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Product Placement :-

This essay was originally written for an English class at Ivy Tech State College. This essay can also be opened as a Word document for viewing or downloading.

Product Placement


Ray Thomas

July 2002

If you’ve been watching television or going to the cinema regularly you may have noticed that more and more products are either being used, mentioned or seen in many of the scenes that you’ve been watching. Filmmakers control everything that appears on the screen and it’s not by accident that these products are appearing. It’s called product placement. It has its origins in the very early days of television and it’s coming back.

The first product placement was seen in the 1951 film African Queen when Katherine Hepburn threw Humphrey Bogart’s bottle of Gordon’s Dry Gin overboard. In the 1950’s many television shows were named after their sponsors, and so shows such as “Texaco Star Theater”, “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and “Kraft Television Theater” appeared. These would often feature a segment where the characters would extol the virtues of the sponsoring company’s products. The tobacco company, Philip Morris, spent $30,000 a week sponsoring the I Love Lucy show and the stars, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, were often seen smoking their products. In 1958 investigations into the rigging of game shows began. Sponsorship became strictly regulated and the practice of product placement declined. (Twenty One 2).

People see 714 television commercials a week, that’s over 37,000 a year, (Zarchikoff 1), which cost, in 2001, over $46 billion for American businesses to produce. (Domestic1). The problem for advertisers is that people are suffering from “commercial overload.” When the commercials come on, they find other things to do, mute the sound, “tune out” or “channel surf”. If people are using a video recorder, they fast-forward. Television advertising rates increased by over 20% between 2000 and 2001, (Kern 2), and newer technologies such as TiVo, DVR (Digital Video Recorders) and PVR (Personal Video Recorders) mean that commercials can be skipped altogether. According to Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University in New York, this has Madison Avenue “scurrying around for some solution to the insoluble problem of technology which will soon make it unnecessary to sit through a commercial. The best way is to get the product directly in the show.” (Goodale 1).

It seems they have. In the 1980’s only five companies specialized in product placement, today there are over a hundred. (Timmerman 2). There are several advantages as to why a company should consider product placement. The most obvious is that the viewer can’t ignore them without missing the plot. A study by Brigham Young University seems to suggest that the retention of the audience for the product is higher than in other forms of advertising. (Maynard 2). There are other advantages: films reach a global audience, more people are going to the cinema and renting or buying videotapes and DVDs (Digital Video Disks), thus increasing the audience. People can also see the product in use, usually by a celebrity, giving the product some sort of status and an endorsement. (Product 2).

It needn’t be expensive either. Because of the restrictions bought about by the 1950’s game show scandals, an estimated 90% of movie and almost all television product placements involve no exchange of money. (Bassett 1). Companies like Apple and Ray-Ban do not pay for inclusion in films, (McCarthy, Dot-Coms 3), yet Ray-Ban reported that sales of its Predator 2 sunglasses tripled to $5 million after they were used in the film Men in Black. (Bassett 1). Mars Inc. was approached during filming of ET to provide M&M’s for the film; they refused. (Powell, Gail 1). The producers turned to Reeses who supplied Reeses Pieces gratis and saw their sales increase by 65%. (Bassett 2).

Things are changing though. Ford paid roughly half the $500,000 an episode that No Boundaries cost to produce; Revlon reportedly paid between $3 million and $7 million to be featured in ABC’s All My Children (Powell, Betsy 2), and Mercedes Benz is reputed to have spent $2 million getting their cars seen in Jurassic Park 2 and $40 million for Men in Black 2 (Wheeling 2). The cost of product placement seems to be rising. Product placement spots were being sold for $1 million for the first season of Survivor. By the time the second series was being prepared the cost had jumped to $12 million. (Kern 1).

Apart from the money, the film and program producers also get something else. They may require a certain product to set a scene or to say something about a character. As Bruce Helford, executive producer of The Drew Carey Show says, “If someone wants to step up and pay for my show, it doesn’t bother me to find a way to put their product in my show…. Using real products certainly makes the shows more realistic.” (Goodale 2).

There are dangers in product placement. In the reality show Big Brother 2, a contestant threatened another with a knife. Buick had already pulled out of the show but said, “As a responsible company we don’t want to be associated with any type of violence.” (McCarthy, Ads 2). However, in the film Nurse Betty, a Buick Le Sabre was used to run someone over. In the reality show Temptation Island 2, four married couples are “tempted” by twenty-six single people. Quaker Oats, one of the shows sponsors pulled out, and the American Family Association is threatening to boycott any other company advertising on the show. (McCarthy, Ads 3).

