From “House of Cards” to “Stranger Things”: With advertising, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon manipulate their audience – almost unnoticed.
Everybody watching the Netflix horror series Stranger Things knows that the favorite food of the mysterious main character Eleven are finished wafers of the brand Eggo. Not only because the girl constantly feeds the things, the waffles also play a major role in several scenes and give the viewer at the end of the first season an indication of eleven serial fate. Even in the mobile game to the series you have to collect the waffles, and also on the culinary preferences of other characters, the viewer is unusually well informed: The high school beau Steve Harrington loves fast food of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as in the first episode of the second season reveals. An entire scene is built around a table full of well-visible cups and cardboard pails of the restaurant chain. “I love KFC,” says Steve Harrington and even says in the English language version even the official advertising slogan: “It's finger lickin 'good.”
Streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video do not show commercials like linear television, but they're not ad-free. A large part of the in-house productions of the streaming services as well as the purchased content contains product placements. At Netflix it should be about three quarters, at Amazon almost all.
Even in the science-fiction series “The Expanse”, whose narrated world has little to do with the present, a few Fedex containers were housed. Often the clothes of the figures look conspicuous from the collection of a fashion discounter. Fans of the fantasy series “Game of Thrones” are currently discussing whether a Starbuck's coffee mug, which accidentally left off on the set, could be a surreptitious advertising. And Frank Underwood of the Netflix series “House of Cards” regularly played real computer games and also talked about it with other series characters when he was not training with his Waterrower, a rowing machine with a real water tank. Allegedly, the sales figures of the training device went up steeply at the start of each new season of the series.
Currently fans of “Game of Thrones” are discussing a Starbucks coffee mug
Product placement is a billion dollar market. Also because on linear television the important target group of under-50s with above-average income is difficult to achieve. These often have subscriptions for streaming services and no TV anymore. That's why there are now agencies like Saint Elmo's that specialize in housing products in digital entertainment formats. The company's homepage states: “Your advertising messages are not reaching the target audience Stop advertising – get started with content marketing! Your ads are more effective if they are not perceived as such, but as exciting, useful ones , contemporary content, then it works with the target audience. ” This often works very well – the series producers have little inhibition to use real existing waffles as pleading elements or an advertising slogan as a punchline.
Problems could only exist with German law. Because for the streaming services here the Rundfunkstaatsvertrag is used, after which product placements are permissible, but at the beginning of the transmission must be marked. Unauthorized surreptitious advertising is when the product placement is not marked or “if it takes place for consideration or a similar consideration”. So, are Elevens Eggos and Steve Harrington's Chicken Legs surreptitious? Netflix has hinted at product placement in front of many of its formats as required by the Broadcasting Agreement.
The new guidelines for audiovisual media adopted by the European Parliament in 2018 but not yet implemented have extended the existing provisions on the handling of advertising to streaming services. Especially children should be better protected from advertising. Product placements are still allowed under the new guidelines if they are labeled appropriately and the product is not highlighted.
Until the guidelines were converted into national law, the State Broadcasting Treaty, which was already applied in one case, applies: The Bavarian State Central for New Media (BLM) had Amazon Prime Video at the beginning of the year to provide an episode of the eighth season of “Pastewka” prohibited on suspicion of surreptitious advertising. The episode played to a large extent in a media market. The production company Brainpool denied a product placement, the electronics market had been leased. Media Markt also denied booking a product placement. The case has now been resolved out of court: Amazon shows a new cut version of the episode, with the BLM agrees.
And of course there's the free mobile game until the next season starts
However, product placement and surreptitious advertising is not just a legal issue. Embedding products and linking different content and media is simply the logic of digital content platforms. The free mobile game for “Stranger Things” is not just a nice pastime until the next season, but also expands the field of possible advertising content and links viewers to the digital infrastructure of companies. If only because the game is likely to be played on a device that also has the Netflix app installed. The game is not far from the next series marathon. For a company like Amazon, product placement in its Prime Video content offers even more options than just customer retention: The Internet store, which is still primarily Amazon, is just a few clicks away.
If products can be placed in this way, would not political influence on the content of streaming services be conceivable? Can not ideologies be integrated into fictional content in the same way, or more subtly? This is not a problem for the big streaming services, as they are resisting overly clear political positions in order to attract as many viewers as possible. But in social networks, political messages – often wrapped in seemingly harmless parodies or memes – have become a big problem in combination with the tendency of scandalizing algorithms.
There are websites like Infowars that have early recognized these possibilities in the digital space and sell the right survival gear for their lurid catastrophic news. The product placement shows which manipulation power is inherent in the digital media. Alone with the paragraphs of the Broadcasting Treaty can not get this under control.
. (tagsToTranslate) TV (s) Amazon (t) Netflix (t) Product Placement (t) Media (t) Süddeutsche Zeitung (t) SZ