Brand placement: a conceptual approach

Brand placement: a conceptual approach

Tiago Mendes e Galvão Meirinhos



Brand placement is gradually becoming an important part of promotional toolkit of many firms and is increasingly being used as an instrument for brands to achieve communication, sales and commercial goals. This review aims to make a new conceptual approach to brand placement, often referred to as “product placement”, besides it intends to clarify the concept’s definition and verify how this tool has been studied and appraised in academic world in order to have a better understanding of its scope and characteristics. A literature review is justified by three reasons, namely: (1) the importance in practice; (2) the academic relevance of brand placement and (3) the social and legal implications. To this intent it is brought an attempt to elaboration of an inclusive and coherent concept of brand placement and of an analysis tool capable of systematizing and hierarchizing the main concepts for the characterization of its implementation. These two achievements, especially the last one, can be referred as important for carrying out further investigations into the communicative effectiveness of brand placement.

Keywords – Product placement, brand placement, embedded marketing, strategic placement, subliminal placement, product integration, merchandising



Product placement is a practice of Public Relations with many decades, but it has been during the last two that the use and study of this communication technique have been increasing (Russell, 2010). Of the many authors who reflected on this matter, some risked elaborating the very definition of the phenomenon, while others attributed to its different denominations. It is therefore normal that it is often referred to as product placement, brand placement, ad-creep, barter placement, branded entertainment, entertainment marketing, brandvertising, advertainment, embedded programming, embedded marketing, strategic placement, subliminal placement, synergy, sponsored word-of-author, product integration, integration script, merchand or merchandising, among others (Gangadharbatla, 2006; Yeol, 2010). As Karrh, (1998) argued, although it does refer to a product placed in a film, product placement is about a brand placed on a film, so in this paper, the phenomenon under analysis will be treated as brand placement. After all, firms are usually more interested in disclosing their brands than a particular product.

There is a wide diversity of perspectives on brands placement’s state of art, so this study tries to present different conceptualizations, envisaging their use as a basis for a more coherent and inclusive formalisation. In addition, a hierarchical modelling and systematization of brand placement’s characteristics is formulated. Thus, in the first point, we look at the existing literature on this communication tool, differentiating it from others. In the second, an approach about their fundamental characteristics is presented. Finally, in section three, a new conceptual approach to brand placement is introduced and a model for the characterization of its implementation is explained.



Brand Placement – unveiling the literature

In this point, different perspectives are presented, patent in the literature on the phenomenon of brand placement, with respect to its definition, its context of application, its objectives and its characteristics.

According to Balasubramanian, (1994), brand placement is part of a category called “hybrid messages,” which are those that can combine the best of both worlds, the advertising and publicity, avoiding their major drawbacks. If, on one hand, advertising is usually payed, it allows taking control over the message. On the other hand, this message appears to be less credible to audiences. In turn, publicity, usually free, is performed through more credible ways. It does not, however, allow control over the message. According to the Balasubramanian model, hybrid messages are those which allow brands to obtain media coverage through credible means, by concealing the origin of the message, while ensuring control. Thus, to the author, hybrid messages include all paid attempts to influence audiences, for commercial gain, through forms of communication that assign them a non-commercial character. In these circumstances, the audience may be less aware of the message’s persuasive intent, and may not process it as it usually does with an explicit business message (Balasubramanian, 1994).

Brand placement is a type of hybrid message. One of the first brand placement definitions was suggested by Steortz, (1987), referring to it as the inclusion of the name, product packaging, signage or merchandise of a brand in a movie, TV show or music video.

Later Nebenzahl and Secunda, (1993) delimited the means where brand placement can be developed, stating that it is the inclusion of products or services in films distributed by major Hollywood studios theatres in exchange for money or promotional exhibition for the films in the publicity brands initiatives.

Gupta and Gould, (1997, p. 4), in turn, presented the definition: “practice of placing brand name products in movies as props”, emphasizing that it is done in exchange “for money or promotional benefits.”

