We have all been sitting in a theater or watching our favorite TV show when suddenly we are slapped with the most obvious giant Coca-Cola label across our screen, or forced to listen in while a character explains the features of their new Ford Focus. Product placement has permeated nearly every visual and auditory medium in our daily lives, from sit-coms to horror movies to Lady Gaga’s music videos to Kanye’s rap lyrics. Product placement is a multi-million dollar business and growing, so whether or not we like watching James Bond make sure the label on his Heineken is facing the screen, this form of marketing is clearly here to stay.
So how does it work?
Product placement is all about the story. The idea behind it is not only that you see a product more and are interested in purchasing it, but that you connect the stories that you love with that one specific product. As you watch a show you internalize these association and want the products because they connect you with the characters, actors, story lines, songs and singer. Advertising is all about associating emotions and what better way than by feeding you products you could want during a story you chose to watch!
Why it’s good marketing
Often the second ads come on, people either change the channel or walk out of the room. Very few people would admit to enjoying watching the 30 second ads between show segments (the Super Bowl being an exception). Product placement allows viewer to feel less like they are being advertise to, at least in theory, and are being marketed to while they are at their most attentive TV watching time.
Different associations can be drawn and there is a lot of money to be had in figuring out when and where to place products to capture the correct audience. Some products become synonymous with certain characters (think ET and Reese’s Pieces or Ray Bans and Top Gun). Advertisers can skip the step of trying to create a meaningful, emotional story that you can see yourself in, the story is already there all they need to do is show up. And honestly someone needs to pay for the expensive and gratuitous CGI aerial death spiral stunts!
On the other hand:
Th addition of product placement is not all up side, and often it’s the viewer on the raw end of the deal. Obvious and pervasive advertising can often interfere with a viewers movie watching experience or even the plot itself. Synthetically mentioning all of the new apps on you iPad, as no one in real life would likely do, can break the illusion of the story. Not to mention that when it is not done subtly it clutters the screen and makes it difficult to focus on the show itself.
It is also a rich companies game. Due to the reach of high budget movies and prime time shows, product placement is extremely expensive. This means that you are being advertised to by only the wealthiest companies and often the same brands can compete in the same movie or show effectively canceling each other out.
Evidently product placement can be effective despite its pitfalls, though hopefully it will be done tactfully and subtly!