Large corporations own many of the television networks. Walt Disney for example owns ABC. This means that some product placement deals can become very involved. Bothel Biomedical has been providing $25,000 SonoSite ultrasound machines for NBC’s “ER” since 2000. NBC is owned by General Electric, who have started production of their own ultrasound machines, and have started applying pressure to NBC and ER’s prop masters to use their machines. Bothel was hoping that SonoSite would be profitable by 2001 but is still making a loss. (Timmerman 2).

In April 2001, the NBC show Will and Grace featured one of the actresses wearing a Polo brand shirt. Viewers were invited to buy the shirt at $52, $15 from every sale would go to “support programs dedicated to raising cancer awareness.” A spokesman said that no money exchanged hands. Five days later 5,000 shirts had been sold, raising $45,000 for cancer awareness. Polo is 50% owned by NBC, who no doubt claimed their share of the remaining $110,000. (York 1).

Things could get even worse though. In 1996 Reebok and TriStar Pictures got into a legal battle over the film Jerry Maquire. The complaint against TriStar by Reebok was 24 pages long. (Court 1). Reebok had asked that the film contain a full length commercial for them. It was eventually edited out of the movie, but an insult by one of the characters about Reebok remained. Reebok and TriStar eventually settled out of court with TriStar reportedly paying $10 million - $12 million to Reebok. (Bassett 2).

So where does this leave the viewer? The money going into these programs and films arguably makes them bigger and better as well as more realistic. There are people in the industry who want to protect the audience from too much blatant advertising. Stuart Gordon, who co-wrote Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and who was executive producer for Honey, I Blew Up the Kids says, “You can save on the budget by taking products, but you don’t want to turn your film into a commercial.” (Lovell 2). However some products are now getting more screen time than most extras. (Providence 1). The film You’ve Got Mail features AOL for its entire length, the first twenty minutes of Cast Away features Federal Express and in What Women Want a major part of the plot is Mel Gibson working on an advertising campaign for Nike. Anyway, people like writer Shinan Govani dismisses the whole idea of advertising, as he says, “Anyone who goes out and buys a toothbrush just because he saw Sandra Bullock holding it is a simpleton. So is anyone who signs up with AOL simply because he wants to find the gal [sic] of his dreams.” (Govani 2)

In the future we can expect more programs and films that feature products and more whose plots depend on them. Products such as TiVo, PVRs and DVRs may allow us to skip adverts but not when those same devices are used to send information about us to the advertisers. Choice TV has already worked with General Instruments to produce a box that target zip codes for specialized advertisements down to a ten-block radius. In 1998, 650,000 of these units had already been sold and a further 15 million were on order. (Pavis 1). It is thought that by 2006, 244 million homes will have this technology. (Olsen 2). Virtual Advertising can digitally remaster programs so that different products can be featured. Think that sounds far fetched? The system was tested in 1999 by PVI when they inserted digital advertisements for Coca Cola, Evian and Wells Fargo into Seven Days, and digital advertisements are already being inserted into syndicated reruns and sports programs. (Pennington 3). Gary Ruskin, director of Commercial Alert, thinks that this will turn TV into a “cesspool of aggressive commercialism.” (Weintraub 3). We shall have to wait and see.

Appendix - Examples

Some films and television programs, the products and brands that appear in them:-

African Queen
AI: Artificial Intelligence
Air Force One
All My Children
American Gigolo
American Psycho
Any Given Sunday
As the World Turns
A Time to Kill
Austin Powers
Back to the Future
Bat Man
Big Brother 2
Blade Runner
Boogie Nights
Boys Don’t Cry
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Cast Away
Charlie’s Angels
Crocodile Dundee
Dawson’s Creek
Deep Blue Sea
Demolition Man
Die Hard
Dirty Deeds
Drew Carey
Erin Brockovich
Enemy of the State
Eyes Wide Shut
Face Off
Family Law
Father of the Bride
Final Destination
Footballers’ Wives
Forrest Gump
Ghost World
Golden Eye
Good Will Hunting
Harry Potter
Hedwig and the Angry Itch
Home Alone
Home Alone 3
Honey, I Blew Up the Kids
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
I Am Sam
Jungle 2 Jungle
Jurassic Park 2
Keeping the Faith
King of Queens
Lethal Weapon 4
License to Kill
Little Nicky
Me, Myself & Irene
Melrose Place
Men in Black
Men in Black 2
Minority Report

Miss Congeniality
Mission Impossible
Mission Impossible II
Murder in Small Town X
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Natural Born Killers
No Boundaries
Notting Hill
Nurse Betty
Nutty Professor II
One hour Photo
Pacific Heights
Panic Room
Pearl Harbor
Practical Magic
Push, Nevada
Rain Man
Risky Business
Rush Hour
Rush Hour 2
Scary Movie
Seven Days
Sex and the City
Small Soldiers
Smokey and the Bandit
Someone Like You
Starship Troopers
Stepping Stones
Straight Story