One of the main observers of brand placement is Karrh, (1994, 1998), who criticizes the Balasubramanian (1994) and Steortz, (1987) definitions, pointing out some flaws: the first does not consider different contexts where brand placement occurs such as music, videos and videogames; the second omits the fact that brand placement requires payment, and limits its forms, ignoring brands appearance in the dialogues or background sound. In this context, Karrh, (1998, p. 33) suggests the definition “the compensated inclusion of branded products or brand identifiers, via audio and/or visual media, in media programming”. For the author, one of the most important factors for the occurrence of brand placement is the payment, otherwise it may be considered as inclusion of brands. Although they may seem the same, they are two distinct practices: brand placement (paid by the brands) aims to influence viewers. The inclusion of brands is carried out by producers with the aim of increasing the film realism (Karrh, 1998).

In order to present a general and chronological overview of brand placement concept, the following authors are listed in Table 1:

Table 1 – Brand Placement – a chronological conceptualisation

Authors Definitions
D’Astous & Séguin (1999) Product Placement is “the placement of a brand or a firm in a movie or in a television programby different means and for promotional purposes”.
D’Astous & Chartier (2000) The objective of Product Placement is “to increase consumer awareness and hopefully have a positive impact on consumer preference and intention to buy”.
Law and Braun-LaTour (2004) Product Placement is “the deliberate insertion of branded products into an entertainment program aimed at influencing the audience”.
Lehu (2005) The placement of products or brands in films consists of showing a product or brand in one or more scenes of a feature film.
Gangadharbatla (2006) Following Karrh (1998), the author considered Brand Placement as “a paid or unpaid form (on a barter basis) of inclusion of branded products, ideas or services (or branded identifiers) through audio or visual or both means in the content of mass media such as movies, television, radio, music videos, songs, videogames, magazines, newspapers, novels, theater and online blogs”.
Martin Gonzalez (2006b) Brand placement is defined as a form of persuasive mass communication based on the unconscious perception of messages. These, inserted in specific contents, are carriers of values previously accepted by the recipient.
European Union (2007) “Product placement means any form of audiovisual commercial communication consisting of the inclusion of or reference to a product, a service or the trade mark thereof so that it is featured within a programme, in return for payment or for similar consideration”.
Lehu (2007) Brand placement is “the location or, more accurately, the integration of a product or a brand into a film or televised series. It is also possible, however, to find commercial insertions within other cultural vehicles, such as songs or novels”.
Campbell et al. (2007) Brand placement “refers to the planned inclusion of a branded product in an entertainment or news vehicle, typically in exchange for some consideration”
Cardoso and Teles (2008) Based on Dalli (2003) the authors defined brand placement as a commercial communication technique which a brand name and an image is placed in a film.
Hackley et al. (2008) “Product placement, the practice of placing brands in the scene or script of mediated news and entertainment, is also sometimes referred to as brand placement or even entertainment marketing because it has migrated from movies to TV and radio programming, computer games, books, popular songs and stage plays”.
Kuhn (2008) Product placement is “a form of marketing communication, which may or may not be paid for, where messages about goods, services, brands, organisations, people and ideas are embedded into content such as film, television programs, newspapers, novels, music, and games”.
Yeol (2010) “Product placement is a form of advertising whereby branded goods or services are placed in plays, films, television shows, video games, books, or other media. Product placement occurs with the inclusion of a brand’s logo, or a favourable mention or appearance of a product. The placement is implemented as a natural part of the work without disclosure at the time that the goods or services are featured”.
Kit & P’ng (2014) Product placement is defined “as placing a brand in media content to affect consumer behavior. In other words, companies pay movie or television program makers or licensees a sum of money in order to have their product or brand name displayed during the movie or show for a certain period of time”.
Raza & Jalees (2016) “Whenever a brand is strategically placed in movies and other mediums it is called brand placement. Researchers have used the terms product placement and brand placement interchangeably”.
Silva & Belmino (2016) “Product placement is the practice of putting sponsored brands in cultural products using the packaging, the product, the slogan, a testimonial or a citation, with the purpose of publicizing companies or product lines”.

Quoting Lehu (2007: 5), the definition of brand placement “is still uncertain,” however, “it continues to evolve. In its least elaborate form, it merely allows for the appearance of a brand or product onscreen. In its most effective form, it is so integrated into the storyline that its presence seems logical, even indispensable”.



