Creative product placement is about more than just visibility, it’s about crafting meaningful connections with consumers through clever and authentic storytelling. It involves integrating brands or products seamlessly into various forms of media, such as movies, TV shows, or online content, in a way that feels natural and enhances the viewer’s experience rather than disrupting it. When done effectively, it can help brands reach a wider audience and build positive associations with their products.
Product placement is one of the oldest tricks in an advertiser’s toolbox and it is getting an AI makeover now. The AI technology has made it easier to insert digital, realistic-looking versions of products like soda cans and shampoo bottles into content pieces. This strategy has made its way onto the tables and walls of videos on YouTube and TikTok. Content creators and advertisers are grabbing this opportunity to create an additional revenue stream.
AI-generated Product Placement On TikTok
In a recent TikTok video, dancer Melissa Becraft showcased her moves to a Shakira song with a Bubly poster, a brand under PepsiCo, visibly placed on her apartment wall. Meanwhile, the duo HiveMind conversed about bands with an animated can of Starry soda, also a PepsiCo brand, making an appearance on their table. Additionally, a YouTube video from the “AsianBossGirl” podcast prominently featured a table adorned with Garnier hair products.
Why Do It? – The Benefits
In recent years, virtual product placements have been offered by start-ups and streaming services like Amazon Prime and NBC’s Peacock. But lately, there’s been a wave of them on social media, in which brief, animated messages disclosing the sponsorships appear on the videos themselves. This is the work of a start-up called Rembrand.
Rembrand’s executives say their technology could transform product placements, which have often been used to cut production costs on bigger projects and can take weeks, months or sometimes years to negotiate. The ads provide a glimpse into one way AI might shape advertising in the future, especially as marketers look to reach younger viewers who tend to skip or ignore standard ads.
For content creators, it’s a way to make money from advertisers without physically handling products or discussing them. “This feels like I’m making my own genuine content, but it doesn’t scream that I’m making an ad. There’s no obligation for me to talk about it,” said Mellisa Becraft, who made two TikTok videos featuring ‘Bubly‘.
A nearly $23 billion industry, product placements in the US have become increasingly appealing to advertisers, which have grown worried about consumers skipping commercials or the ads before YouTube videos. The shifting viewership to social platforms and advances in technology have opened a new frontier for this.
The Company Behind It
Product placement is now moving beyond getting Google Pixel 8 on “Koffee With Karan” or Coca-Cola cups on the “American Idol” judges’ table or cereal brands into “WB” shows. Based in Palo Alto, California, Rembrand believes it’s at the forefront of these changes. With 42 employees the company raised $14 million in seed funding from the likes of Greycroft and the venture arms of UTA Ventures and L’Oreal since its inception in 2022.
One of its founders, Omar Tawakol spent years in programmatic advertising. He is best known for founding BlueKai — which helped marketers track users’ online behaviour for ad targeting — to selling it to Oracle in 2014. Mr. Tawakol said he saw an opportunity to use AI to insert virtual products in influencer videos and make it a fast and easy ad buy.
How It Works
Rembrand uses a form of generative AI that can “take an existing scene and figure out how to put a product in it,” said Omar. “The product has to look exactly right — Pepsi is not going to be forgiving if you screw with their logo,” he added. The company had to train the laws of physics into the network so that the objects would properly respond to things like light, camera distance and motion.
Rembrand started placements with podcasts on YouTube because they tend to be indoors, and have fixed cameras, a table, and a wall. It then expanded to LinkedIn and TikTok, with Instagram being next. The company is still asking creators like Ms. Becraft to film indoors as they improve the technology. “The things I’m more famous for are dancing outside in the rain and dancing in Times Square,” she said. “They told me that if you do that our technology might have a heart attack.”
These AI-generated product placements are not as subtle as the ones in TV shows. The ‘Starry‘ and ‘Bubly‘ cans wiggle before entering videos, and logos hover above them. The company shared a demo in which a digitized Tide Pen danced onto a podcast host’s shirt and wiped away a stain before vanishing. The company experimented with “what animations were acceptable,” after realizing they could spike attention on the products, said Cory Treffiletti, Chief Marketing Officer, Rembrand.
Creator Society is an agency that works with creators like Mellisa Becraft. Its chief marketing officer, Madison Luscombe said that AI-generated product placement deals could be valuable for “entertainment creators” who are focused on performing, podcasting or playing games, and aren’t necessarily approached by brands as often.
Advertisers use Rembrand’s marketplace to connect with more than 1,000 creators from agencies it works with. Creators upload their videos to its platform and receive the new ones with the product placements within 24 hours. The company also has someone for quality-check and to see how the brand appears. Then creators upload the clips and eventually get paid from the brands based on video views.
The company said it expected to turn into a “self-service platform” by the middle of this year, where any creator or brand could connect and run digital product placement campaigns without Rembrand’s involvement. When asked why YouTube, TikTok and Instagram wouldn’t just offer this option directly to creators on their platforms, Omar Tawakol said he would “love” if they wanted to work with him. “I designed my business to integrate it with platforms,” he said. “We want to be the world’s best at this one very specific problem.”
The future of AI-generated product placements sure seems bright. It won’t be long before they takeover all of the Internet.