Taxi Driver
The Agency
The Amazing Race
The Caretakers
The Client
The Deep End
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
The Faculty
The Fast and the Furious
The Firm
The General’s Daughter
The Green Mile
The Guiding Light
The Horse Whisperer
The Hurricane
The Insider
The Kiss
The Matrix
The Muppet Movie
The Nugget
The Perfect Storm
The Runner
The Saint
The Shipping News
The Sopranos
Three Kings
Tomb Raider
Tomorrow Never Dies

Town and Country
Toy Story
True Lies
Wayne’s World
West Wing
What Lies Beneath
What Woman Want
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Who Wants to be a Millionaire
Will and Grace
With a Friend Like Harry
Wonder Boys
X Files
You’ve Got Mail
Dell Computers
Gordon’s Gin - First product placement
Dell Computers
Giorgio Armani
Jean Paul Gautier
Chanel - First ad in animated film - Not paid for by Chanel
Protein Plus Bar
BMW and Swiss Army sunglasses
Proctor & Gamble
AOL, Heineken, Starbucks and Virgin Airlines
Apple Computers and Taco Bell
Proctor & Gamble
Atari, Bulova, Budweiser and Schlitz
7-Up, Chevrolet, Coca Cola, Fresca and Polaroid
Daily Variety and Federal Express
Redi Whip
Coca Cola, Ford and Haagen-Dazs
Canada Dry
Federal Express
House of Pancakes and Sizzler
Philip Morris
J.Crew clothing
Taco Bell
Hostess Twinkies and Philip Morris
XXXX beer
Ramada and VW Beetle
Apple Computers, Bothell Biomedical and Ramada
Coffee Beanery
Head & Shoulders
Band-Aid and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
Canada Dry and Proctor & Gamble
Coca Cola
Porsche - British TV series
Dr. Pepper
Pacific Theaters
Bose Audio
BMW, GMC and Mercedes Benz
Aston Martin
Dunkin’ Donuts
Coca Cola - $290 million tie-in
Gummy Bears, Milky Way, Necco Wafers and Tootsie Rolls
American Airlines and Budget Rent-a-Truck
Casio, Fisher-Price, Ford, Nissan, Nortel and Sony
Lotus, Oshkosh B’Gosh and Reebok
Cheerios and Little Debbie cookies
Lion Nathan beers
American Airlines
Mercedes Benz
Proctor & Gamble
GMC and Pontiac
Philip Morris
Popeye’s Chicken
Miller Beer
Coca Cola
Mercedes Benz, Rockport Shoes and Sprint Electronics
American Express, Aquafina, Ben & Jerry’s, Bulgari, Burger King, Gap, Guinness, Lexus, Nokia, Pepsi, Reebok, Revo, Toyota and USA Today. – Not bad for a film set in 2054, 52 years in the future.
Dell Computers
Apple Computers
Taco Bell, Jeep and Nokia
Coca Cola
Cocoa Puffs
Buick Le Sabre - Used to run someone over
Coca Cola
Canada Dry
Orkin Pest Control
American Safe Door Company
Coca Cola and Pepsi
Dell Computers
Toyota and Pepsi
Mercedes Benz
Budweiser, United Airlines - Plane provided free
Norge refrigerators
Coca Cola, Heinz, Junior Mints and Snapple
Coca Cola, Evian, Wells Fargo - Testing of digital ads in 1999
Apple Computers and Heineken
Carnival Cruise Lines
Hasbro Toys
Dell Computers
Coca Cola
Miller Beer
Budweiser, Cingular, Coors, Doritos, Dr Scholl, Frito-Lay, GMC, Mountain Dew, Reebok, Sierra Mist soft drinks, Saturn cars, Target and Visa
Heineken and Dell Computers
Dell Computers
American Airlines
Mercedes Benz
Sparkletts Water
L’Oreal makeup
Tommy Hilfiger
Pizza Hut
Red Stripe
Moon Pie
Proctor & Gamble
Miller Beer
Cadillac, GM, Nokia and Ray-Ban
Philip Morris
KFC Free - KFC for cast and crew
Budweiser and Pepsi
Miller Beer
Heineken and Mercedes Benz
Slim Jim
Eriksson and UPS
Avis, BMW, Brioni, Ericsson, Heineken, L’Oreal, Omega, Smirnoff and Visa
Kellogg and Mercedes Benz
Mr Potato Head
RC Cola
Nuprin and Pizza Hut
Dell Computers, Fresca and Panda Express
Philip Morris

Polo clothing - NBC own 50% of Polo
Dell Computers
Dell Computers, Oldsmobile and Omega
AOL, Apple, IBM

