Product placements may soon be added to classic FILMS: Scientists develop technology to add subtle ads to blockbusters including Casablanca and The Great Escape

  • UK tech company Mirriad is inserting modern adverts to old films and TV shows
  • Hollywood classics could be regularly updated on streaming sites with new ads
  • Streaming services like Netflix could get on board for an extra source of revenue

A UK technology company is inserting customised product placement into films and TV shows – even those that were originally released decades ago. 

London-based firm Mirriad inserts products or signage, like a branded beer bottle on a table to a clothing advert on a giant billboard, into streaming content.

The firm uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse films and TV episodes for space where the ads or objects can be subtly inserted. 

It means old Hollywood classics like Casablanca or The Great Escape could soon appear on streaming services with the newest ads in the background, like a new Apple smartphone or the latest McDonald’s whopper. 

Streaming services including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video could be temped by large offers from companies to insert their ads to content, to accompany the subscription fees from its userbase. 

Mirriad’s technology could even allow different ads to be seen by different people, based on their internet search history, just like targeted ads on Facebook.    

Mirriad, which calls itself a ‘computer vision and AI-powered platform company’, came up with the tech after previously making special effects for films. 

The company used its experience to make inserted ads look as realistic as possible – so viewers would never know they weren’t present in the original shoot. 

In China, Mirriad-inserted ads have now been seen by more than 100 million viewers on video-streaming website Tencent Video. 

‘The technology can “read” an image – it understands the depth, the motion, the fabric, anything,’ Mirriad chief executive Stephan Beringer told the BBC. 

‘So you can introduce new images that basically the human eye does not realise has been done after the fact, after the production.’ 

MailOnline’s interpretation of how a scene from The Great Escape – starring Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts – would look before and after an ad for a Samsung smartphone has been digitally inserted

British-American movie producer John C Crissey III said he had ‘mixed ideas on remastering classic films’ but admitted that Mirriad’s work is ‘still very exciting to see’.

Meanwhile, film critic Anne Billson told the BBC that digital product placement raises legal issues while compromising artistic integrity.

‘I would be interested in finding out about the legal angle vis-à-vis digital reworking of a copyrighted work, or whether the advertisers would have to buy the film before they tampered with it,’ she said.

‘It also calls into question the role of the production designer, who has put a lot of thought into the look of something, only for some random advertiser to come along at a later date and spoil it with changes.’  


This image shows a scene from a Chinese TV show, with a substantial blank space top left ideal for hosting an ad. Mirriad inserted a sign advertising Coca Cola 

Mirriad has also previously worked with Samsung Electronics and China’s video site Youku, which is a subsidiary of Chinese internet giant Alibaba. 

In the show ‘Ode to Joy’ on Youku, as two characters emerge from an underground escalator, a billboard can be seen bearing an ad for Samsung’s Galaxy C phone. 

After the episode was shot and produced, the ad was inserted by Mirriad’s technology over a real billboard at the setting. 

Product placement has been used in US television since the 50s, characterised by some memorably corny endorsements.

It was satirised in the 1998 Hollywood film The Truman Show – Jim Carrey’s character Truman Burbank starts to realise his life is part of a 24-hour reality TV show when Meryl, his wife, name-checks big-name brands to hidden cameras.   

Fast forward and global product placement revenues grew for the 10th consecutive year in 2019, according to a recent report by data analysis firm PQ Media.

The total value of product placements in all media – including TV, films and recorded music – grew for the year by 14.5 per cent to $20.57 billion (£15 billion), it revealed. 

The cans of beer from Mexican brewer Tecate were digitally added to this music video from Mexican singer Giovanny Ayala

The potential of Mirriad’s is not just limited to films and TV shows – musicians could willingly add new digital product  placement to their old music videos for an extra source of revenue.    

‘The opportunity to carve open a new revenue stream is rare, and the ability to retrospectively use existing content and build new content with it in mind is exciting,’ James Sandom, managing director of UK-based Red Light Management. 

Colombian singer Giovanny Ayala has already used Mirriad’s technology, allowing the Mexican brewer Tecate to insert its bottles and logos to his music videos. 

And if football clubs decide they need even more money, another option is digitally adding product banners to live sports or concert broadcasts in near-real time.

‘There is huge demand for that,’ Beringer said. ‘So a penalty or VAR decision in football could see a new advert pop up behind the referee.’ 

THE EVOLUTION OF PRODUCT PLACEMENT IN FILM  

Pictured, Laura Linney as Hannah Gill, acting as Meryl Burbank holding cocoa in the 1998 film The Truman Show. In the film, Jim Carrey’s character Truman Burbank starts to realise his life is part of a 24-hour reality TV show when Meryl, his wife, name-checks big-name brands

Product placement has been used in US television since the 50s, characterised by some memorably corny endorsements.

It was satirised in the 1998 Hollywood film The Truman Show – Jim Carrey’s character Truman Burbank starts to realise his life is part of a 24-hour reality TV show when Meryl, his wife, name-checks big-name brands to hidden cameras.   

While advertising allows organisations to have full control over their ads and direct exposure, it is often viewed as less credible with audiences. 

According to a 2003 study, however, ads are viewed as more credible when disseminated via media. 

One example is product placement aimed at influencing movie or television audiences via ‘the planned and unobtrusive entry of a branded product’.

While many cite Steven Spielberg’s film ET: The Extra-Terrestrial as the beginning of product placement (namely Reese’s Pieces), closer examination shows that products were present in cinematic films from the creation of the medium, including the Lumiere films of the 1890s.

Product placement in films arguably reached a heyday in the 1990s –  films such as Richie Rich (1994) starring Macaulay Culkin prominently featured the McDonald’s brand.  

More recently, the James Bond film Quantum of Solace (2008) was heavily criticised for its excessive product placement, including the likes of Ford, Heineken, Smirnoff, Omega SA, Virgin Atlantic and Sony Ericsson. 

Read more: The Evolution of Product Placement in Film (Walton 2010) 

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