Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

How Product Placement, Social Media, and Fan Engagement Work Magic for ‘American Idol’

The tenth season of American Idol is wrapping up; although it’s mainly about music, there’s a lot you can learn about marketing from the show.

For example, there’s product placement, social media, the marketing of the contestants, and of course the word-of-mouth buzz that Idol gets from the ridiculous tryouts in the beginning of the season (who can forget William Hung “She Bangs” and General Larry Platt with the “Pants on the Ground” song?

The AT&T logo appears on contestants’ call-in-voting numbers.

The AT&T logo appears on contestants’ call-in-voting numbers.

American Idol has always been known for an insane amount of product placement. In March there were 208 occurrences of product placement on American Idol alone. That’s an awful lot of Coca-Cola, Ford and AT&T in one month! For those of you who don’t tune in, here’s a visual: the judges sit with a bright red Coca-Cola cup in front of them during every episode, Ford has at least one commercial during every break (the contestants even make Ford music videos), and the AT&T symbol is displayed during every announcement of the contestants’ call-in-voting numbers.

As excessive as the abuse of product placement is on Idol, it’s hard for me to forget about the brands displayed. So, don’t be afraid to get your business name on products and start placing!

In addition to using embedded advertising, the show also depends on audience engagement. In order for contestants to stay on the show, they rely on America’s vote to keep them on. This year American Idol teamed up with Facebook to allow America to vote using the most popular social network. Prior to this year, voting could only be done by calling or texting. Voting through Facebook has given voters an easier way to cast their votes because they no longer have to hear a busy signal while trying to save their favorite contestant from elimination.

The number of votes American Idol has seen come in this year have way surpassed any years before, and the ease of use is probably a big factor. Putting your business on Facebook will give your customers more access to information they may not have known or used before.

Facebook and Twitter are now integral parts of American Idol voting.

Facebook and Twitter are now integral parts of American Idol voting.

Okay, since the main focus of Idol is the contestants and their music (and some of these contestants are only 16), what exactly can we learn from them about marketing? For one, they rely solely on America to vote and keep them on the show, so how they market themselves to America is very important to their success on the show. All of the contestants have a large social media presence on Twitter, where they tweet about rehearsals, ask the viewers what they should sing, find out how fans thought their performances went, etc. In the beginning of the tenth season, a noticeable correlation between the number of Twitter followers and the contestants’ ranking on the show was seen. The contestants with the most followers were landing in the top spots on the show, and the contestants with the least followers were being voted off or in the bottom three.

The top two contestants this season are both pretty young, and with social media being so big among teenagers, this could be a reason these two contestants have been so popular and received so many votes.

The social media scene has changed the way viewers interact with American Idol (if only social media was around when Idol started, maybe someone could have tweeted Justin and Kelly and told them NOT to make a movie). Seeing such a correlation between social media and Idol shows just how important social media can be to your business.

What other marketing tactics can you learn from American Idol? Are there any other television competitions that you have learned a good business lesson from?

Image Credits


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Jana Quinn

    Love it or hate it, American Idol is a powerhouse. It makes a bazillion dollars every year and just blows away every other show, ratings wise. It’s been running for ten years on essentially the same model (adding features like the Facebook voting that expand the experience rather than limit or change it).

    It’s interesting what you point out about social media involvement with Twitter followers fairly consistently correlating with popularity/votes.

    Twitter is the future, my friends. That harmless-looking little blue bird is going to eat us all and regurgitate us to her young. Or just… you know, help shift marketing paradigm.

  2. JPorretto

    I saw the appeal of this show when it first came out, but 10 years of it?! Do people not get tired of things anymore? I feel like this thing will never die. And as a huge Aerosmith fan, don’t even get me started on Steven Tyler…. *sigh*

    • ASneed

      I do get tired of some things, but never Idol. Each season has different contestants, and if you watch each week, you get to see them grow as performers, and it kind of becomes somewhat of a soap opera. You start rooting for your faves, and you start loving the jokes between Ryan and the judges, etc. It entertains me very much each and every week! =)

      Yes Jeff, Idol has me hooked! I have been watching the past 4 seasons each and every week it’s on, and I watched the first two seasons a little bit. It has gotten better each year I think.

