If you watch the most recent music video for Spanish-language artist Giovanny Ayala, the Tecate product placement is hard to miss. Open beer cans sit on tables in the foreground of scenes, while striking outdoor ads grace the cityscape backdrops. But none of that was there just hours before the video was set to release.
The brand integration is the work of Mirriad, a company that uses AI computer vision to weave products and background ads seamlessly into TV shows, movies and other video content. In this case, the tech company managed to broker a last-minute deal with the Heineken-owned beer brand and the Los Angeles record studio behind the video.
Mirriad is one of a handful companies championing this kind of postproduction insertion as a new blueprint for dynamic product placement. The ultimate vision is a system in which product placement is sold more like digital advertising—content creators could add or switch out brands to target different audiences or refresh outdated placements where it makes sense.
Mirriad says that production constraints resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic are helping to sell media companies on this new model.
“When [the pandemic] first happened, we had quite a few campaigns in the pipeline that had to get rescheduled,” said Maria Teresa Hernandez, director of brand partnerships at Mirriad. “But as the year progressed, and budgets were reallocated, we definitely started getting more folks just hearing about us, learning about us and wanting to know more, so we hit the ground running going into this year.”
The company’s proprietary method relies on two algorithms. One uses image recognition AI to scan entertainment content for opportune surfaces within the footage to place a product or in-world ad—a tabletop or the side of a building, maybe. The other uses AI to gauge the prevailing emotion and in-story context of a given scene to best match brand with sentiment.
“Let’s just say the client is a cereal brand,” explained Mirriad CEO Stephan Beringer. “We could search for inventory or create the inventory on scenes that are—and I’m just making up something—happy family, breakfast, morning, sunshine, at home. And please, no alcohol. And basically, then the inventory gets clustered that way.”
In Tecate’s case, the beer brand wanted to reach an audience of Mexican-American males, a group considered hard to reach through traditional advertising, according to Hernandez.
Virtual product placement isn’t the only production tech that has gained traction as media producers grapple with how to navigate quarantine limitations. Advertisers have also begun to experiment with deepfake-like AI as a way to remotely cast celebrity spokespeople into commercials without in-person shoots, as well as a cutting-edge special effects technique that involves LED screens and augmented reality.