When a company decides to sell a product, it will often use advertising to do so. There are two main branches of advertising; these are known as overt, and covert advertising. Covert advertising refers to all forms of advertising that are not clearly intentioned.
Whilst overt advertising previously dominated in terms of advertising a product, many companies are now using covert techniques in order to promote goods and services. There are several different methods that allow companies to advertise covertly.
One method of covert advertising is sponsorship. Sponsorship allows a company to develop a positive association for their product. Companies will usually provide funds for an event/sport or broadcast in exchange for their product to be mentioned.
Sponsorship is used by advertisers for a variety of reasons. Firstly, sponsorship (particularly sustained sponsorship of large annual events, or regular broadcasts) allows a company to become synonymous with the event or program it has sponsored. (e.g. the Flora London Marathon, Embassy Snooker World Championships) This familiarity can become the cornerstone of a company's success. On the other hand, lesser known companies may fail to build a profile for themselves more developed than a consumers' recollection of their name. For this reason, smaller companies tend to avoid sponsorship as a form of advertising.
Secondly, it allows companies to change or adapt their image easily. For example, sponsoring an event such as the Glastonbury festival may help a company adopt the image of that event; in this case, one of youthful exuberance.
The appeal of sponsorship lies in its relative security. The company knows exactly the image they are buying into, whereas you cannot always predict the public's reaction to a campaign of overt advertising.
Similarly, it allows the company to target a particular target audience, which again can prove a difficult area when pursuing an overt campaign.
Another method of covert advertising is product placement. This is one of the fastest growing areas of advertising with companies pouring huge amounts of money into the method. Product placement is the term used for the placement of particular brands in high-profile situations. Companies will pay producers to feature their products in their show, which will then be broadcast to an audience.
It is uncommon for a producer to reject an offer of product placement. This is because (as well as the obvious financial benefits) branded products add realism to productions that may otherwise have lacked validity.
Companies use product placement for a variety of reasons. Firstly it helps to raise the profile of the product in question through mass exposure to an audience. If a film or programme has a particular trademark or famous feature; then a company can tap into this using product placement. For example, James Bond is renowned for state of the cars; therefore, it was a smart move for Jaguar to product place in this area of the film. This will also generate added publicity.
Secondly, the product can 'feed' off the success of the production in which it featured. If this production has a distinctive image or set of connotations, it is possible for product placement to help mould the image of its company.
Some may argue that product placement is too anonymous to have a significant effect on its audience, and is far too discreet to allow a change of image. Even if we do notice the product, are we really inclined to purchase it on the basis of its involvement in a fictional production? Maybe not, but the recent boom in this form of advertising is not without reason, and supports the rather disturbing belief that product placement has an influential effect on our subconscious minds.
Endorsements are another form of covert advertising that (in contrast to those previously discussed) does not involve any money changing hands. Endorsement involves celebrities and other high profile people receiving goods and services free of charge in return for their use in public. With today's celebrity obsessed culture it seems only likely that advertisers should attempt to harness the persuasive power that celebrities hold in society. After David Beckham sported a Mohican hair-cut in 2002, demand for the style rocketed amongst the nation's youth. This gives an indication as to the influence celebrities have on the public.
However, companies wishing to use endorsements must carefully consider their choice of celebrity, and whether their images are compatible-Mike Tyson would be of little use to Ann Summers range of clothing (it's very unlikely he'd agree to it anyway!)
A vast amount of the media is devoted to celebrity, and recent advances in technology have made endorsements an even more enticing prospect for companies. More photographs are being taken of celebrities all the time, and the internet ensures that companies can receive worldwide publicity within minutes.
Companies must also take into account the potential for a celebrity's image to change, inducing a negative effect on the company. If a celebrity is involved in an affair or drugs scandal such as Kate Moss, then it is likely that the company will terminate any agreement between the parties immediately, reducing the risk of 'contaminating' the company image.
'Plugs' are a lesser known covert method but still have an important job to play in the advertisement of many products. Plugs usually involve celebrities attending chat-shows and giving interviews in return for mentioning their new product.
Since most celebrities derive from the music and film industries, plugs usually involve promoting albums, DVDs and film releases. Another advantage of plugs is that they are completely free for the company/personality involved. The celebrity will often make the plug at the end of their interview etc giving them time to make a good impression, and attempt to relate to the audience at which they are aiming their product.
Furthermore, plugs have a much more personal feel than other advertising techniques, making them more persuasive and real to the audience.
Chat-shows such as Parkinson and 'Friday night with Jonathon Ross' often have large audiences and are aired at prime-time on their respective television channels. Plugs therefore represent a rare opportunity to reach a large number of people on regular programming, rather than relying on the rather diluted audience that overt advertising provides.
Finally, tie-ins and public relations provide the concluding examples of covert advertising techniques. Tie-ins involve a link between two companies that attempt to use each-other to further the success of their own product. Often tie-ins take the form of a food company and a film release. For example, Burger King used the much publicised release of the film 'King Kong' to launch a new food product. Both companies will usually have a similar target audience so as to prevent a potentially damaging conflict of audiences.
Tie-ins are usually aimed at children, who by their nature are easily persuaded. A child may see their favourite cartoon character on a bottle of shampoo and use pester power to obtain that brand.
Tie-ins are becoming more and more common, and provide a rare example of companies working together in the harsh and often fiercely competitive world of advertising.
Public relations refers to the manipulation and control of the media in order to ensure the ongoing success of a product.
PR is, on the whole, concerned with building publicity and attention for a product, rather than building a consumer image or opinion for it. PR consultants do this by providing lies, facts, statements, photos and stories to help keep their client in the media. They also organise 'product launches' and invite a variety of interesting/famous people to try and raise as much publicity as possible.
Most large organisations and many celebrities have somebody in charge of PR for them, as media opinion (or lack of opinion) is arguably the most influential factor in determining the success of a product.
In conclusion, companies use a variety of covert advertising techniques in order to sell and promote goods and services. These have varying effect, but it can be argued that some covert techniques, particularly product placement and sponsorship, are becoming just as influential and lucrative as standard overt techniques.