It was 1929 and the American Tobacco Company had a marketing problem: women were not buying cigarettes! It was “ill-mannered” for a lady to smoke in public, but if the Company could get them smoking both indoors and outdoors, it could double their female market.
So what did the American Tobacco Company do about it? Leave it to public relations legend Edward L. Bernays to turn smoking into a movement of power for women.
With deft orchestration and collaboration with his secretary — who became for the day a women’s right influencer and leader of the charge — fashionable women of the era were called to march down the streets of New York City during the Easter Day Parade puffing cigarettes as “an act of emancipation” from tired social norms. Cigarettes would now become their “feminist torches of freedom.”
And it worked. And the coverage by U.S. newspapers of this event was extraordinary.
This was the start of a new tactic in marketing: product integration.
Fast-forward nearly 100 years to today, and you will see that product integration is everywhere!
From TV shows, movies, and music videos. Take Netflix. Most recently, the company received wide media coverage for its product integration strategy throughout its shows and movies.
For example, its popular show Stranger Things has roughly 75 brands that want in. From ice cream to clothing, brand products are being integrated into its next season.
By now, product integration is such a popular tactic that companies feel no need to be coy about it, even though some may say that the awe of this tactic is normally the draw. Regardless, Netflix is able to keep its “commercial free” service while still having advertisements.
One of those products being advertised is New Coke — a product of the 1980s that stayed in the 80s after lackluster sales. Now, though, it’s buying screen time on Stranger Things and taking advantage of the show’s seamless 1980s pop culture references so New Coke can have its big moment again. At the same time, it is being relaunched as a limited-time, get-it-while-you-can product. Only 500,000 cans will be available for us to purchase either through Coca-Cola's website or select vending machines.
From the crowds in a 1929 Easter Day Parade to millions of viewers streaming in from their screens, the means of product integration keep evolving while staying true to its core: when used skillfully to the right audience, it can be a powerful tactic to share your story and grow your brand.