Conceptual disambiguation

In spite of the presented perspectives about brand placement, a deepen analysis is needed, distinguishing it from other communication tools. According to Martín González (2006b) and Craig-Lees and Scott (2008) brand placement is not advertising, sponsorship or advertainment. It is simply brand placement, with all its differences and advantages. It is a medium with distinct and distinctive qualities, with a specific power of persuasion that no other discipline of communication can develop (Martín González, 2006b: 47). Branded entertainment, or advertainment, is one of those disciplines. Presented by Hudson and Hudson (2006:492), it refers to the “the integration of advertising into entertainment content, whereby brands are embedded into storylines of a film, television program, or other entertainment medium. This involves co-creation and collaboration between entertainment, media and brands”. Branded Content Marketing Association (UK) defines branded entertainment as the moment in which brands create or distribute entertainment to communicate with their customers (Yeol, 2010:15). In turn, the Association of National Advertisers (USA) describes it as the integration of a product in an appropriate context (Yeol, 2010).

Integration is one of the aspects where branded entertainment, or advertainment, is distinguished from brand placement. The term designates actions that try to tell a story in a more subtle and pleasant way, resulting in a hybrid between advertising and entertainment, whose original designs do not fit the limited standards of TV commercials refers here exclusively to productions audiovisuals planned by advertisers with the intention of entertaining and adding value to the brand (Borsanelli, 2007:27). Basically, the branded entertainment occurs when a program is developed to support a brand while in brand placement, on the contrary, the brand or product have a passive role, serving to support the program or movie.

Brand placement has been also distinguished from production props. Craig-Lees and Scott (2008), consider free inclusion as brand placement because they assume that not always the introduction of the brand or product is paid and therefore do not necessarily have a commercial intent. However, a large number of authors indicates the payment as a condition without which the placement does not happen. When products appear without any payment from the advertiser, we are dealing with production props, Vollmers (in van Reijmersdal, Neijens, & Smit, 2009, p.2) defines it as “the planned inclusion of a branded product or service in an entertainment medium for the purpose of creating realism or transmitting information about a character.”

The definition of product placement by Balasubramanian (1994) indicates that this communication tool is “paid” and “planned”, which excludes any type of inclusion by mere contextual convenience or that lacks a payment by the advertiser. This logic is shared by the Directive 2007/65/EC (2007:34) which states that “the provision of goods or services free of charge, such as production props or prizes, should only be considered to be product placement if the goods or services involved are of significant value”. It seems that a large distinction between brand placement and production props is determined by the payment inherent in the first. It should be noted, however, that brand placement involves a kind of strategic planning and rigorous implementation defined by the brand management in order to achieve specific communication goals. On the other hand, production props are subject to the conveniences and needs of the storyline or scenarios.

Another type of product introduction is the one usually called teleshopping or infomercial. Kotler and Armstrong (2011) define it as “full 30-minute or longer advertising programs (…) for a single product”. Balasubramanian (1994) refers to these programs as “Program-Length Commercials”. Its distinctive features are the product demonstrations, price reduction announcements, time-limited promotions and easy payment terms (Kotler & Armstrong, 2011). The infomercial, unlike brand placement, is explicit in the persuasive intent, making the product the message and not just (more or less evident) part of it.

Finally, Nebenzahl and Jaffe (1998) argue that different marketing communications can be observed in two dimensions: (1) the message sponsor is not revealed, or the fact that the message is a paid advertising, or both, and (2) the one in which the persuasive message is secondary to the main message of the communication. According to the authors, brand placement can be contrasted with the traditional advertising through these two dimensions. However, in advertising it is recognized that a firm has paid to a distributor for a communication service to spread a persuasive message favourable to its products, services and brands. In brand placement the attempting of persuasion is not explicit, being the product, service or brand inserted in the background of a major communication where a particular scene comes about by a need to explain the plot and not as a need to show the product (Cardoso & Teles, 2008)

Thus, it is also understood that, from the point of view of information processing, brand placement is assimilated differently from advertising. Usually consumers recognize the persuasive intent of advertising and consequently create scepticism and counterarguments against the message. On the contrary, before the brand placement this resistance does not exist, for its commercial intent is not easily identifiable – which defines its effectiveness (Yeol, 2010).


Brand Placement Characteristics

The placement of products or brands in the most diverse entertainment media is identified in different ways through diverse criteria of analysis, hence several typological classifications have been attributed throughout the years of study of this communication tool.

