Avatar’s 3D technology is being credited for revolutionizing the way we watch movies. Its success has been followed by a flurry of announcements about blockbusters-to-be in 3D. While Avatar certainly revolutionized the way we watch movies, might it also revolutionize the way we place products?

BrandChannel, January 14 2010

For years now the product placement practice has been booming. Once generally considered a loose agreement between brands and prop managers, it is now an established business. A-list director Brett Ratner shamelessly boasts about his ambitions to help brands get scene-stealing placements. Even audiences have come to expect them and the term “product placement” is a household word. However, 3D technology poses incredible threats and opportunities for the advertising practice.

One of the key characteristics of 3D, as used in Avatar, is “limited depth of field.” Essentially, this means that the figure onscreen in 3D pops out at the audience while the background appears out of focus. An attempt to focus on the background causes what some call “Avatar h3dache.”

For product placements though, the loss of a clear background means the elimination of countless placement opportunities for a wide range of brands. Cars logos, soda names, box graphics and any number of other brand identifiers will appear to be just a swirl of blurry color. Any attempt to distinguish them will be pointless. What good is a product placement that cannot be seen?

Obviously, the flip side is that 3D focus might allow product placements to really jump out at viewers. Think about E.T.’s legendary Reese’s Pieces not just lined up flatly on the ground but each popping out at every rapt child in the audience. Mmm, delicious exposure.

Brands certainly will balk at paying for placements that will never be seen, but will brands even be willing to supply prop masters with products knowing the small chances of getting a decent placement?

Product placement was already a field of branding with few established norms or ground rules. A move to 3D only promises to shake it up further, with the future as promising as it is foreboding.