Understanding The Current Trends In Product Placement

“Product placement is a paid product message aimed at influencing movie (or television) audiences via the planned and unobtrusive entry of a branded product into a movie (or television program).”

These are the prominent definitions given for the concept of product placements by academicians in the past. The pertinent points that relate to product placements in these definitions are that a) its used in entertainment programs/productions b) its paid for by the brands involved.

Entertainment mediums like television and radio have long been targeted by advertisers to pitch their products in the mindset of the consumers. Initially these took the form of “Spots” on these mediums between the programs. They were specialized productions in themselves whose whole purpose was to advertise these products. However with time this method started getting increasingly cluttered. First there was an inherent “mental switching off” by the viewers during the advertising. The viewers paid little or no attention during the breaks of the program. Morever with technological advent, viewers had the option to switch to another channel, both for television and radio, known as the phenomenon of zapping.

Product placements presented a way out of this problem of zapping. The appearance of the products is incorporated as a part of the program itself. Therefore there is no chance of the viewer leaving it for something else. Also the audience is in a high state of involvement, so it is easier to for the brand to leave a mark on the mind space of the viewer. The viewer is also generally very involved with certain characters in a program. If the product is placed in conjuction with the character, it becomes a sort of endorsement by a loved character, which can be very desirable. An example is the placement of Mars chocolate in E.T, where the product got linked with the kids and E.T itself. Another example is James Bond being with a lot of products in the movies. The products acquire a different aura when they are associated with a strong character like James Bond.

From the perspective of the producers of the movie/television program product placements are a source of income. In the present times, when the shelf life of the movies has decreased and the budgets have sky-rocketed it makes sense to indulge in this process to make some money even before the movie has even been filmed.

The concept of product placement has become so popular that it has started being incorporated during the scripting stage of the movie or T.V program itself. There are specialized agencies which broker between production houses and the brands the following diagram illustrates how this works.

Product placement and AIDA model

The AIDA model of consumer behavior is as drawn above. Product placement can be used in all of these stages to pitch a product to the potential viewer. However in most of the cases, product placements are used in cases where awareness regarding the brand is to be generated or interest is to be generated regarding it.

Awareness In a lot of instances, product placements have been timed to coincide with the launch of a new product. The goal is to integrate the product placement with the other activities related with creating awareness of the new product. With an established actor mentioning the product or better using the product, the launch creates a huge buzz.

An example in the Indian context was product placement of Maruti Swift in the hit Bollywood movie Bunty and Babli, coninciding with the launch of the product. The characters of Abhishek Bacchan and Rani Mukherjee are shown to run from the police in a Maruti swift in the climax. Amitabh Bacchan specifically mentions the name of the brand in a subsequent scene. Thus the viewer gets to actually look at the product for the first time.

Interest In this case, a brand which has already been launched for quite some time, benefits from product placement by having its working explained for the first time. This works very well for the technology products, where the features of the product get explained when the user is in a very high involved state of mind.

However the example which I will quote is that of a services firm, Western Union money transfer service. In the movie Virudhh, the character of John Abraham is shown to transfer money using the service. The character explicitly mentions that with Western Union money transfer, the transfer gets done efficiently and instantly.

Desire Product placements lend themselves very nicely in situations designed to provoke desire among the viewers. By nature movies and television characters have an aspirational air about them. Therefore when they use products on screen it creates a desire among the viewers to own the product. Examples are the high end automobiles used in the Bond franchise over the years.

This works very well for products like apparel or accessories because of the perception of good looks attached with the stars on screen. Ray ban has extensively been placed in movies over the years. A notable example is Slyvester Stallone using Ray Bans in the Rocky franchise.

Product placement and FCB model



Thinking Feeling


Habit forming

High involvement

Low involvement

If we analyse product placements by the lens of the FCB model, examples can be given for each of the quadrants.

Starting with the bottom most quadrant of self satisfaction, cigarettes were one of the earliest users of product placements, with the lead actor of the hit T.V show I dream of Lucy smoking a prominent brand on the show. These days, Coke is placed on the American Idol. Also in a lot of movies, the banners of Coke are placed in the background suggesting subliminal advertising.

In the affective quadrant, these are products which evoke very strong feelings and are high involvement. Here automobile has been another sector which has bet heavily on product placements. Examples have already been given above.

The products in the informative category are a little tough to push in a product placement scenario since it will require quite an amount of screen time. Also unless the product is highly engrained in the plot, the placement for a large screen time may actually become jarring. In spite of this, it has been tried quite successfully. The Western Union money transfer example has already been taken previously. Also Microsoft has plugged its software in the hit T.V series 24.

