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Advertising In Your Face: Product Placement Slaps Consumers Around With Brand Recognition

In a world where the television viewing public has the ability to simply fast-forward through commercials, advertisers have to resort to clandestine methods to get products ingrained into social consciousness.  The result of this is called "product placement."

Also known as "embedded marketing," product placement allows companies to place products in prominent view in exchange for a fee or services.  This is primarily used in movies and television.  There are several variations of how product placement is used, but the end result is the same: the advertiser manages to insert product awareness into the consumer.

The first example of product placement is thought to have occurred in the 1800s,  in the film Défilé du 8e Battalion.  See if you can spot it:


Did ya see the little wheelbarrow with a soap logo on it?  There ya go.  A new system of advertising is born.

I love the way its just paraded out onto the screen and left there.  Subtle it is not.

Possibly the most famous use of product placement comes from Steven Spielberg's classic film, E.T. The Extraterrestrial.

Amblin Entertainment (Spielberg's production company) originally contacted Mars, Inc. - the makers of M&Ms - with the idea of creating a tie-in between the candy and the film.  It sort'a makes sense.  Alient life-form.  Mars.  Seems like that would be a great combo to me.

But Mars, Inc. turned down the offer.  Speculation about this decision ranges from Mars not wanting its candy associated with an alien to the notion that the film would be a big bomb at the box office.  I'm of a mind that the decision was two-fold.  

Amblin Entertainment was a reasonably new company at that time.  We're not talking the mega-director Spielberg that we have now - though he was on his way after two massive successes (Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark), a huge critical success (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), a bomb (1941 - see it... It's truly a great movie, way ahead of its time), and two other smaller films.  Either way, I'd love to have been a fly on the wall at those meetings.

The other reason is that product placement, though used, was not the advertising juggernaut that it is today (see the next entries and you'll know what I mean).  Mars, Inc. could have simply been nervous about the medium and calculated that it would not be worth the expense.

This, of course, proved horribly wrong.  Hershey said, "Yes," in came the Reese's Pieces and the rest is history.  One of the most blatant, yet story intrinsic uses of product placement in film history.

The next few films are going to be covered swiftly.  The videos will do the job for me.

I will say that it is an absolute coincidence that two of these films were directed by uber-action guy Michael Bay.  He's taken product placement to a whole new level.  And while the film geek in me really wants to condemn this, Bay manages to include products in films without a ton of fanfare - primarily because there are sooooooooooooo many products pounded onto the viewer that we, for the most part, forget that they are there.  I'm not complaining.  I think this takes skill.  Plus, Bay is one of the few directors around who gets cooperation from the U.S. Army.  If that's not the ultimate in product placement, I don't know what is.

First up in the Michael Bay product placement line-up: The Island:

Funny.  I always thought that yacht was something built specifically for the film...


Next: Transformers:

See what I mean.  Michael Bay is really adept at incorporating products into a film, then pumping up the action so far that you don't really even notice that they're there.  It's sort of a bizarre variant of subliminal advertising, though it's not remotely trying to hide the product.  Hell, even the movie itself is a product placement!  "More Than Meets the Eye," indeed!


This final example is my favorite because I can see this becoming a bonifide method of advertising in the near future.

Minority Report:

Retina scans determine the identity of the consumer then show a product specifically designed to entice that consumer toward a purchase.  In some cases the ads even say the consumer's name.

Tell me that's not just around the corner.

And as an example of product placement it excels.  Not only are the products shot out of the screen to us, the viewers, but they also become integral aspects of the world created for the film.

So... the next time you're watching TV and skipping past the commercials, pay attention to what's on the screen during your favorite program.  Do the same at the next movie you go to.  Make it a game.  Count the products.

SOURCES: Wikipedia, Snopes

John Barker
Clever Ads, Promotions and Marketing
InventorSpot.com