Product Placement Exercise

The recent release of Skyfall and the news that Heineken spent $45 million dollars to have James Bond drink its beer makes a perfect introduction to the issue of product placement. The following is a brief discussion of product placement and an exercise I developed for the artifactual communication chapter in my nonverbal communication book—still in manuscript. I thought this might be useful to those teaching the nonverbal communication course or a unit in an introductory course.

In much the same way that we make judgments about people on the basis of the products they use (jewelry, furs, and name brands from Prada to Old Navy), we also make judgments about products on the basis of the people who use them, a tendency that has spawned huge product placement efforts by major corporations. Product placement refers simply to the placement of a product—for a fee but without any explicit advertising statements—within a scene of a movie or television show to give it a certain image. The advertiser’s hope is that you’ll identify with the actor using the product (that is, you want to be like the character, in some ways) and that you too will then also buy the product. The actor and the movie give the product an image that the advertiser assumes will help sell the product.

In the 2012 James Bond Skyfall, for example, Heineken paid $45 million to have Bond drink its beer (New York Daily News, November 9, 2012). In addition, Bond wears a Tom Ford suit and an Omega watch while Q uses a Sony Vaio—all very clear to the viewer. Another Bond film, however, holds the record for product placements; the 1997 Tomorrow Never Dies earned $100 million for its product placements. The same is true on television; the Cheesecake Factory on The Big Bang Theory and McDonald’s on 30 Rock are good examples. Product placement is, of course, nothing new; recall James Bond’s Aston Martin in the 1964 Goldfinger and E.T. eating Reese’s Pieces in the 1982 E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

As you no doubt already know, product placement is occurring in television sitcoms and dramas and in feature films with ever increasing frequency. That fact that this type of advertising aims to influence you subliminally raises all sorts of serious ethical issues. Those who favor or defend product placement, such as the American Advertising Federation argue:

Product placement is a legitimate source of advertising revenue and is not deceptive. It benefits both content producers and consumers and adds verisimilitude to fictional programming. We oppose proposals that would require simultaneous “pop up” notices of every instance of product placement, believing this would make television unwatchable. We instead believe the current practice of disclosures at the end of the program works well.

Those who oppose product placement argue that it’s deceptive because viewers are not aware that it’s a paid advertisement. It is subliminal advertising—messages that somehow get communicated without mindfulness or awareness. And, despite the AAF’s statement, no one can really read the disclosures at the end of a television program, nor would anyone want to. Further, the enormous profits to be made from product placement will likely lead to its spread to news shows which will further erode fairness and objectivity.

Regardless of the possible ethical violations, product placement is likely to remain a part of movies and television; it is too lucrative a market for it to disappear any time soon.

Product Placement

To sensitize you to the many ways in which advertisers try to influence you below the level of conscious awareness—and in effect counteract the influence of product placement—consider this exercise on product placement, another aspect of space decoration. During the next movie you watch—there are lots more in movies than in television shows—identify any product placements you notice and fill in the remaining columns of the accompanying table. The example provided will clarify the parts of this exercise.


Movie: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­__________________________________________________.  Year: _______.


How was the product used? What’s the context?
Intended meaning
Burger King hamburger bag
Iron Man Tony Stark wants an American hamburger before anything else
Burger King is the hamburger of choice, especially when you’re dying for one



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Unknown said...

Wow! Thanks for this knowledge, I never knew such adverts were paid for even though I knew they were forms of adverts. Always thought those products are used because they sponsored the movie or tv show.
Wonderful piece!

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