In 1993, Shapiro defined four different moments of brand placement: when the product is shown, when it is used, when it is mentioned and when is mentioned and used (D’Astous & Seguin, 1999). In 1995, Turcotte distinguished between three types of product placement: visual only, only auditory and audio-visual (Blondé and Roozen, 2007). In addition to this tripartite classification, Gupta and Lord, (1998) presented two forms these types of placement can assume: prominent or subtle. The first covers brand identifiers that have a central role in the action or that appear prominently because of their size, or placement on the screen. The subtle placement appears in the background, peripheral regarding the action or with little size and exposure time.

According to Russell, (2002), there are three basic dimensions of placement. The visual dimension involves all the brand placements on the scene, and may have different levels depending, for example, on the number of appearances and the style of filming the product. The author calls this “screen placement. The verbal dimension refers to the references made to the product or brand in the dialogues. It also changes depending on the context, frequency or emphasis and is designated as “script placement”. Finally, Russell presents the “plot placement“, which is a combination of visual and verbal placements making the brand or the product as a strong connection to the story or the characters. The author exemplifies with James Bond, a character clearly identified with his car, the Aston Martin. This type of placement is very effective because, once integrated in story, it facilitates the attribution of meaning by the viewer (Russell, 2002). DeLorme and Reid, (1999) refer to the types of placement only in its visual form, dividing it in three different ways: the logo presentation, the placement of an ad in the background or the appearance of the product (Yeol, 2010).

In 1999, D’Astous and Séguin, (1999) presented a tripartite model of placement, whose dimensions are:

  • Implicit: the brand is passive, has a role of context construction. The advantages of the brand, product or service are not clearly demonstrated;
  • Explicit and integrated: the brand is active, formally expressed and in the content and its benefits are demonstrated;
  • Explicit and non-integrated: the brand is formally expressed but not integrated into the movie’s plot or program content.

In another perspective, Edström and Jervfors, (2006) distinguish three types of placement: the classic “plain old product placement”, product integration and digital inclusion. The classic placement provides a more realistic scenario and a greater disclosure, being directed to a target audience. Product integration varies from the construction of a narrative in which the product has a central role to the mere integration in the intro of the program. Finally, digital insertion, as its name implies, is the emergence of a brand or product in a context where it does not actually exist (Edström and Jervfors, 2006).

Lehu, (2007) distinguishes four types of placement: classic, corporate, evocative and discreet. The classic comprehends the product appearance; the corporate emphasizes the brand, instead of the product; the evocative is a little subtle, the mark does not appear nor is cited, being referred indirectly; finally, the discreet placement, which is almost undetectable due to its “natural” inclusion on the scene or to its appearance in the opening or final credits.

Martín González, (2006) shows five ways of placing products or brands:

  • Active: the brand is integrated into the action. It is identified when its eventual elimination changes the sense of the situation in which it fits;
  • Participatory: less important than the previous one, since its elimination does not change the sense of the situation;
  • Passive: is included in the context and may or may not be integrated into the action;
  • Deferent: similar to figuration;
  • Evocative: the brand is latent.

Bermejo Berros, (2009) makes three distinctions of brand placement. The first is about the degree of the product or brand concealment (more or less evident) and active or passive participation (with a more or less important role for action). The second distinction refers to the audio-visual modality of the placement: visual, auditory or mixed. The third is about temporality, usually verifiable in programs that go on in time: long term (the product appears in all, or almost all seasons of the series); short term (appears in some seasons) and punctual (only in one episode).

Martínez Costa, (2012) analyze the types of brand placement according to their relationship with the characters and context:

  • Physical contact
  • Interactive statement (the character interacts and refers verbally to the product);
  • Interactive assessment (character evaluates and interacts with product);
  • Verbal mention (product does not have to be present);
  • Verbal assessment (evaluation without product presence);
  • Active (the character manipulates object);
  • Main passive (there is no manipulation, but the product appears on the screen);
  • Secondary passive (the product is a mere prop);
  • Narrative weight: very high, high, moderate and low, due to the product’s participation in the story.

Chang, Newell and Salmon, (2009) report three types of placement from the point of view of their engagement: random, opportunistic or planned. The random placement results from occasional and immediate need for production of a film or TV show, usually filling in an empty space. The brand is irrelevant to the action and the contract is informal and short-lived. Opportunistic placement arises when the scripts of films or programs are sent to the agencies that mediate the process of placement between brands and producers, indicating the product placement opportunities. Then the agencies present these opportunities to their customers. Usually the contract has a short duration. The planned placement happens when the producer has an exclusive deal with the brand celebrated prior to the movie or program. It is a kind of formal and lasting relationship.