      I am rooting for Scotty to win! Yay Scotty! =)

    • ASneed

      Steven Tyler cracks me up every week! He says some of the funniest things! I think he is really rooting for these young singers, and he gives them positive feedback each week! I think he’s an awesome Idol judge. I hope he sticks around for another season at least!

  3. Scooby DOO!

    The product placement that annoyed me more than any was that of Microsoft and their video conferencing. I did laugh my A$$ off when bet that Haley (grr) would call her dad since no one else in the world likes her. Maybe feels BAD for her, yes, but that’s about all. Here’s to the sympathy vote.

    • ASneed

      I liked Haley a lot, and these last couple performances, I actually liked her more than Lauren. I was hoping for a Haley vs Scotty finale. I thought it was really cool that she got to perform with her dad. =)

  4. ASneed

    Awesome blog Lauren! =) I cannot wait for Idol tonight!!!!

    American Idol is a great example of product placement, social media, and different kinds of marketing! The social media one is especially important for me, because it makes it so much easier to vote, like you mentioned. I have voted like crazy almost every week this season!

    And the marketing by Ford has been awesome! I honestly believe that partnering with American Idol helped saved them from bankruptcy like the other American car companies. Millions and millions of people watch Idol every week and see the Ford ads, and contestant commercials. I think these make Ford seem more modern and fun, which helps young people to want to buy Fords instead of foreign cars. =)

    I really enjoyed re-living the famous American Idol videos too! Well done Lauren. And yay for Idol!!!

    • LK

      I agree, Ford does do a good job of marketing through Idol. As excessive as Idol’s product placement is, Ford does a good job of making it play into the show. Music videos with Ford cars in them can go with a show about people’s singing ability, therefore, I dont get as annoyed by them. The Coca-Cola logo placed in every inch of available space.. annoying and unrelated.

  5. Jill Tooley

    I’ve only watched the first and second seasons, when people had to pick up their phones to vote for their favorites. (Back in MY day…) It would have been so much easier to vote online, and it’s about time they started doing that. Although, do you think that online votes would be less accurate for any reason? People take this show very seriously and it seems like they’d find a way to game the system with this!

    It makes total sense that the contestants with popular Twitter accounts would have an advantage, especially if they’re interacting with their adoring fans. That way, they’d have more opportunities to win over their audience instead of relying solely on their performances each week. If the fans are happy, then their loyalty increases and they vote like it’s going out of style. It’s perfect!

    The product placement has always been obvious to me, but it has increased substantially if what you’re saying is true. I mean, 208 occurrences? Man…it boggles my mind how they’d even squeeze that many in!

  6. Joseph Giorgi

    Great post, Lauren! I’ve never watched a full episode of American Idol, but I do understand its mass appeal. Still, it’s not a bandwagon I plan on joining anytime soon.

    In any case, you brought some very interesting points to light in this post. I had NO IDEA that the show was so overwrought with product placement. Seriously, Coca-Cola for the judges? A Ford commercial during every break? That’s pretty excessive!

    • LK

      Yea Coca-Cola is everywhere on the show, I want to say it was last year, or the year before, that they had a “Coca-Cola Lounge”. Picture a bright red couch in a room with Coca Cola logos all over it, where Ryan Seacrest sat and interviewed all the contestants.. it was really excessive!!

      This year though I think they changed it up for a couple of episodes and had Vitamin Water (or whichever vita-water drink Coca-Cola makes) instead of Coca-Cola.

      • ASneed

        Besides the classic red Coca Cola cups for the judges, I haven’t noticed much else….I guess I’m just really used to it by now, lol.

        I’m going to watch for it tonight though. I don’t get annoyed by any of the advertising really, probably because I love Idol so much, and because I have a dvr and can skip the commercials. But also our whole world is being taken over by these giant companies, not just American Idol. Think of: US Cellular Field, The Allstate Arena, etc.

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