Product Placement


Product placement, or embedded marketing, is a form of advertisement, where branded goods or services are placed in a context usually devoid of ads, such as movies, the story line of television shows, or news programs. The product placement is often not disclosed at the time that the good or service is featured. Product placement became common in the 1980s.

In April 2006, Broadcasting & Cable reported, “Two thirds of advertisers employ ‘branded entertainment’—product placement—with the vast majority of that (80%) in commercial TV programming.”

The story, based on a survey by the Association of National Advertisers, said “Reasons for using in-show plugs varied from ‘stronger emotional connection’ to better dovetailing with relevant content, to targeting a specific group.”

Recognizable brand names appeared in movies from cinemas earliest history. Before films were even narrative forms in the sense that they are recognized today.

Incorporation of products into the actual plot of a film or television show is generally called “brand integration”. An early example of such “brand integration” was by Abercrombie & Fitch when one of its stores provided the notional venue for part of the romantic-comedy film Man’s Favourite Sport? (1964) starring Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss.

Products placed in TV shows!
Product placement, whereby companies and corporations pay to have their products included in television programming for marketing purposes is highly prevalent in reality television.

The following is a list of television shows with the most instances of product placement (11/07–11/08; Nielsen Media Research). Eight out of the ten are reality television shows.

  • The Biggest Loser 6,248
  • American Idol, 4,636
  • Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’, 3,371
  • America’s Toughest Jobs, 2,807
  • Deal or No Deal, 2,292
  • America‘s Next Top Model, 2,241
  • Last Comic Standing, 1,993
  • Kitchen Nightmares 1,853
  • Hell’s Kitchen, 1,807

Product placement has long been prevalent in sports as well, from professional sports to college sports, and even on the local level with high school sports. This can be attributed to sports being prevalent on television, which increases exposure to these products.

Actual product placement falls into two categories:

  • products or locations that are obtained from manufacturers or owners to reduce the cost of production, and
  • products deliberately placed into productions in exchange for fees.

Some placements provide productions with below-the-line savings, with products such as props, clothes and cars being donated for the production’s use, thereby saving them purchase or rental fees.

Producers may also seek out companies for product placements as another savings or revenue stream for the movie, with, for example, products used in exchange for help funding advertisements tied-in with a film’s release, a show’s new season, television documentaries or other event.

Product placement is also one of the sectors poised for the most growth, with PQ Media predicting the 2009 figures to more than double by 2014, when product placement is projected to be a $6.1 billion market. A major driver of growth for the use of product placement is the increasing use of digital video recorders (DVR) such as TiVO, which enable viewers to skip advertisements. This ad-skipping behavior increases in frequency the longer a household has owned a DVR.

Certain products are featured more than others. Commonly seen are automobiles, fashion brands, hospitality brands, travel, consumer products, food and drink, consumer electronics and computers, and tobacco products.

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Some product placement examples:

  • Among the famous silent films to feature product placement was Wings (1927), the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It contained a plug for Hershey’s chocolate.
  • Another early example in film occurs in Horse Feathers (1932) where Thelma Todd’s character falls out of a canoe and into a river. She calls for a life saver and Groucho Marx’s character tosses her a Life Savers candy.
  • The film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), directed by Frank Capra, depicts a young boy with aspirations to be an explorer, displaying a prominent copy of National Geographic.
  • In the film Love Happy (1949), Harpo Marx’s character cavorts on a rooftop among various billboards and at one point escapes from the villains on the old Mobil logo, the “Flying Red Horse“.
  • In the film noir Gun Crazy (1949), the climactic crime is the payroll robbery of the Armour meat-packing plant, where a Bulova clock is prominently seen.
  • In 1995 one of the most successful movie product tie-in was when Karen sortito created a BMW campaign for the film GoldenEye. The BMW car, a Z3, was a new model at the time. Afterwards, while the film was number one at the box office, sales of the car spiked.
  • For the next film in the James Bond franchise, Tomorrow Never Dies, Sortito created a $100 million promotional campaign that included tie-ins with Visa, L’Oréal, Ericsson, Heinekin, Avis rental cars and Omega watches. The film brought in more than $300 million dollars.
  • The film I, Robot, though set in the future, makes heavy use of product placements for Converse trainers, Ovaltine, Audi, FedEx, Dos Equis, and JVC among others, all of them introduced within the first ten minutes of the film. One particular scene borders into an actual advertisement in which a character compliments Will Smith’s character’s shoes to which he replies “Converse All-Stars, vintage 2004.” (the year of the film’s release). Audi invested the most on the film, going so far as to create a special car for the film, the Audi RSQ. It was expected that the placement would increase brand awareness and raise the emotional appeal of the Audi brand, objectives that were considered achieved when surveys conducted in the United States showed that the Audi RSQ gave a substantial boost to the image ratings of the brand. The Audi RSQ is seen during nine minutes of the film, although other Audis like the Audi A6, the Audi TT and the Audi A2 can be seen sprinkled throughout the film.
  • The film 17 Again makes heavy use of product placement featuring cereals, sandwich fillers, chips, stereo systems, and auto mobiles.
  • The film The Island, directed by Michael Bay, features at least 35 individual products or brands, including cars, bottled water, shoes, credit cards, beer, ice cream, and even a search engine.
  • The film Casino Royale features peculiarly blatant product placement during a exchange between James Bond and Vesper Lynd in which she enquires seductively whether he wears a Rolex watch. “Omega,” he replies suavely. “Beautiful,” she purrs.
  • The comedy film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby also contained a high amount of product placement. Characters repeatedly mention brands under the disguise of NASCAR sponsorship.
  • Bill Cosby’s film Leonard Part 6 showcased Coca Cola product placements.
  • The film Catch Me If You Can makes heavy handed use of a Sara Lee placement by mentioning it six times throughout the movie.
  • The 2001 film Evolution features product placement integral to the entire film. When mutated lifeforms attack earth, the characters use a large amount of Head & Shoulders dandruff shampoo as a source of selenium disulfide, which is poisonous to the creatures.
  • The 2001 film Josie and the Pussycats featured a large amount of blatant product placement for brands such as Puma, Target, McDonalds and TJ Maxx. This appears to be done ironically, as the plot of the film revolves around subliminal messages in advertising.
  • The Japanese animated series Code Geass is sponsored by the Japanese branch of Pizza Hut. Despite the fact that the series is set in an alternate reality, at least one main character is depicted ordering and receiving a Pizza Hut pizza on several occasions. The company’s logo also appears throughout the series.
  • The 2009 film Star Trek, in a scene where young James Kirk drives and crashes an old corvette, he operates a Nokia touch-screen smartphone. Before the car crashes, audiences will hear the Nokia trademark ring tone.
  • The film The Cat in the Hat (2003) contained product placement where all residents of the town drive a Ford Focus.

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