It’s not news that brands are everywhere. Product placement has morphed into branded entertainment which threatens to morph into reality wallpaper that covers our lives wherever we turn.
A brilliant Oscar-nominated animated piece called Logorama produced by a couple of French filmmakers shows what happens when marketers get carried away. Check out the complete film before they yank it:
Here’s more background on product placement for those who are just now waking up and smelling the coffee (this sentence brought to you by Starbucks):
Back in the day, TV networks demanded that producers “geek” (alter) brand names before they appeared in a show, as when Melrose Place changed a Nokia cell phone to a “Nokio.” Today, real products pop up everywhere. Many are well-established brands that lend an aura of realism to the action, while others are upstarts that benefit tremendously from the exposure. For example, in the movie version of Sex and the City Carrie’s assistant admits that she “borrows” her expensive pricey handbags from a rental Web site called Bag Borrow or Steal. The company’s head of marketing commented, “It’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It gives us instant credibility and recognition.”
Bag Borrow or Steal got a free plug (oops, they got another one here!). In many cases, however, these “plugs” are no accident. Product placement is the insertion of real products in fictional movies, TV shows, books, and plays. Many types of products play starring (or at least supporting) roles in our culture; the most visible brands range from Coca-Cola and Nike apparel to the Chicago Bears football team and the Pussycat Dolls band. The TV shows that feature the most placements include The Biggest Loser (it showed about 4,000 brands in just a three-month period), American Idol (how subtle is that Coca-Cola glass each judge holds?), The Apprentice, America’s Next Top Model, and One Tree Hill. This practice is so commonplace (and profitable) now that it’s evolved into a new form of promotion we call branded entertainment where advertisers showcase their products in longer-form narrative films instead of brief commercials. For example, SportsCenter on ESPN showed installments of “The Scout presented by Craftsman at Sears,” a 6-minute story about a washed-up baseball scout who discovers a stunningly talented stadium groundskeeper.
Product placement is by no means a casual process: Marketers pay about $25 billion per year to plug their brands in TV and movies. Several firms specialize in arranging these appearances; if they’re lucky they manage to do it on the cheap when they get a client’s product noticed by prop masters who work on the shows. For example, in a cafeteria scene during an episode of Grey’s Anatomy it was no coincidence that the character Izzie Stevens happened to drink a bottle of Izze Sparkling Pomegranate fruit beverage. The placement company that represents PepsiCo paid nothing to insert the prop in that case, but it probably didn’t get off so easily when the new brand also showed up in HBO’s Entourage, Big Bang Theory, and The New Adventures of Old Christine on CBS.
Today most major releases brim with real products, even though a majority of consumers believe the line between advertising and programming is becoming too fuzzy and distracting (though as we might expect, concerns about this blurring of boundaries are more pronounced among older people than younger). A study reported that consumers respond well to placements when the show’s plot makes the product’s benefit clear. Similarly, audiences had a favorable impression of when a retailer provided furniture, clothes, appliances, and other staples for struggling families who get help on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Adapted from Michael R. Solomon, Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being 9th ed, Prentice Hall,published January 2010.