TR Robertson — We like to think we purchase the goods and services, that are part of our daily life, because we are making our own decisions, but in reality much of what we purchase is because of something we have seen on television, in movies or seen in magazines. I am not just talking about the everyday ads we see that are a part of every television program and were the part of the opening advertisements at movie theatres. I am referring to the cleverly placed products used in various scenes of movies and T.V. shows. These products are the result of negotiations for additional financial support for the movie or T.V. program, many times in the millions of dollars of additional income for the companies producing the films or television shows.
Product placement is known as embedded marketing, a technique where specific brands, for a film or products, are incorporated into a visual part of the scenes of a film or television show. Many time’s the products or brands are fictional and are used to maintain a feeling of realism for the productions. No specific coffee was mentioned in “Friends” but look how going to coffee shops influenced thousands and thousands of people everywhere. At other times, the specific product or brand is real and placed in a prominent area of the scene so we, the viewers, subconsciously see the name. If done correctly, the hope of the companies supplying the product, is that sales of their products or brands will be influenced by the fact that the item has appeared on film or in the television program. At other times, the specific product becomes an integral part of the movie or T.V. show, even being referred to by the actor or actress. In the 1955 James Dean film “Rebels Without a Cause”, James Dean used an Ace Comb and suddenly every teenage boy felt they had to have an Ace Comb to be cool. Ace Comb saw a big increase in their sales while the film was in theatres.
Product placement has been in the sports world for quite some time. NASCAR racing cars are covered in decals advertising their sponsors. European soccer leagues have names of their sponsors as part of their uniforms as well as additional sponsors sewn onto their unis. It was just discussed that Major League Baseball might have some sponsors names on their uniforms, as a way to recoup lost funds during the COVID pandemic, so far this has not been done. PGA golfers also have sponsors on their shirts as well as caps. The pros golf bags and clubs are a perfect example of product advertising. In the case of sports teams, for the most part, their advertising is not a product placement, but rather, the product logos and names. In the case of logos, think of the Nike swoosh on Collegiate and NBA players shoes and for names, the names of most sports Stadiums, like Petco Park.
In today’s advertising world, millions and millions of dollars are spent on advertisement. Ads for Super Bowl 30 second and minute slots cost in the millions of dollars, all the while the companies are hoping their clever ads will result in an increase in product sales. Product placement can cost a company in the millions as well. There are times companies can find other ways to negotiate having their product in the movie. M&M had an opportunity to be part of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” movie but turned down the offer. Hershey Foods negotiated not paying for the use of their Reese’s Pieces, instead agreeing to promote “E.T.” in exchange for $1 million worth of advertising. Was this worth the investment? Hershey’s profit increased by 65% during the movie’s run.
More and more companies and businesses are turning to product placement to advertise. This is partially because in today’s use of digital recorders, families can skip over the traditional commercial breaks with the consumer not seeing any of the ads, so the bang for their dollar becomes less valuable to the business. Companies and businesses are continually seeking new and different ways to get consumers to see their product and to remember their products to increase sales.
The first recorded product placement may go back to the 1896 films of Auguste and Louis Lumiere and their connection to Lever Brothers in France. Their films feature Sunlight Soap, carefully placed so the film viewer can see the product name. The 1927 silent film, “Wings”, contained a plug for Hershey’s chocolate and a 1931 film, “M”, showed a banner for Wrigley’s PK Chewing Gum. In the 1932 film, “Horse Feathers”, Thelma Todd’s character falls out of a canoe and calls for a life saver and Groucho Marx throw’s her a Life Savers candy.
I pointed out in a previous article that cars play a prominent role in various movies and the result can see a huge increase in car sales, for example the sales skyrocketing for Mustangs after the movie “Bullitt”. In “Superman II”, Superman crashes into a giant Coca-Cola advertisement and saves people on a bus bearing an ad for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” before he smashes into a Marlboro deliver truck. The ads can be subtle, but memorable. In the television show “Smallville”, Clark Kent eats Cheerios for breakfast. In Tom Hanks popular movie, “Castaway”, the name Wilson is spoken and shouted numerous times, referring to his created friend, the Wilson volleyball. In “Jurassic Park”, not only are Ford cars prominently used, as well as other products, like Barbasol shaving cream, but the film also features a “Jurassic Park Souvenir Store”, with numerous products, leading to increased sales in the Jurassic Park toys at Toys R Us and other stores. Look at the success of Lego’s with the various Lego’s movies. The list goes on and on and on. Product placement has been a large part of the television and movie industry for years, adding to the profits for both media moguls.
There have been several significant memorable products used throughout the year’s in television shows and in movies. See how many of these you remember:
- Ray-Ban Sunglasses in “Risky Business” and “Top Gun”
- Daisey’s Red Ryder BB Gun in “The Christmas Story
- White Castle Burgers in “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle”
- Pizza Hut, Pepsi, Doritos and Reebok in “Wayne’s World”
- Nokia 7110 phone in “The Matrix”
- Chevrolet Camaro in “Transformers”
- FedEx in “Castaway” and the Wilson volleyball
- Manolo Blahnik shoes in “Sex and the City”
- Apple iPad in “Modern Family”
- Kodak Carousel in “Mad Men”
- Heineken in “Skyfall”
- Nike in “White House Down”
- Dr. Pepper in “90210”, Captain America (2011) and Indiana Jones (2008)
- Coca-Cola – “King Kong” (1933) & in Netflix series “Bosch” (also Starbuck’s in “Bosch”)
- Etch-a-Sketch and Mr. Potato Head – “Toy Story” – Etch-a-Sketch had a sales increase of 4,500% and Mr. Potato Head had a sales increase of 800%
- Cheerio’s, Junior Mints and Yoo-hoo in “Seinfeld”
In today’s movie and television world, money is the name of the game. Any way these businesses can add to their profit margin, they will use this to their advantage. The next time you watch a television show, a sporting event or are able to take in a movie, carefully watch the scenes and see what products you happen to notice that have been placed so you, the viewer, can see the products name, label or logo. Then see if you purchase any of these items in the coming weeks. If so, the movie or T.V. show has done its job.