However the limitation of screen time and plot involvement restricts itself in categories of products which are habit forming. There are no prominent examples of product placement which can be given in this category.

Global vs Local

In the Indian landscape product placements have mostly been done till now. However, now regional movies have started to tap this source of revenue as well. Examples include the recent Bengali film Antaheen where the hair oil Nihar was placed in a prominent manner. In the Telugu movie,  Anukokunda Oka Roju, actor Jagapati Babu is seen carrying a pack of Real juice most of the time. However the very nature of product placements means it can be done for mass produced entertainment productions, and therefore cannot be used at a more local, say a town level because the number of eye balls captured will be much too less.

Advantages and Disadvantages


Product placement can offer many advantages over other forms of advertising media, especially cost efficient communication. Over the life of a film, including its theatrical run, premium cable appearances, other televised broadcasts and home video rental, cost-per-thousand exposures continues to decrease, eventually declining to mere pennies on the dollar. Product placement also narrows (and often obliterates) the gap between movies and the rest of our marketer-dominated culture. Films can be selected that target consumers who may be difficult to reach with more conventional advertising methods. Nearly three-fourths of the audience for theatrical films is 16-39 years old, a group highly prized by advertisers. Associating brands with particular actors, films or contexts allows the marketer to associate a brand with congruent lifestyle or usage situations. Films offer these brands the full sight, sound, and motion capabilities they do not have access to in radio and television. Finally, product placements are one means for overcoming the all-to-common problem of advertising avoidance via zipping, zapping and muting.

Additionally during movies and television shows, viewers are in a very involved and perceptive state of mind, thus making it easier for a product to leave an impression.


With the increase in use of product placement, analysts fear that consumers will develop ad-blindness, becoming so accustomed to ads that they stop noticing them. This may happen because when an ad is repeated too often, people adapt to their presence and start filtering them out of their vision. The movie E.T. and Reese’s pieces were an example of successful product placement. The use of a recognizable candy added to the appeal of the story. However, poor use of product placement can compromise the integrity of the story. The latest James Bond movie Casino Royale, has been lambasted in the movie for being too much like “one long commercial.” Although at that time most of the release had used more product placement yet probably due to the way is was done, product placement id Casino Royale led to ad-resentment; the audience to felt like they were being cheated and the whole movie was an ad.

Comparison of TV commercial and Product placement


TV commercial

Product placement


Very high (usually millions `)

Low compared to TV commercial



Very high

% viewers watching

Very low, usually less than 10% at a time

Very high, chances of missing the product are too less, usually 90-100% watching


High compared to product placement

Duration of Advertisement

Very less

Extremely high, can be many years

Investment to create the commercial



Number of Countries

Usually One

Can be in many countries

Number of times shown


Hundreds to thousands of time

Conceptual Model for effectiveness measurement

A three dimensional model is used for product placement and the best methodology to capture the user response on product placement is lab experimental

A Three-Dimensional Construct

Product placement can be categorized along three dimensions i.e. Visual, verbal and plot connection. Video dimension relates to screen placements which depend upon number of appearances on the screen, the style of camera shot for the product etc. The verbal refers to the brand being mentioned in a dialogue. Its variation depends upon the context in which brand is mentioned, frequency and emphasis placed on brand name (tone of the voice, place in the dialogue, character speaking at the time, etc.). Third dimension, plot connection refers to integration in the plot of story1. The relevance of product placement can be judged by the level of plot placement, a high plot placement is done by taking major roles in story or building persona of the character and a mere mention of the name is considered lower plot..Cases of higher plot placements are where a character is clearly identified with the brand, e.g. James Bond with his Aston Martin, then BMW Z3, or where the brand becomes a central part of the plot, as in the Pottery Barn episode of Friends or the Kenny Rogers’s Roasted Chicken episode in Seinfeld.

Most of the empirical studies on product placement tried to measure its effectiveness in term of how well it is remembered.These measures assumes that effects of memory are similar to effects of attitude but there are counterviews which dictates that there is no correlation between memory and attitude measure. Since recall may be a poor predictor of persuasion, research on the effectiveness of product placements should investigate both memory and attitude effects. This model focus by determining not only how a placement is cognitively processed and thus whether it will be recalled but also how it affects consumers’ attitudes

The Theater Methodology

Traditional approach of experimental testing the theoretical framework involved quasi-experimental e.g. finding existing TV shows with product placements which goes well with script, screen and plot dimensions. This procedure was complicated and also introduced noise, making it imprecise. These issues were removed and a new methodology was developed i.e. called theatre Methodology It uses a videotaped screen play as the setting for presentation of stimuli. The branded product are strategically placed inside some written original screenplay

The main motivation for using a theatrical setting is to increase the level of experimental control while providing an environment similar to existing television shows. These days a huge chunk of brand placements happens through television shows or movies, so the experiment had to be conducted in audio and visual environment.

