Branded Entertainment

🔍🎬 Let’s take a peek into the hidden secrets of the advertising industry together! How does brand positioning change consumer behaviour? Why does a product become part of your favourite movie or even a character in it, and how does this influence your choices? 🎥✨Journey with me in the exciting world where products come to life not only on the shelves but also on the screen and become an integral part of your everyday life!

The art of hidden advertising and mysterious subliminal messages

For some time now, the advertising industry has been experiencing a paradigm shift, where traditional direct advertising is being replaced by a more subtle – less direct, but more effective – method: brand placement.

But why is this technology so successful and how is it changing consumer behaviour?

Get ready for an exciting journey into the world of brand positioning, where products come to life on the screen and become an integral part of our everyday lives! They influence our choices, our habits, our culture.

In fact, it’s my favourite field, which is what made me fall in love with this profession.

The Psychology of Product Placement

Just think how different the experience is when a character in your favourite TV show consumes a well-known brand of drink (regularly, for seasons) than when you see the same product in an advertisement for a few seconds. The movie doesn’t tell you to buy it, the advertising clearly does. OK, in the movie the goal is the same, but you can feel the difference.

The psychology of brand placement is precisely this: products become part of the story, so they enter our subconscious more naturally, unnoticed, and we like them (get used to them). You find yourself wanting to go to Starbucks, you ask for a cosmopolitan at the nightclub, and even when you have to buy white shoes for your wedding, for some reason you think of Jimmy Choo. Even if you’ve never been to a Jimmy Choo store, somehow you feel the call that this brand, those shoes are okay, they’re worthy of the event and you’ll be a cool woman that day.

For example, remember when Marty McFly wore a pair of Nike shoes in the movie “Back to the Future”? First the original version and then the future version, which you can now buy around. For $10,000.

Well, it was no accident. As in neither case is it. Brands pay a lot of money for this, and my God how worth it!

Brand positioning allows brands to present their products in a positive and memorable context, which increases the attractiveness of the product in the long term.

But why is this?

Is it because movies and series can create an emotional bond between viewers and products that a simple advertisement never could? Okay, rhetorical question, but we need the effect! 😉

A brief overview of the history of marketing

The world of marketing has undergone significant changes in recent decades. In the middle of 20th century advertising was still very direct in its attempts to convince consumers of the benefits of products. However, the 1990s saw an increasing focus on branding, where brands tried to develop an emotional connection with consumers. And in the 2000s, digital marketing emerged, opening up a whole new world of opportunities for brands.

Characteristics of successful brand placement

  1. Integration into the story: the product should fit organically into the story without seeming forced. For example, the Wilson ball in the movie “The Outcast” was not just a ball, but a character, a friend for Tom Hanks. It helped him to survive, to not give up, to not be so lonely and when he lost it (him), it was like losing a family member. But in what other movies have we seen such a strong integration? Just think of the Reese’s Pieces candies in “E.T.” or the Coca-Cola brand in many movies and TV series!
  2. Long life: branding has no expiry date. Movies and TV series remain popular for years, decades, so the brands they feature can remain in the public consciousness for a long time. We can even talk about buildings – how many people who can afford, have booked a room at the Plaza Hotel in New York just to have a “Kevin experience” with cheese pizza and limousine? (yes, I looked it up, unfortunately you have to sleep there to buy this experience, not just stand at the entrance waiting for the program…) But which brands have really been able to take advantage of this longevity? Just think of the Rolex watches in the “James Bond” movies or the Mercedes-Benz cars in “Jurassic Park”! In the same way, many years after the first season of “Sex and the City”, Manolo Blahnik has been burned into our consciousness ever since.
  3. Building positive relationships: brand positioning allows brands to build positive emotions and relationships with consumers. For example, in the “Transformers” movies, the Chevrolet Camaro (Bumblebee) is portrayed as a heroic, brave character, which paints a positive image of the brand. But which other brands have been able to develop such positive relationships? There are Apple products in the “Modern Family” series, or Budweiser beer in the “Friends” series.

The list is endless, so next time you’re watching your favourite movie, look out for these brands.

Now let’s take a deep jump, there’s a more refined level to this.

