The Power of Product Placement

Kevin Dooley

Embedded marketing or Product Placement, as it has become better known, has become a major device in the world of advertising. Product placement according to the European Union is “any form of audiovisual commercial communication consisting of the inclusion of or reference to a product, a service or the trademark thereof featured within a programme.” In this day and age it is simply no good to just have basic advertisements in newspapers, magazines or on television. Product placement stands out as a marketing strategy because it is imperative to attach the utmost importance to “the context and environment within which the product is displayed or used”, it can also help define which age group the product supposed to be sold and directed towards. Based on a survey by the Association of National Advertisers – “Reasons for using in-show plugs varied from ‘stronger emotional connection’ to better dovetailing with relevant content, to targeting a specific group.”

Product placement is a process that dates back to the Nineteenth century in publishing, and is something still prevalent today especially in novels. Recognisable brand names appeared in movies from cinema’s earliest history, product placement is an investment for brands trying to reach a niche audience. A big budget feature film that has expectations of grossing millions may attract many commercial interests; however, the film studio must also analyse if a product fit with the image of the film. A high-profile star may draw more attention to a product, and therefore, in many cases, this becomes a separate point in the negotiations of his or her contract. Some famous examples of product placement, which may have gone unnoticed to you, appear in some of the top-grossing movies of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), directed by Frank Capra, depicts a young by with aspirations to be an explorer, displaying a prominent copy of National Geographic. In the 1978 Superman: The Movie, Cheerios and Coca-Cola as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita featured as endorsed products within the movie. The film E.T. is often cited for it’s obvious and multiple product placements. Jurassic Park and it’s many sequels made use of the idea of promoting it’s own merchandise within the movies. This movie used gift shops within the movie to promote it’s own merchandise, which could then be found in toy stores the world over. This also contributed to the Toy Story phenomenon, the toys that came to life within the movie, then went on to have many versions and copies of the same toys sold in stores, much to the delight of Disney.

It has been found that product placements are effective in getting people to buy or choose products. As mentioned previously, a group of children watched a clip of the movie Home Alone, which featured Pepsi. After watching the movie, the children were given the choice of Pepsi or Coke. 67% of children who had just watched the movie chose Pepsi whereas only 42% of the children who did not see a clip with Pepsi chose Pepsi.

Product placements may be so effective because viewers and consumers are all trying to reach an ideal self and while trying to achieve this ideal self they indulge into the stories that the product placements tell. The role of Bollinger (champagne), Jaguar, and Aston Martin was looked at in three vignettes from James Bond movies. In each of these vignettes, these products took on a personality and a role that consumers would want to indulge in and take on. For example, the Aston Martin seemed to be heroic while the Jaguar seemed to be villainous and their roles within the movie held true to these characteristics.

Brand placements can be more effective than advertisements. It has been indicated that people like brand placements on the radio more than regular radio commercials. They also thought that brand placements on the radio were more legitimate than commercials. Although this study was done with radio, it is likely that these findings may also apply to film.

20th Century Fox, a subsidiary of News Corporation, has promoted its parent company’s own Sky News channel through including it as a plot device when characters are viewing news broadcasts of breaking events. The newscaster or reporter in the scene will usually state that the audience is viewing Sky News, and reports from other channels are not shown. One notable example is the film Independence Day (1996).

Columbia Pictures uses or mentions products of parent company Sony products like VAIO computers or BRAVIA televisions in their movies; when it was owned by The Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola products were often featured.
There is scarcely any form of media in this day and age that doesn’t hold host to some varying form of product placement. It can be seen in the television programmes we watch everyday, in the form of electronic devices, types of beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and in the brands of clothing people wear and as previously mentioned it is undoubtedly seen in movies. One TV series comes to mind that advertisers products of this measure, Gossip Girl an American Teen Drama set in New York, who’s original run was from 2006-2012, and saw the show endorse everything from mobile phones, to drinks even to the type of web browser they use, Bing!. With such high profile shows, like this one using advertising to it’s advantage and making serious revenue from its product placement, is it any wonder that teenagers, adolescents and adults alike all long to have the products that are strategically placed within these shows? I think not. This is exactly what the marketing executives in charge of advertising these products had hoped for.

Kevin Dooley

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