Product Placement

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By definition, product placement is the purposeful incorporation of a brand into an entertainment vehicle. (Reichert, 2008) The textbook calls this strategic placement of products in TV shows, movies, and other entertainment vehicles, a hybrid of traditional advertising. This suggests that not only is the product being promoted, but it is done in such a way that the audience may not even realize they are being sold to. It has been said to “epitomize the blurring of the lines between advertising and entertainment”. (Reichert, 2008). Some may few this as being unethical or an unfair way to promote different products, however, I believe product placement is nothing but effective.

While there are several differences between traditional advertising and product placement, they are both essentially doing the same thing; paid communication of a product in a mass medium. The main differences include the fact that the FCC regulates advertising while product placement is not regulated at all. Another key example of the difference in the two is that while advertisements try to promote product attributes or functionality, product placement simply shows the product in every day use. Most advertising professionals who favor traditional media selection would claim that this is a serious disadvantage to spending millions of dollars on product placement, though many others would state that seeing the product in use is a far better promotion than any advertisement, especially if it is in use by the audience’s favorite TV characters or movie stars. I think this method of promotion (product placement) is relevant to what the audience may actually being experiencing in their day to day life, and adding the featured product may be what is missing from their day.

According to one research study done by Jay Newell, an assistant professor at Iowa State University, the earliest product placement began in the late 1800s, long before popular radio sponsorships, in motion pictures done by the pioneering French filmmakers the Lumiére brothers. In May 1896 the brothers shot a film of two women hand-washing tubs of laundry. Placed prominently in front of the tubs were two cases of soap, one with the French branding “Sunlight Savon,” the other with the German “Sunlight Seife.”(Newell, 2010).

It wasn’t long after the Frenchmen had their ingenious soap placement idea that Thomas Edison began to really turn product placement into a business. To cut production costs of his films, he would feature the rail line in his movies that his film crew actually used for transportation. Inside the railcar, on screen, would be advertisements for Edison products, like the phonograph. (Newell, 2010).

A more recent example from the 1930s is how radio shows would be sponsored by a single advertiser. The product being advertised is not only featured in commercials before, during, and after the show, but the product was also incorporated into the content of the show. The milk supplement, Ovaltine, sponsored little Orphan Annie in its debut in 1931. Fans could redeem Ovaltine proofs of purchase for a secret decoder ring or badge that decoded brief messages airing in the last moments of the show. A good example of this would be in the movie A Christmas Story. The main character receives his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring in the mail and hastily works to decode the message only to discover it is a “crummy commercial” reminding him to drink his Ovaltine. This integration of the product from radio content to the hands of the actual Ovaltine consumer was far ahead of its time.

These three early examples of product placement have proved the long lasting success of the idea. The consumer feels comfortable using products that have been used by celebrities, even if it is on TV or in the movies. (This is not to be confused with brand identity, which would be if a celebrity used and inspired the use of a...
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