A History of Product Placement in Film and Television
Product placement in the marketing world has become more and more evident in the past few decades. More specifically, product placement in the movie industry has been one of the most successful ways to advertise products. Oftentimes, products are associated with a film, or vice versa. Such is the case with Reese’s Pieces candies and Stephen Spielberg’s film, “E.T”. While it is a very expensive way of companies to advertise their brands, it is one that pays off immensely if executed properly. Although it seems as if product placement in film and television is a relatively new way of marketing products to the public, it has been around as early as the late 1800’s. On December 28, 1895, pioneering French filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumiere exhibited their films in the basement of a Paris cafe to the first paying audience for projected motion pictures. In developing their "Cinematograph," a machine that combined a camera, processor, and projector into a single unit, the Lumiere brothers had also, in effect, invented the motion picture audience. The running time of a Lumiere film was limited by the amount of film that their Cinematograph could hold, which was about 50-60 seconds. The content was often moments, supposedly, of real life: a train arriving at a station, pedestrians walking on a city street. But many of their films were staged, including a very early one featuring a performance by Frank Claire, the father-in-law to both the Lumiere brothers. Claire owned a brewery in Lyons, and in the film, “The Card Game” (Lumiere, 1896); he carefully pours a bottle of his beer for two companions. If the bottle had a label, it was not visible, but in this film the initial steps toward the combination of film and commerce are evident. Within 6 months the first examples of product placement would be filmed. In the spring of 1896, the Lumiere brothers entered into a distribution and production arrangement with Francois-Henri Lavanchy-Clarke, a Swiss businessman who was also a European distributor and promoter for the U.K. soap manufacturer Lever Brothers (Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 2006). For the Lumiere brothers, Lavanchy-Clarke would show films in Switzerland as well as film Swiss-located motion pictures for distribution in Europe and the United States. For Lever Brothers, Lavanchy-Clarke publicized their leading product, Sunlight Soap (Lavanchy-Clarke, 1922). It was this connection between Lavanchy-Clarke, Lever Brothers, and the Lumieres that resulted in the first product placements in motion pictures. In May 1896, in the yard of the Geneva home of Lavanchy-Clarke, Cinematographer operator Alexandre Promio shot a film of two women hand-washing tubs of laundry (Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 2006). Placed notably in front of the tubs were two cases of Lever Brothers soap, one with the French branding "Sunlight Savon," the other with the German "Sunlight Seife." The following month, the film, given the English title, “Washing Day” in Switzerland (Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 2006), was shown in New York at Keith's Union Square Theatre, along with shots of European trains, French parades, and various skits. Another contributor to product placement’s beginnings which included the interconnection of film and marketing was none other than Thomas Edison. Edison was the first to turn product placement into an ongoing business that provided benefits of reducing out-of-pocket production costs while providing promotional services for customers of his industrial business (Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 2006). One of Edison’s films, the 1905 “Streetcar Chivalry” takes place in a commuter train car plastered with posters for Edison’s products such as phonographs (Streetcar Chivalry, 1905). Some Edison films integrated advertising messages that were more similar to commercials than...
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