Studying Product Placement

I’ve been doing some reading about product placement for my grad school Media Ethics class. I’ll be leading a brief discussion on the topic during Wednesday’s class.

If you don’t know what “product placement” is, I can almost guarantee that you’ve seen it. Instead of relying on commercials for advertisement, companies are having their products incorporated into movies and television shows. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it is more prevalent in this era of DVR’s and on-demand access that allow users to skip ads.

A case study by Phillip Patterson in our class textbook, Media Ethics: Issues & Cases, says, “Hollywood calls it ‘brand integration'” (p. 76). Doesn’t that term sound better than the calling it “product placement?” What I find most fascinating, though, is that Patterson also claims that many television writers are not happy about product placement:

Among their gripes: they want more of a say in how products will be placed and, inevitably, a share of the profits generated from writing a product into the script. (p. 76)

Now, that explains why some of the product placement that I’ve witnessed just seems clumsy. Could it be a bit of protest from the writers? To be fair, I probably wouldn’t blame ’em.

If you’ll grant me a little leeway, I’ll share an example of a clumsy product placement. In this case, two characters in a crime-related drama were driving down the road in a bright blue car. I don’t remember the names of the characters or the specific brands. Matter of fact, I don’t remember which TV show it was, but you’ll get the idea. My commentary is in parentheses.

[Camera pans along shiny, blue Brand X car. “Sue” is driving. “John” is the passenger.]

Sue: “Hey John, isn’t my new, shiny, blue Brand X car great?” (In my opinion… umm, no. It looks like an underpowered blue teardrop.)

John: “It sure is. I’ve heard that the Brand X car gets excellent mileage.”

Sue: “Yup. 3,000 miles to the gallon.” (Okay… I’ve exaggerated that.)

John: “Sue, we really need to call Bob, but I lost my cellphone.”

Sue: “No problem. Watch this.” [Speaking to the car.] “Dial Bob.”

Brand X car: “Dialing.”

[Bob answers the phone and the storyline resumes.]

No, that’s not exactly the way it occurred in the show, but it was quite similar. It really interrupted the storyline and killed any desire to buy that car. I know that it’s an extreme example, but should TV shows and movies be turned into NASCAR-like yarns with product slogans, logos, and reminders everywhere?

Now, I like NASCAR, and yes, the advertisements by sponsors can be a bit overwhelming. But, on the other hand, it’s not like they try to sneak it into the race.

Whaddaya think? Feel free to include any product placements in your comments. Just not too much… the spam filter might catch it.

Leave a comment


  1. As a former TV producer and amateur TV historian I can vouch for your claim. In fact, if it gets past the filter, check this truly awful example from a recent episode of Days of Our Lives.

    By the way, I’m posting at 1:47Am because I couldn’t sleep. I definitely need to start taking that new, milder formula Valium. I hear it’s now available in grape and berry flavors!

  2. Joe Kain

     /  February 21, 2011

    That’s not product placement, that’s a commercial with a show thrown around it.

    Remember, those shows are called “soap operas” because they were originally sponsored/produced by laundry soap companies.

    Maybe they should be called “Chex-Mix Operas.”

  3. Chex-Mix Operas… sounds more appealing than “Soap Opera” to me! LOL.

    Well, I’m off to get some grape-flavored Valium and a bag of Chex-Mix. (Now where did that idea come from?)


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