Posted by Neil Bennett 07 May 2014
How ads will now be intruding into your films, TV shows and music videos
Technology from a company called Mirriad is attempting to do for product placement what the web did for advertising, automating the process of placing ads into content in a way that can be changed based on time, location and even a profile of who’s watching (i.e. you). But like much web advertising, the end results are poorly executed to the point of being crass and intrusive.
The tech behind Mirriad is really quite impressive. It can insert a variety of flat still or moving elements into footage: putting posters on walls, changing what’s on billboards, putting ads on TV screens and even wrapping soft drink labels around cans to turn Coke into Pepsi (or vice-versa). These are tracked to the motion of a scene so that they are integrated into the world of the footage, and exist in 3D space so people and objects can pass in front of them. But, at least in the current generation of Mirriad’s tech, they’re still more intrusive than a pop-up ad.
The problem here is that integrating – or compositing, as the pros call it – elements into a scene is not something that can be done seamlessly in an automated fashion. There’s a reason why for even the simplest advertising job, a visual effects professional can spend a lot of time in software like Adobe After Effects or The Foundry Nuke tracking and tweaking until an element is composited perfectly (visual effects being what everyone else calls special effects when it’s performed on a computer – the film/TV industry reserves the term special effects for prosthetics, puppets and things that are really blown up). The human brain is very good at spotting errors in compositing, where lighting doesn’t match or the seams are showing, and this can throw you out being immersed in a film, programme or music video, spoiling your enjoyment.
So while Mirriad’s tech is an achievement from a purely technical perspective, for the viewer, brands and ads in Mirriad’s own demo videos appear to have been inserted with all of the skill and polish of the visual effects work on the first series of Lost Girl. The tech’s first appearance in the ‘real world’ – sticking a Levi’s billboard into Aloe Blacc’s new music video Lift Your Spirit (embedded at the top of this article) as the first taste of a new deal between sees ads and brands pasted into music videos on Vevo – is better composited (unsurprising as a commercial showcase for the tech), but suffers from a different problem that’s not technical so much as inherent in digital advertising. It’s a flipping eyesore.
Even if you hadn’t seen the ‘before and after’ image below, you'd be pretty certain that the Levis branding was an ad. Nothing that in-your-face could be anything but.
Above: Before Mirriad's ad insertion (left), and after (right), if you hadn't already guessed.
I'm not against brands being part of TV shows and films and games and whatever – they're part of real life and replacing them with made-up brands (eg Churchills' beer in the Queen Vic) can muck with your suspension of disbelief as much as Levis huge poster in Lift Your Spirit. But this is ugly, and also ineffective.
If brands want you to think they're cool by being subconsciously associated with music acts, TV shows and films, they have to be subtle about it. But then subtle is difficult when you're working with a video that might be watched on a 4- or 5-inch mobile phone screen. I can easily imagine the Aloe Blacc video starting with subtle insertion, which then gets a serious case of the "make the logo bigger" as someone in the process demands more and more visibility.
Maybe with time we'll see more subtle use of tech like this – and better compositing – but until then it's going to be another overly intrusive form of advertising that we'll get sick of.