Parreño et al., (2010) introduce three new forms of placement: the masked brands, the inverted placement and the improved brands. The first is a kind of product placement in fantasy scenarios (mostly animated films or science fiction) in a congruent way with this same imaginary world. Trademarks assume a different identity from the real, as does Coke, which disguises itself as Coral-Cola in the 2004 film “Shark Tale”. According to the authors, this type of brand placement occurs when the spectator has an immediate association between the fanciful and the real brand and this same association comes from a marketing planning and not by chance or by an innocent parody. Masked marks are defined as fictitious marks whose design elements (graphic elements, typographical, etc.) and use (corresponding to the actual brand product category) allow an immediate association between the fictitious and the actual mark (Parreño et al., 2010). Those modifications have, therefore, little effect on the recognition by the spectators (Anderson, 2006). The second type of brand placement presented is the inverted placement, which consists of brand and product creation from fictitious brands and products. An example of this is the commercialization by Nestlé of the chocolate bars that Willy Wonka produced in the chocolate factory imagined by Ronald Dahl (Parreño et al., 2010) Finally, improved brands are those that modify their products or services, adapting them to the context of the film or television program they are inserted in, so that the viewer assigns these modifications to the brand or the actual product (Parreño et al., 2010). An example of this brand placement is Audi, which created a futuristic automobile model, the RSQ, for the iRobot film, which takes place in the year 2035.

As shown by the literature, brand placement, in its different variables, is observed in accordance with multiple perspectives, which results in a wide range of characterization arrays. It is therefore important to seek for a systematization of this knowledge in an attempt to focus concepts and features for the study of this communication tool.


A New Conceptual Approach

The previously presented studies in brand placement noticed the existence of a great diversity of concepts and approaches which may introduce ambiguity in its definition and features, as well as some dispersion both conceptual and methodological. Having said that, this paper intends to systematize some knowledge acquired, either regarding the definition of the concept, either with regard to the characterization of its implementation.


Despite the diversity mentioned above, important points of conceptual convergence were identified between the perspectives of different authors on brand placement as a brand communication tool. Those points prove to be fundamental to an understanding of this phenomenon. Looking at this convergence, a comprehensive perspective on the brands placement is provided considering the differentiation to other communication tools and our own interpretation of the phenomenon:

Brand placement is a trademark communication tool consisting of the planned t and payed placemen of brand indicators in media productions or events, in order to obtain an exposure and a specific auditory, visual, or audio-visual intensity.

In this definition, and as indicated Karrh, (1998) or Lehu, (2007), the brand placement has to be paid and, furthermore, planned. This means that the appearance of a brand in a media space cannot be result of luck. It must be the result of a brand communication strategy, which determines to place the brand in certain media contexts, in order to make it reach a target audience. In this context, it cannot be oblivious to this strategy involving the media or the owning entity of the “space” where the brand will be placed to achieve spread by the media or internet. This involvement requires compensation for providing this space, usually by paying a contracted amount between the parties. Regarding this definition, we cannot include for example, guerrilla marketing, where the brand promotion is executed without permission or compensation methods. Brand placement must involve an exchange of benefits between the brand and the promoter.

This definition also indicates that brand placement is not limited to the introduction of the logo or brand name. Several identifying elements of the brand, not the name or logo, may be sufficient to place in an effective way: sometimes parts of those identifying elements are enough, the product placement, the package presentation (even if devoid of any element chart), the font or even indirect references.

The brand placement, as mentioned above, requires media transmission, in order to communicate to a wide public or for specific audiences (on the goals outlined in the communication strategy). In this context, it appears as well important to choose the means to be used in order to meet the communicative efficacy endpoints. Communicative effectiveness is a fundamental basis of brand placement assessment, since, by collecting evidence, tests and experiments it is possible to verify if it is possible to achieve positive effects on consumers/audiences memory, attitudes and buying behaviour. In this context, it should also be possible to verify the auditory, visual or audio-visual intensity of brand placement, because its correct implementation is crucial to meet the outlined communication objectives.