Moreover, developing a new script and videotaping different versions of the plays allowed the production of multiple treatments. In addition, the use of a specially developed screenplay eliminated any contamination related to prior exposure.

This methodology provided a unique environment for the empirical testing of product placement. By placing different brands within the same environment, it offered an opportunity to experimentally test messages that varied only on certain specified dimensions, thus maximizing the internal validity of the experiment.

Suggestion for experimental design

We have found that some of the previous studies have used experimental design so we are suggesting one of those. Experimental designs which can be used to test the effectiveness of product placement. The design would includes


We have studies earlier that key component of Tripartite Typology of Product Placement, has focused primarily on programming differences between visual and auditory information.

Research on modality of presentation in audio-visual contexts suggests that the visual and auditory channels indeed differ in the amount of meaning that they carry. The visual channel serves to create the perspective in which the story is set and auditory channel, on the other hand, carries the script of a television program, and, as a result, serves as a conveyor of semantic information through speech. Modality signals how much meaning a stimulus carries, modality of presentation will thus be crucial in determining the effectiveness of a placement.

Plot Connection

Plot connection is third dimension of the product placement framework, which is discussed earlier. The level of plot connection will determine the role and importance of a placement in a story and will qualify the effects of modality.

Now for experimental design, we can use within-subjects design i.e all the subjects saw all the brands.

Each placement can be considered to consist of a different combination of modality and plot connection level which can be shown on a 2X2 matrix with each cell represented by one or more brands.

We can ask different subjects about the product placement of similar brand sin different categories which will help us in identifying the effectiveness of the product placement

Sample Revenue Model

There are many different models followed by the parties to product placement and the model shown above is an example of one of these models. This advertising model is based on 30 second time slot for product placement. It is centred on the broadcasters, which includes TV networks, cable and satellite service providers. A broadcaster usually buys the airing rights for different TV shows and then airs the shows for consumers. To make a profit, the broadcaster sells placement spots to advertisers or ad agencies. The cost for the ad spot varies with the Tv channel and the kind of program. Some of the examples of cost of slot is from year 2005-2006, the cost of a 30-second ad spot in the top-10 shows ranged from $705,000 (American Idol) to $293,000 (Two and A Half Men). In this model, the broadcaster sells all the ad spots, and earns all of the advertising revenue. The only revenue source for the content creators, or the production studios, is the licensing fees broadcasters pay for the rights to air their shows.

Compatibility with other form of communication

Maximum value can be created out of product placement if it is integrated wit other forms of communication. The key is to avoid using isolated product placement opportunities and create connections to other elements of advertising plan. Product placement can be combined with celebrity endorsement for instance to create much better communication e.g. Santro being used in a Shahrukh Khan movie will be much more noticeable than with other actors or Scooty pep+ being used in Priety Zinta movies.

In addition, a product placement can be just the right thing to complement other advertising initiatives that attend the launch of new products.

At other places the product placement itself can be used at other places or in other forms of communication e.g. Ray Ban glasses used in ‘Men in Black’ were used in print media


Movies: Movies are the most common place of product placement. The appearance can be traced back to as early as 1920’s but it became a commercialized business only after 1950. Of many new product placements in movies few are Aston Martin in Casino royale, iPhone in Gulliver, Everlast and Budweiser in Jackass.

Television: Product is very common on television. It can be done on reality shows like big brother which often features one of the participants stating something along the lines of: “Oh, did you check out the new product X by company Y yet?” after which the camera zooms in onto the named product. It has been claimed that the participants get paid for it. Other example is placing Coca cola in American Idol

Comic publishing: SA football comic uses product placement to promote many brands, and the comic is distributed free of cost to all its readers around the world. Product placement occurs at many places in the publication; on the shirts of the players, through placed billboards, and through the branding of locations or scenarios.

Music and recording industries: This type of product placement is fairly newly and has not been used much even though the viewership is fairly high. A recent example is the song of movie Dabangg, where Mallaika Arora mentions Zandu Baam.

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