The Advertising Apprentice

October 21, 2009

Putting Product Placement in the Picture


[While watching a hockey game on TSN I saw this new Windows 7 commercial:

I have to say this seems like a relatively new concept, product placement within a commercial. Going by how obvious the placement of the Sony VAIO laptop is within several shots, you know that this wasn’t coincidental. Some sort of arrangement was definitely struck between the two companies.]

Ok so this week’s topic won’t be nearly as stimulating as my previous entry on sex in advertising; but it will be just as informative, insightful and thought provoking!

In Essentials of Contemporary Advertising, Arens et al. define product placement as paying a fee to have a product prominently displayed in a movie or TV show. I do have issue with the word prominently. If you’re paying to have your product shown you want it to be seen, but not thrown in people’s faces. When product placement is used it’s usually done so in a much more subtle than what Arens and company would lead you to believe. Not all examples of product placement are as blatant as Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle:

As an advertiser and someone with great attention to detail I love watching a TV show or movie and trying to pick up that bag of Doritos or that bottle of Coke that has been intentionally put in the shot as a subtle plug for said product. After enough exposures you should be able to pick-up on the product, i.e. the glasses of Coke on the desk for the American Idol judges.

One of the earliest examples of product placement comes to us from Steven Spielberg’s The Extra Terrestrial.  The scene was written into the movie where Elliott would lure E.T. with some candy. Initially Mars was offered the placement but they passed and producers then went to Hershey to see if they’d be interested. In exchange for Reese’s Pieces candy being used in the movie Hershey didn’t pay any money but rather had to promote the movie. This reportedly cost them $1 million. Their return on investment was significant as sales soon surged 65%.

(I bet Mars Inc.’s then Chief Marketing Officer is still kicking himself for passing on the opportunity for M&Ms to appear in a movie that has grossed close to $800 million! Though you can’t blame them for not shelling out $1 million for a then unproven advertising technique.)

Of course product placement isn’t limited to just television and movies, you can also see it in video games. In an effort to reach a specific audience, Barack Obama teamed up with Electronic Arts to place Obama ads in nine E.A. games.

(In case you’re wondering this was my not-so-subtle attempt at product placement! Other than working on my subtlety I also have to work on the getting paid from the company that owns the product part!)

All jokes aside The Age of Persuasion How Marketing Ate Our Culture written by Canadian advertising greats Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant, the same duo responsible for The Age of Persuasion radio show aired on CBC Radio, is being released next Tuesday on October 27th. If you have any interest in the advertising industry, which considering how you’re reading my blog I seriously hope you do, you’ll definitely want to read this book!

A few years ago I wrote an essay on product placement. In doing research for this week’s entry I revisited that essay to see if my opinions have changed now that I have a better understanding of the industry. I was taken aback as I read this essay in which I made a valiant effort at arguing “advertising in society is effective because of the strengths of product placement in the different mediums in which it appears.”

I clearly gave product placement more credence than what it deserves, but back then I was young, naive and a little too wet behind the ears! Today I’m reluctant to give product placement that much credit despite the fact that product placement spending in 2004 was close to $3.5 billion.

I think product placement is an important component to the advertising industry, but it does not make the industry. It forces creatives to get creative and come up with new and innovative ways to incorporate their clients’ products into a TV show or movie. With products like TiVo and PVRs product placement/integration is necessary for reaching the audience. As it becomes more prevalent, the audience will become immune to it and will start ignoring it just like they do with conventional 30-second commercials. And in turn product placement will become less effective.


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