This Britney Spears Video is an Ad -- Can You Tell?

Last Updated May 5, 2011 7:41 AM EDT

Check out the latest Britney Spears video. Notice anything peculiar about it?

What's with that site, PlentyofFish.com that keeps popping up? (A dating service, if you must know.)

Turns out the mention was bought and paid for.

You've probably heard about product placements on TV or film, where advertisers pay a production company to integrate their merchandise into the script. FedEx in the Tom Hanks film Cast Away and Subway in the comedy Happy Gilmore are just two well-known examples. Often, the companies are more than asides â€" they're central to the plot.

It should come as absolutely, then, that product placements aren't limited to the visual medium.

The Kluger Agency, which worked on the Spears video, will place your product in a song for a fee that ranges between $75,000 to "over seven figures," according to its founder and CEO, Adam Kluger. He connects advertisers like Cadillac and Penthouse with A-listers such as Lady Gaga and T-Payne, helping them weave product mentions into their songs.

He also brokers deals between advertisers and artists to write music video treatments around the brands and products instead of trying to squeeze the products into an existing storyline -- in other words, seamless integration.

But do customers know they're watching an ad? Kluger told me that between a quarter to a third of the audiences are aware they're watching a musical product placement.

"It depends on what type of artist it is," he says. "For someone like a Justin Bieber, his audience isn't really aware yet. A group like Lady Antebellum, which has a more mature audience is better versed in these types of things, would be more aware."

Musical product placement is a clever idea, just one of many that are blurring the lines between traditional advertising and the next big thing. Your company may already be participating in something like this, or may be considering it.

But at what point to you tell audiences that you're using a non-traditional way of reaching them with your message?

Is it acceptable to let more than half of an artist's audience believe they're listening an artist who was inspired by a product, as opposed to compensated by the company that makes it? These are legitimate questions and they aren't easy to answer.

Britney's video just wouldn't look right with a disclaimer scrolling at the bottom of the screen: "THIS VIDEO WAS PAID FOR BY PLENTYOFFISH.COM." So do you just let it slide? Or do you let her listeners figure it out for themselves?

I'm trying to see the upside to nondisclosure, from a customer's point of view. Maybe you can help me.


Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
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Photo: loveyousave/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.