Also called embedded marketing, product placement is an advertising method that entails positioning a product or brand in an art form, such as movies and television shows, to indirectly advertise the product. The product is strategically placed to grab viewer attention but it’s not the focus of the production material or scene. For example, James Bond wears Omega watches, drinks Heineken beer, and drives remote-controlled BMWs not necessarily because he likes those brands but because those products are being strategically placed in the movie. A product placement is not just visual – sometimes, product names may come up in dialogues too. 

The Audi RSQ concept car from the movie, I, Robot. Image credit: Flickr
The Audi RSQ concept car from the movie, I, Robot. Image credit: Flickr

Product placements have grown in importance over the years, more so in movies. Other than placing products that are already being sold, there are cases when a company makes a product especially for product placement or introduces the item through the mode. For example, the Audi RSQ made its debut in the 2004 sci-fi movie, I, Robot. It was a concept car and Audi made the vehicle to depict how an automobile would like in 2035. The product obviously was not available for sale. This effort was primarily intended to promote the Audi brand.

History

Product placement is not a modern invention and has been around since the 1950s or earlier, especially in many Hollywood movies. Back then, product placement arrangements happened between the media firm and the manufacturer. However, during the mid-1980s, product placement strategies rose in popularity and became much more organized, with agencies being set up and companies creating specialized profiles for the job. These companies sent their dedicated executives to find out new product placement or integration opportunities in television shows, movies and also music and games.

Purpose

Generally, traditional ads are blatant promotions, which most consumers don’t fancy – irrespective of whether they are on TV, radio, magazines, buses, billboards, newspapers or the Internet. Most consumers try to escape ads whenever possible. In fact, some even pay a premium so that they don’t get to see ads. For example, Amazon sells its popular Kindle Fire tablets in two variants: one with ads, and the other without ads. And the ones without the ads cost a bit more, to make up for the lost ad revenue.

Denzel Washington wearing Oakley sunglasses in the movie, The Book of Eli. Image credit: Flickr
Denzel Washington wearing Oakley sunglasses in the movie, The Book of Eli. Image credit: Flickr

A product placement was devised to address this consumer aversion, and also because traditional ads can be easily skipped by the audience. Product placements work only if there is no explicit reference made to the product. The key is to make sure the audience notices the item but doesn’t realize it’s being advertised. If a viewer feels a movie or an episode of his favorite show was not much different from an advert, the product placement was bad and apparently didn’t work out. When done right, product placements can lift a movie scene or TV show and also succeed with its advertising objectives. Having said that, it’s not a replacement for traditional advertising methods, and in-your-face kinds of advertisements would still be around for several more years.

Costs

Product placement arrangements are usually carried out between media houses and product manufacturers – the manufacturers paying an advertising fee for the indirect promotion, or sharing a specific percentage of the product sales (courtesy the product placement) with the media firm. However, there are instances, especially in the case of popular brands, when the company doesn’t pay for product placement but simply provides the product for free.  

Also, there are scenarios when the product manufacturer may make up for the placement by providing the movie or soap opera’s actors or the whole crew with monthly or annual supplies of the particular product. These supply arrangements would, however, depend on the price category the product falls into. If the item is a luxury good, then such free supply arrangements won’t be feasible for the manufacturer.

Unintended/Unpaid Product Placements

Not all products or brands you see in a movie or television show are direct outcomes of product placements. There are instances when a product placement could have happened naturally or unintentionally, or without the product manufacturer paying for the placement. Such cases are not common, but they do happen quite often. Some movie producers or directors place specific products or brands into their movies if they feel the product adds to the story’s realism or credibility. For example, specific products such as clothes, gadgets, cars, foods, etc. could be needed for set dressing. In such cases, product manufacturers are usually more than willing to provide free samples.

Games and the Internet

Product placement is an evolving field, and it’s no more restricted to movies and TV. Music videos, books, games, and also the Internet are raking in product placement dollars. A Formula One racing video game may have cars plastered with some form of branding. YouTubers, on the other hand, have grown beyond simply relying on traditional advertising as their revenue source. Most famous content creators on the site are striking product placement deals with major brands, resulting in the companies’ products or services featuring in their forthcoming videos. For example, if a YouTube vlogger signs a deal with a clothing brand, the Youtuber may be seen wearing the brand’s shirts in his/her future videos.