Ninety seconds into the video for Darius Rucker’s 2012 hit “True Believers,” we see the former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman standing in front of a billboard for Grand Marnier liqueur. It’s a pretty benign-looking shot, until you realize that the billboard never actually existed – it was added digitally earlier this year, roughly two years after the video first aired.
Welcome to the world of retroactive product placement. The practice of digitally inserting new ads into old content has existed in TV for a few years. But it’s new to music videos, thanks to a deal that Universal Music Group entered into with media-tech company Mirriad and French advertising firm Havas.
As first reported in Financial Times, the deal will integrate brands in music videos in ways unheard of even five years ago. Unlike a traditional product placement deal — in which a brand would work with the record label and artist and insert their product into the video during its production — retroactive product placement (a.k.a. native in-video advertising) functions more like traditional advertising. The ads inserted into each video have a finite lifespan and can be removed or replaced instantly. Companies may also localize ads, meaning a person in New York may see a Pepsi billboard at the same time someone in London sees an ad for McDonald’s.
“It works in exactly the same way as you would plan a media campaign for a brand around music videos,” Ted Mico, Mirriad’s chief operating officer, tells Rolling Stone. “But instead of running pre-roll, now you’d buy spots inside the video.” Retroactive placement, Mico says, is necessary because it’s getting difficult to make viewers notice ads. “We’re in the business of helping creatives make money out of the things they’ve already made,” says Mico. “Technology is allowing people to skip ads in all formats.”
“We know that millenials have different behaviors: 35 percent of them don’t watch broadcast TV anymore and 90 percent of those who watch replay TV are skipping ads,” adds Dominique Delport, global managing director for Havas. “We do think that quality video inventory is still an issue and only a small part of all of YouTube is advertiser-friendly. Creating engagement through brand presence within the content itself is incredibly relevant.”
Rucker, Far East Movement and Avicii are among the first musicians to implement the new technology, though more than two dozen Universal artists across all genres have expressed interest in participating. “If advertising starts to dry up, so does the content,” says Mico. “We’re tough to miss because we’re in the content.”
Mirriad, whose executives come from the music industry (Mico worked with Jimmy Iovine on an early iteration of Beats Music), began in 2008 and spent three years developing the technology to enable the practice. Employing a team of computer vision scientists, the company uses new technology to scan large troves of video to find spaces where advertising could fit. Humans are then brought in to check context to ensure, say, an ad for Jack Daniel’s doesn’t appear in a new Raffi video.
In May, the company entered into an agreement with Vevo to use the technology in videos for the first time, displaying a Levi’s ad in the background of Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” from 2013’s Lift Your Spirit. “We applaud Vevo and Mirriad for creating an innovative approach to connecting brands with targeted audiences via premium content,” Stacy Doren, Head of Levi’s Marketing for the Americas, said in a statement at the time.
Representatives for Rucker, Far East Movement and Aloe Blacc all declined to comment.
The ad lasted 30 days and laid the groundwork for Mirriad’s bigger deal with Universal and Havas. Last year, Havas launched SiliWood, a Los Angeles-based research center that aims to, as the company noted in a press release, “support the growing interest of brands and agencies in potential industry developments generated by the crossover between the media industry and Hollywood.” It was here where the company first linked up with Mirriad, who had already been in negotiations with Universal. “It was a marriage a trois,” says Delport.