NEW YORK: KFC, General Mills and T-Mobile are among a growing number of advertisers using product placement to connect with their target audience in the US.

KFC, the fast-food giant, has utilised this approach in Gary Unmarried, a comedy series broadcast on CBS, with the characters discussing the "secret recipe" of its grilled chicken in one episode last year.

While this scene lasted for less than half a minute, iTVX, which assesses the value of product placement, reported that the exposure was worth a total of $514,259 to the company.

The programme had an audience of 6.6 million people, and as KFC opted to air an ad in a break in the same show, priced at $79,986, it received an overall integration score of 86% from iTVX.

When the quick-service specialist undertook a similar exercise in January this year, the impact was not rated as highly by iTVX, but was still said to be equivalent to $373,888 in media spending.

Nielsen IAG has estimated that brand placements rose by 3% on broadcast TV channels, and by 5% on cable stations, in the US in 2009, with the rate of growth accelerating over the course of the year.

"We've seen several instances where an integration is superior in driving brand recall, while the 30-second spot is more effective in boosting purchase intent," said David Kaplan, its svp, research and product development.

"The greatest impact is usually seen when the two are paired together – the integration often helps to predispose the viewer, making them more receptive to the traditional ad," he added.

Other advertisers pursuing this kind of strategy include Verizon, the telecoms company, which signed a deal with Gossip Girl encompassing everything from providing original content for customers to jointly-branded ads and competitions.

Cover Girl forged a comparable tie-up with America's Next Top Model, and Microsoft's search engine, Bing, has featured in the Vampire Diaries, with both of these shows, like Gossip Girl, being aired on The CW.

Alison Tarrant, the network's evp, integrated sales and marketing, suggested these firms "want to communicate their product attributes in the show, move the story along, and build a relationship with the audience through the content."

Subway, Brita and Wrigley have also all promoted their goods on NBC's The Biggest Loser, with General Mills employing the same platform as part of the Pound for Pound Challenge.

This initiative saw the owner of Cheerios and Betty Crocker donate a pound of food to Feeding America for every pound in weight consumers pledged to lose.

"It's been incredibly powerful. It's absolutely been a catalyst to drive awareness and engagement," John Haugen, General Mills' vp, health and wellness, said.

In the automotive sector, cars made by Hyundai-Kia have appeared in the USA Network's Burn Notice and Psych, while Honda and Chrysler have produced contextualised spots linked to the Golden Globes and annual NHL Winter Classic respectively.

T-Mobile, the telecoms provider, also recently used characters from 90210 and the Vampire Diaries in ads during these shows, in an effort to demonstrate how it could help people connect with one other.

"In the wireless category, there is a lot of heavy ad spending and a lot of consumer confusion about which brand is advertising what features,” Brett Dennis, its director of branded entertainment and media management.

"Our competitors outspend us, so we try to be smarter by trying to capture more targeted audiences," he continued.

"Our contextual spots are meant to augment our traditional '30s' … We try to make them as organic to the content of the shows as possible." 

Data sourced from Brandweek; additional content by Warc staff