcom.

From a marketer’s perspective that is only one facet of how what appears on TV can impact on what consumers then think about and do, and it isn’t limited to just brand placement, recognition and recall either.

In reality, what people view on television can trigger actions beyond the direct and obvious result of traditional product placement. Increased two-screen behaviours now mean that peoples’ online search behaviour is more closely aligned to, and increasingly triggered by, what they are experiencing on their TV device in that moment in time.

If marketers had more insight into what those associations and triggers might be it would open up a whole host of new opportunities for intelligent targeting within search, social, display, email and more.

Example 1: The X Factor USA on FOX

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last decade you’ll know the phenomenon that is the X Factor and that it is of immense commercial value to ITV in the UK, FOX in the US, and those contributors involved in its development, production and promotion.

You’ll also likely know that they enjoy a product placement deal with Pepsi to the tune of $60m. This means the inclusion of Pepsi bottles in every other shot and emblazoned across the screen at any opportunity. Whilst this does most definitely raise Pepsi’s visibility,

it doesn’t lead to people typing ‘Pepsi’ into Google. We know this because undertaking a correlation analysis we can see that air times for X Factor do not correlate with Pepsi searches in Google.

Search queries for X Factor do however correlate, and to a huge degree, with searches for fashion terms. For instance the following fashion queries are all positively correlated to 0.8 or above with X Factor searches, which maths people tell me is ‘a lot’:

x factor and jean jacket for men (r=0.8359)
x factor and blazer women (r=0.8396)
x factor and vest for men (r=0.8276)
x factor and sparkly dress (r=0.8262)
x factor and sparkly shoes (r=0.8244)
x factor and womens blazer (r=0.8242)
x factor and silver glitter (r=0.8455)
x factor and gold glitter (r=0.8310)
x factor and vest for men (r=0.8332)
x factor and blue cardigan (r=0.8141)
x factor and sequin cocktail dress (r=0.8129)
x factor and long sleeve shirts for men (r=0.8110)
x factor and plaid tie (r=0.8185)

Side note: This pattern is similar to shows like Strictly Come Dancing, but this pattern does not exist for American Idol, which has zero correlation with consumer search behaviour for fashion. 

This correlation between the X Factor and those fashion queries could be useful to marketers in a number of ways. For instance:

  • If you were a shoe company you could bid against the search term ‘sparkly shoes’ in your paid search campaigns, and max out your budget during X Factor air times for those types of search terms (assuming you have sparkly shoes in your inventory.
  • If you were a clothing retailer you would do the same for things like ‘jean jacket for men’, ‘blue cardigan’, etc.
  • If you were a publisher, editor or social media practitioner, knowing that people that view the X Factor are disproportionately interested in fashion, would compel you to create great content like for instance ‘Dress like an X Factor judge for less than $200’.
  • The same would be true for silver and gold glitter, something that most people wouldn’t think would be searched for much, but again, building content around those topics would have an audience, particularly during the airing of that programme.

EXAMPLE 2: Project Runway on Lifetime

Project Runway is a reality TV series that pits aspiring fashion designers against each other in weekly tasks where they are challenged to design and make fashion clothing against the clock.

Ironically, Project Runway searches do not correlate positively with fashion clothing searches ,X Factor beats it hands down for those.

Essentially, there is no statistical evidence that someone watching someone else design and create a formal jacket, would then be compelled to search Google for formal jackets with the show playing in the background.

Only two things, beyond the names of the presenter and panel, do correlate strongly and those are mood fabric store (r=0.7653) and atlas hotel new york (r=0.7517). Mood Fabric Store is where contestants source their fabrics from in the show each week and Atlas Hotel in New York is where the series was originally filmed.

From a marketer’s perspective, Mood being featured in the series appears to be great branding for them, even driving real traffic into their site from Google.

If you were Mood’s major competitor you’d want to consider this increased visibility that Mood enjoys and perhaps even consider bidding against their brand with paid search during Project Runway air times.

If you were Mood, you could take advantage of these visits to the site by offering a special Project Runway discount if fabric is bought whilst the episode is on, which ceases once the credits role.

Even better, why not create Project Runway ‘Fashion Designer Kits’ that people could buy, complete with some fabric, some patterns, and basic sewing hardware.

EXAMPLE 3: Sons of Anarchy on FX

Sons of Anarchy is FX’s highest rated series ever, averaging about 5m viewers each week, and follows the lives of a close-knit outlaw motorcycle club. Great TV most defiinitely, but a marketing opportunity for anyone?

Well, if we look at the search terms that correlate with Google searches for the series, we find some of real interest. For instance, we see a correlation between sons of anarchy and cygolite mitycross (r=0.8889).

The mitycross is a bike light for the uninitiated. It’s not a huge surprise though that watching dangerous, high speed motorcycle chases on your screen may remind you that you need a light for your bike.

Slightly less expected is the high correlation between Sons of Anarchy searches and college football searches. For example, all the following are very highly correlated:

sons of anarchy and revolution speed helmets (r=0.8575)
sons of anarchy and adidas football visor (r=0.8720)
sons of anarchy and fbs football teams (r=0.8631)
sons of anarchy and college football replays (r=0.8524)
sons of anarchy and espn acc blog (r=0.8807)
sons of anarchy and varsity gridiron (r=0.8759)
sons of anarchy and revolution speed helmets (r=0.8575)

This correlation with SOA does not hold for any other sport. There seems to be a clear and natural overlap between those that are fans of the series and those that love American football (probably because both are very male oriented, both are tribal in nature, both are violent).

This might be interesting from a marketing perspective from two perspectives:

  • If you were FX, you should be promoting Sons of Anarchy on websites dedicated to American football. The ESPN ACC Blog particularly. This promotion could take the form of display advertising, co-marketing, offering special co-branded discounts for Sons of Anarchy box-sets, etc. Furthermore, advertising SOA on TV during games may also be a viable option.
  • If you were a business or website involved in college/American football, be it as a publisher or a retailer, making an approach to FX to add you or your products to the series (traditional product placement) or to simply advertise on the show or sponsor it, would be as close to perfect consumer targeting as you’re going to find.


Most TV series have these types of both obvious and obscure correlations.

  • Searches for sunglasses correlate to r=0.8104 when Damages is on (Glenn Close’s Patty Hewes wears an iconic pair). 
  • Searches for Grooveshark correlate to a colossal r=0.9158 when Glee is on (people tracking down originals of Glee covers I expect). 
  • Searches for Breaking Bad correlate to r=0.8657 with searches for tattoos (Pinkman’s wrist tattoo being one of many regularly featured). 
  • Searches for Lie To Me correlate to r=0.8886 with searches for microexpression training.

With each of those correlations there are obvious marketing opportunities to exploit by the programme producers themselves and by the specific types of businesses that can exploit that correlation through proactive positioning and targeting. Knowing what people are searching for whilst watching television is a very powerful level of insight to not overlook.

The above examples are just the beginning. With more data, analysis and appreciation for how people think and act, and beyond search to include social and other media feedback, we’ll see the emergence over time of a powerful form of associative marketing, one that understands that people also define their own associations between concepts, and not just driven by contrived product placement.