Subliminal messages: Myth or Reality?

Subliminal messages, i.e. messages that are below the threshold of conscious perception and act directly on the subconscious, have been the subject of much debate and controversy over the years. It is a very exciting topic, but also a divisive one.

These messages, sent to us during our conscious perception, also play a big role in brand positioning. Because they are so subtly embedded in advertisements and movies that we don’t even notice them, yet they affect us.

The use of subliminal messages is not new. In the 1950s, James Vicary carried out an experiment where he flashed the messages “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Eat Popcorn” in a movie. Although he later admitted that the whole experiment was a sham and did not actually happen, let alone multiply the revenues in the buffet, the issue of these hidden messages (codes) still generates much debate today. It could be true, it could be an urban legend. Who knows, in any case, it has started to be used by giant companies.

Many people believe that these messages can, and regularly do, influence our subconscious minds and therefore our consumer choices.

So there are those who say that giant corporations don’t use this influence (manipulation) technique, so I did some research just to refute that. Because I like it that way. 😊

The Food Network and McDonald’s

The Food Network (legal name Television Food Network) is an American satellite and cable television channel. Its programming includes food and cooking programmes and regular episodic programmes.

McDonalds Subliminal (advert) on Food Network

In 2007, the Food Network noticed a flash of the McDonald’s logo during the popular Iron Chef show.

Why it doesn’t work: here’s a perfect example that’s too obvious.

In this case, there was no attempt at concealment, and it didn’t help that the flash was completely connected to what was on the air.

Was this really an attempt to send subliminal messages? Apparently so, but McDonald’s and the Food Network both claimed that the message was a mistake. So, by complete coincidence, during the cooking show, the McDonald’s logo appeared on a perfectly sharp red background and covered the entire TV screen.


KFC’s Dollar Snacker

This ad had to be slowed down a lot to get noticed, but once you do it, you can’t help but notice. KFC also received negative attention in 2008 when it aired a commercial for its Dollar Snacker, which featured a green dollar in the salad.

Why it doesn’t work: first, it’s sloppy. Secondly, it is a dollar banknote. No one needs reminding that the ultimate goal of KFC is forcing us to spend money there. And it’s pretty lame, isn’t it? It could be more elegant.

Husker Du

You probably don’t remember the Husker Du board game. This may be due to their subliminal advertising scandal.

In 1973, the company aired commercials featuring a series of frames that read, “Get it”. The manufacturer has admitted that it inserted the message deliberately.

Why it doesn’t work: again, sly. Manipulative.

And like the McDonald’s ad, it was all too obvious.

Burger King

In 2009, Burger King launched an advertising campaign to promote its new seven-inch burger, which included a piece of beef patty, cheese, sauteed onions and steak sauce. The ad shows a surprised-looking woman, mouth agape, facing the product. And the subtitle can be ambiguous, you don’t have to try too hard to see it for what it is.

Why it doesn’t work: first of all, targeting is anything but elegant. For an advertisement that is trying to sell a sandwich and is full of sexual metaphors – there was no need to include this type of imagery, especially for a product that has nothing to do with sex.


Wendy’s updated its logo in 2013, for the first time since 1983. Although it still contained many of the same elements as the original, the new logo attempted to create a positive mental image in the minds of consumers by incorporating the word “MOM” into Wendy’s frilly collar.

Why it doesn’t work: few people think of mums’ delicious home cooking when they visit a national fast food chain like Wendy’s. I suppose when you go out for a burger, you’re not craving your mother’s stew, same here.

2000 USA Presidential election

Now… that’s a more serious issue. We are in the 2000 Gore vs Bush presidential election. The year a politician’s team decided to use another manipulation technique in their marketing.

In one George W. Bush campaign ad, his team used subliminal messages and displayed the word “RATS” more prominently than the other words by flashing the word “Bureucrats” on the screen, which could have led voters to believe that bureaucrats were equal to …. Well, there is such a thing! Obviously this was also completely a coincidence.

2000 George W. Bush for President TV ad – RATS

Speaking about America and politics, let me share Kennedy’s campaign music from 1959. Performed by no less a talent than Frank Sinatra. Vote for Kennedy!

