Product Placement

If the purpose of a TV programme is to herd consumers in the direction of the advertisers, then the traditional commercial break, when audiences stop paying attention to the TV set or computer and go off for a break or take the opportunity to switch channel, does not always do its job. DVRs and online viewing further threaten any kind of commercial which interrupts the programming.

Lady Gaga product placement
Advertisers have responded to this by expanding the ways in which the consumer is exposed to the product. Advertisers make a deal with the creators of a movie, music video or TV show and provide them with examples of their product (cars, computers, canned drinks) to be used on set. The product will feature in the film or show, will get associated with the values of that show (hip? award-winning?) and any celebrity who appears on the show using it. The advertisers might want to tie in their product placement with a deal which means they get to promote the movie (eg with a special sort of Happy Meal) in return for the movie promoting them. Often they pay huge amounts of money for the privilege of placing a product.

The first instance of modern product placement, where a company negotiated to have its product feature as a major part of a story, is ET, where Reese's Pieces were the food of choice for the cuddly alien. M&Ms turned the offer down. Sales of Reese's Pieces went up astronomically.

Product placement is now an accepted part of movie and TV show financing (even for indie and low-budget productions), and we've got used to actors drinking from bottles that always have the label turned towards the camera. Problems arise, however, when the product placement seems too obvious or contrived, when the story slows just so the audience can get a good long look at a logo. Michael Bay seems to be a particular fan of product placement (because he works on such big budget movies) and the Transformers movies did seem like looooong commercials.

Other producers are very careful and selective when it comes to product placement:

How to Get Your Product on 'Modern Family'

How does your product fit into the lifestyle of one of the characters on the show? Producers don't want to disrupt the program by jamming in a box of soap that no one on it would consider using.

Producers want to take the cast to remote locations or bring in great guest stars. Can your advertising help accomplish that and make the show more exciting?

Though no one is giving figures, back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate it could cost thousands of dollars per second and must be done alongside a traditional TV ad buy.

Producers turn down about 90% of requests. No one wants the characters to turn into sales props.

Many Brands Bid for Product Placement on 'Modern Family,' but So Few Make It

Morgan Spurlock's 2011 documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold lifts the lid on how both moviemakers and corporate sponsors are prepared to cheat audiences when it comes to what many people see as back-door advertising. You'll never look at a movie the same way again.

Keep up to date with the latest news stories on product placement via the advertising category on the Mediaknowall blog.