Works Cited

Bassett, Mike. "And Now A Word From Our Sponsor …." 4 pages, 30 June 2002 http://www.media-awareness.ca/eng/med/class/teamedia/bond2.htm

Court Online, Reebok v. Tristar, 24 pages, 30 June 2002 http://courttv.comlegaldocs/business/reebok.html

“Domestic Advertising Spending Totals.” Advertising Age, 2 pages, 14 July 2002 http://www.adage.com/new.cms?newsId=919

Endicott, R, Craig.”Leading National Advertisers Report.” Advertising Age, 28 June 2002, 3 pages, 30 June 2002 http://www.adage.com/new.cms?newsId=35204

Goodale, Gloria.”Ads You Can’t Subtract.” Christian Science Monitor, 93.38 (19 Jan 2001) :13, MasterFILE Premier, 3 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-ehostvgw11.epnet.com

Govani, Shinan.”Product Placement in Movies – is it Really So Bad?.” Christian Science Monitor, 10 February 1999, 2 pages, 30 June 2002 http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/1999/02/10/p11s1.htm

Kern, Tanja.”Commercial Televi$ion.” Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, 90.6 (June 2000) :166, MasterFILE Premier, 2 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-ehostvgw11.epnet.com

Lovell, Glenn.”Critics of Product Placement in Films Fear Commercialism Threatens Creativity.” San Jose Mercury News, 26 Dec 1997, Newspaper Source, 4 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-ehostvgw11.epnet.com

Maynard, Mark / San Diego Union Tribune.”Automakers Love To Get Their Cars On Screen ….” Vista Group, 28 Dec 2000, 4 pages, 30 June 2002 http://vistagroupusa.com/sandiego.htm

McCarthy, Michael.”Ads Pepper Reality Shows with Product Placements.” USA Today, 23 July 2001, 3 pages, 30 June 2002 http://usatoday.com/money/advertising/2001-07-23-reality-ads.htm

McCarthy, Michael.”Dot-Coms Click to Product Placement.” USA Today, 7 June 2000, 4 pages, 30 June 2002 http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/cth419.htm

Olsen, Stefanie.”Company Tries Tailoring Ads to TV Audience.” CNET Tech news, 5 June 2001, 2 pages, 30 June 2002.

Pavis, Theta.”Cable TV Gurus Band Together on Targeted Ads.” Wired News, 16 Jan 1998, 2 pages, 30 June 2002 http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,9688,00.html

Pennington, Gail.”Just Try Zapping These Ads.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 14 April 2002, Electric Library, 3 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-www.elibrary.com

Powell, Betsy.”Licensed to Shill.” Toronto Star, 04/07/2002, Newspaper Source, 5 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-ehostvgw11.epnet.com

Powell, Gail.”A Brand Performance.” Food in Canada, 62.1 (Jan/Feb 2002) :46, MasterFILE Premier, 2 pages, 1 July 2002

Product Placement Research, 2 pages, 30 June 2002 http://www.angelfire.com/biz/productplacement/index.html

Providence (R.I.) Journal, “Product Placement has a Long History Unfortunately it’s Growing.” 16 Aug 2001, Newspaper Source, 2 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-ehostvgw11.epnet.com

Timmerman, Luke.”Bothell, Wash., Biomedical Company Enjoys Product Placement on NBC’s “ER”.” The Seattle Times, 27 March 2002, Newspaper Source, 3 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-ehostvgw11.epnet.com

“Twenty One.” “controversy.becomes.us.” The Gameshow Invasion, 3 pages, 14 July 2002 http://www.mattlum.com/gameshows/controversy_21.htm

Weintraub, Joanne.”Products a Bigger Part of the TV Plot Whether You Know It or Not.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 06/05/2001, Newspaper Source, 4 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-ehostvgw11.epnet.com

“Wheeling and Dealing in LA.” The Australian, 21 March 2002, Newspaper Source, 2 pages, 1 July 2002 http://80-ehostvgw11.epnet.com

York, Anthony.”The Product Placement Monster that E.T. Spawned.” Salon News, 4 pages, 30 June 2002 http://www.salon.com/tech/2001/04/26/product_placement/print.html

Zarchikoff, Rebecca.”Authority and TV Ads.” Advertising and the Voice of Authority - Men Have it, Women Don't, 3 pages, 30 June 2002 http://www.finearts.uvic.ca/~rzarchik/sexobject.html

Ray Thomas, July 2002

Miscellany | 6 Degrees | Afghanistan | Biological Warfare | DW Canoe Race | The Donner Party | The Eastland | The Edmund Fitzgerald | K Class Submarines (Page 1), (Page 2) | McClellan | Murder | Plagiarism | Product Placement | Racial Insults | Ten Plagues of Egypt | UK & US Flags

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