Can you imagine that in Hungary Presser is composing and performing music for campaign? Of course not, the culture is different. But in the US, the land of the individualist, it is so much more tolerable and can work. I admit that there are many people are against it, but I would be happy if we could globalise Europe enough to allow it. More smiling people on the streets, for sure. Coded advertising here and there.

I think it was very well done. Let’s say Sinatra performed what it could be like.

Frank Sinatra – “High Hopes” with Jack Kennedy (1960)

Subliminal advertising correctly

This is how people should feel about subliminal advertising: they are clever. They are brilliant.

Commercials that make viewers feel that they have discovered the hidden message. They should feel a bit proud and even get a bit of pleasure during the advertising.

It should never feel like a brainwashing experiment. People don’t want to be fooled, but they want to get in on the joke/game.

This means that you need to strike a fine balance when trying to implement this advertising technique.

Here’s what please don’t do: flash short pictures or words. First of all, it doesn’t really work. And beyond that, people don’t really like it.

What you should do is: play with images and optical illusions.

The great thing about these hidden messages is that, if done right, they can be a big hit and lead to a lot of memorable advertising, and also to impressions and revenue.

Before we go any further, if you’ve seen more than one one time the movie of Fight Club, you’ve probably noticed Tyler’s flashes. Now there is a place for flashes of images, but only because they are part of the context. Because Tyler is actually a part of a split personality, so he’s there, even if not always conspicuously. We love it anyway!

Here are some examples of subliminal advertising done right.

Pepsi Vs. Coca

Cool, and effective.

Pepsi was the first to show the ad, highlighting the “shock” you feel when you get a Coca-Cola when you really wanted a Pepsi.

Coca-Cola’s response was perhaps even better, using the caped Coca-Cola as the real hero of the story.

Why it works: it works so well because the two classic competitors both have the ability to cast consumers in a positive light with their product – while casting a clear shadow over the competitor.

It’s designed to make you feel something without explaining why, and that’s exactly what it does.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Well, you can say a lot of things about Disney, but you can’t say that they didn’t do their best to get coded messages to the audience.

Sure, some people think they’re just imaginations, like the SEX inscription from stars in the sky in Aladdin or the Masonic, alchemical, and witchcraft symbols in the City of Mysteries, but some of them are pretty obvious, so. Some examples of the latter are:

But before I get banned from social media, I’ll close this train of thought, back to the pirates.

So Disney has long been accused of hiding subliminal messages in their movies.

Well, this may be the best (and cleanest) of all.

Although it’s not entirely obvious, Disney has adapted the well-known skull and crossbones logo to more closely resemble their iconic Mickey Mouse logo.

Why it works: people love Mickey Mouse. They have fun in the world of Disney. Light, edible, but not a Grimm line.

Whether or not Disney intended to draw such a close resemblance, the similarity is undeniable. And honestly, did you know we were talking about a Disney movie, at all? Now you know. Mickey Mouse helped with this too.

The world of brand positioning and hidden messages is an exciting and diverse field where marketing and psychology meet. Movies and series not only entertain us, but also open up a new dimension for brands to connect with consumers. We can expect to see more innovative and creative ways of doing this in the future, as brands continue to look for new ways to reach and persuade consumers.

If only because consumers tend to burn out, close pop-up windows immediately, subscribe to YouTube premium, tend not to watch TV with long commercials, prefer Netflix… and what’s the rule of thumb? You have to be where your target audience is. If they go somewhere else, you have to go too, but you also have to adapt to the new platforms you choose.

After all, the question of brand positioning and hidden messages is not just a marketing strategy, but also a deeper, psychological question that seeks answers to how we can influence and shape consumer behaviour in the 21st century.

Oh, and yes, I got married in Jimmy Choo and it was well after the wedding that I realised why I had made this big commitment and blindly ordered without ever once having been in their store or seen it on any of my friends. (Sex and the City – Pain & Gain – 50 Shades of Grey… and that was enough to make an impulsively decision with a good taste). It’s crazy! And the upsell was also there, because it shouldn’t depend on being engraved in the soles.