Expert's Opinion

Gift Suites v. Direct Product Placement

By Bob Olejar, Social Hill | April 13, 2012

Make fans of a celebrity into fans of your brand, says Bob Olejar of Social Hill.

The gifting suite business is dying, while at the same time the power of celebrity association is growing. The business of setting up tables in a hotel conference room and giving hundreds of products away to celebrities is being phased out. Why? Because it is being replaced with Direct Product Placement.

Brand managers want to gain customer acceptance. The fastest way to build a large fan base for a brand is to associate it with a celebrity who already has a large fan base.The goal is simple: make fans of the celebrity into fans of your brand.This goal has been in place for over 120 years and many different strategies have been implemented to achieve it along the way.

In the early years of magazines and cinema, the world got a glimpse of the pure marketing power of celebrity association. Fashions worn by socialites in magazines and film would receive a huge boost in sales as a result of mass media exposure.Savvy brand managers of the day noticed this trend and began working every possibility to get celebrities to wear their products in the media.One of the more famous stories is that of the trench coat worn by Humphrey Bogart in the film Casablanca. Before the film the trench coat was a primarily military issue overcoat rarely worn by the general public. After the film, the trench coat became the most popular style of overcoat, and has remained on top of the sales charts for the past 70 years.A once relatively small brand called “Burberry” has done quite well as a result.

Sometimes magazines, film and television product placement was proving to be too complicated and/or time consuming for brand managers. Some brand managers with extra marketing dollars came up with a simpler solution, the paid endorsement. Paid endorsements have been around for a very long time, but became mainstream in the 1950’s and peaked in the 1990’s.This strategy was to hire a celebrity with a huge fan base and feature them in advertisements for a brand. This was essentially paid product placement with a new combination of purchased ad space and purchased endorsement.Once again the goal of celebrity association worked.

Paid endorsements proved to be too expensive for many brands and the industry was looking for new options to place products with celebrities at a lower cost. The next celebrity association strategy was the gift suite. The concept is simple: Give celebrities free products in hope that they will be seen wearing it in public, and thus celebrity association will be created. Hundreds of brand managers have tried this seemingly logical strategy. Hundreds try it every year. Almost none of them try it more than once.In theory it works, in reality it fails. Gift suites fail at their very fundamental structure. To create celebrity association the fans of a celebrity must learn of the connection between a celebrity and a brand. Gift suites give things away to celebrities and then it is over. The celebrities don’t wear them on television or in films. They don’t give quotes to say how much they love the products. Even when they take pictures it looks like a television game show or a tradeshow booth. The pictures are not believable and the fans of the celebrity have no reason to believe the celebrity likes the brand so there is no value. Brand managers do not like marketing strategies which have no value. Gift suites are dying because they don’t work.

The gift suite is being replaced by direct product placement. This is the next mega-trend in celebrity marketing. Direct product placement starts with the same principles as a gift suite, giving a product to a celebrity for free, but ends with marketing value. The direct celebrity product placement business model involves gifting the celebrity products only if the celebrity likes the product and is willing to be photographed with it. This photograph is not a paid endorsement, but rather an implied endorsement. It cannot be used in a paid advertisement, but can be used in press releases, newsletters and social media.Direct product placement is putting the product directly on the celebrity and then following it up with either a quote or a photo to generate value for the brand. It is more honest than an advertisement and more effective with the public.

Celebrity association remains the single most powerful way to build a brand. The strategies have evolved over the years and the current mega-trend is direct product placement.

About the Company
Social Hill was formed as a solution to a true business problem. The gifting industry had lost its focus as being a business and was lost in a sea of parties and false promises by event planners. By taking an elite team of legitimate business-minded people to form a company focused on the true business goals of companies, Social Hill was born. From the first day of its first suite, Social Hill has led the gifting industry.
More info: Bob Olejar,

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