The auditory, visual and audio-visual execution factors are crucial to the construction of analytical models for brand placement communicative effectiveness, in order to make a correct characterization of its implementation. Considering the characteristics of brand placement presented by different authors, and in order to systematize the information gathered and optimize the assessment procedures, Figure 1 summarizes and prioritizes the brand placement features by its degree of specificity.


Figure 1 – Brand Placement characteristics


According to the proposed classification, brand placement always responds to these criteria: element, insertion, identity, presentation, impact, action, role, integration and duration. Every brand placement happens, firstly, by presenting the brand (logotype, slogan, jingle, or other abstract identification unit) or product (product itself, packaging or use of the product or service, e.g. the concrete component of brand). Brand placement is usually performed with the real identity of the brand in the selected place. However, it can also be subsequently digitally placed in post-production, in films and television series, for example.

Regarding the “identity” component, in most cases, trademarks are shown in their original form. Nevertheless, due to different constraints or opportunities, changes may be needed. Sometimes, in movies, brands have to be presented in an improved form, bringing products or services that do not yet exist on the market or exist only in experimental or prototyping phases. It happens especially in futuristic movies. On the other hand, they may also have the need to hide the true identity (for editorial reasons that forbid to identify true marks), only introducing some elements, not explicitly, but which can lead the viewer to understand its presence. It happens, for instance, in cartoons and animation movies.

The fourth criterion for brand placement classification is the one that most of the authors refers to as “types of placement”, here identified as presentation: visual, auditory or audio-visual. Each of these forms can get different impact, and are thus prominently or as subtle. These characteristics respond to different criteria, and taking into account the analysed authors, a visual placement prominent is the one that fills in a considerable percentage of the screen and appears focused in the foreground. In the case of auditory placements, the prominence is the reference in the dialogues, no noise and the repetition throughout the broadcast. In the audio-visual case, brand placement is usually prominent, as is mentioned verbally and shown on the screen simultaneously, which gives it prominence.

Brands can also, depending on the narrative or the actors behaviour, have a passive role, being just mentioned (with visual or pictorial introduction) or appraised (approval or criticism), or take an active role, being manipulated (visual or audio-visual presentation) by participants. If this manipulation or reference is decisive for the course of the narrative, the brand placement is considered integrated into the action, as it assumes a share of the change of events. If the brand’s presence is not significant for any conditioning of the action, it is considered as non-integrated, as its presence in the scene or in a dialogue in no way affects the course of the main action.

Finally, brand placement may be produced on a short or a long term, depending on the contract. Short term indicates a singular or occasional relationship between brand and communication vehicle (one film a sequel, a series episode, a talk show episode). The long term refers to a nearly intrinsic relationship between marks and communication channel over time.

This is a hierarchical proposal for brand placement classification, taking into account the different perspectives in the literature which, through its implementation, can simplify and systematize brand placement analysis in a consistent and empathetic way, whatever the context of implementation.




In this paper, different conceptions about brand placement, its definition, implementation, characterization and evaluation were exposed. Those different perspectives result from diverse study contexts in which the perceptions of what brand placement is oscillate. These contexts differ by subject area, the cultural and socio-economic framework or the timeline, for example. It was, therefore, important to analyse a wide range of perspectives on this phenomenon, so that, starting from them, it was possible to present a new and wide-ranging approach, which enabled the presentation of a new conceptualization and a consistent characterization of brand placement.

The presented concept takes into account the fact that brand placement differentiates itself from other existing communication and practical tools, especially in the show business. Brand placement is not branded entertainment, or infomercials, or production props. It is a communication instrument which follows a communication strategy. It must meet goals outlined by the brand management and is implemented in exchange for a compensation. This implementation can assume many forms, depending on the goals, but also by the constraints presented by the environment. Hence the utility of a matrix to hierarchize and systematize brand placement implementation, like the one presented in this paper, which regards a better way of measuring goals achievement and communicative effectiveness.

This classification matrix can be stated as important to carry out further investigations within brand placement communicative effectiveness, since it is an instrument to systematize information, which can be used transversely in different implementation contexts. Its value lies essentially in the fact that it provides a clearer perception of how the brand is placed, according to the most important criteria presented by various authors. We emphasize, therefore, the significance of this analysis tool for further studies on the brand placement, highlighting especially its use, which might make it even more complete and adapted to the phenomenon in its full scope.




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