What’s That Doing There?

After a long day of work or school most of us like to sit down and shut off the batteries. Some people (including myself) do this by
enjoying a nice beverage and turning on the Netflix. The appeal of a service like
Netflix is, of course, the elimination of the commercials that disrupt our viewing
pleasure on live T.V. One night, I sat down and turned on The Office, I was
instantly bombarded with company logos and products. As the actors go about
their typical work day, the camera conveniently focuses on the Cisco Systems
Telephone on Dwight’s desk and the HP logo on the computer that Pam uses as she
hides behind her desk. These logos are not in the frame by coincidence, but
rather they have been carefully positioned by the show’s producers. This discreet
advertising strategy is known as product placement.

Business dictionary defines product placement as “an advertising technique used by companies to subtly promote their products through a non-traditional advertising technique, usually through appearances in film, television, or other media.” This form of advertising is initiated through an agreement between a product manufacturer and whichever media company owns the program featuring the product. In the vast majority of product placement agreements the media company receives economic benefit as the manufacturers often pay a fee to have their product (or brand name) used, mentioned, or significantly featured in a program.

Product placement is everywhere. A few notable shows that are known proponents of this technique are American Idol (Coca-Cola cups for all judges), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Coors Light consumption and signs prominently placed in the bar), and 30 Rock (which features multiple Apple products.) This form of advertising has been around for years and will continue to thrive as long as people keep consuming media. In this way, companies continue to ensure that viewers have plenty of exposure to their product, even if certain audience members have learned to maneuver around those pesky commercials.


Michael Nunes, Daniel Schaefer, Lexie Huss, Zach Abramo, Callie FenlonDann Williams, Lauren Habig

20 thoughts on “What’s That Doing There?

  1. Since becoming more and more active in Communication Studies, and learning more and more about marketing and advertising, I too have come to notice things such as product placement, which had previously eluded me. As a big fan of It’s Always Sunny, I have been watching the show for years. It was only in the past few seasons, since I really started to learn and understand different advertising and marketing techniques, that the unwavering presence of the Coors Light signs and beers have really caught my attention. I dont think you can go five minutes whatching the show without seeing something to do with Coors Light. And subtlety is definitely not what they are going for. But now that I do know what they’re doing (and not just on It’s Always Sunny, but practically every show on cable) these product placements have come to be obnoxious at times. It’s almost like I’m subconsciously looking for product placement whenever I turn on the television, and I can’t help but wonder if we as a generation will ever remember a time when advertisments did not permeate every moment of our waking lives.

  2. With all the product placement I feel bombarded as well. I feel if companies are going to use product placement in tv shows then its only fair to cut out commercials because within that whole hour or half hour of watching a show we dont have any time to relax and enjoy without having feeling the need to either buy a product or just stop watching tv.

  3. So what’s the payoff for product placement? The product benefits from advertising that can’t be skipped. The show benefits from additional revenue. But what’s in it for us? Aristotle used the concept “verisimilitude” in art to capture that quality of appearing to be true. A tree that looks like a real tree has verisimilitude. Is The Office funnier because it has “real” phones? Maybe. Maybe it seems like Dwight really exists because Cisco really exists. Maybe Dodgeball is a bit funnier because ESPN is a real company even if they don’t yet have “the ocho.”

  4. Great article! Personally I like this style of advertisement, not only because it provides companies with recognition and publicity but it is also very subtle. Instead of bogging viewers down with ill-placed plugs and drawn out commercials, why not see the products in action and see them utilized by some of television’s favorite people. Hail to product placement! (Holds up Coke bottle)

  5. I actually think it is quite interesting how companies work around the “advantages” of Netflix. We recently watched “The Greatest Movie Ever Made” in our IMC I class, which talks about this very topic. The entire movie is about product placement. He actually creates a very interesting expository in which he funds the entire movie through companies wanting their product in his movie. So many of us don’t even realize it’s happening that I think it toes the line of advertising ethics. Where is the cut off between advertising and brainwashing?

  6. I’ve definitely started to notice more product placement in television shows (which is somewhat surprising, considering I’ve started watching less television). One of my favorite shows is Bones, and I was ashamed when watching one episode and the subplot involved one of the characters buying a Vespa scooter for his girlfriend. Throughout the episode, it was never a scooter, but always a Vespa that he was considering buying. I think product placement has gotten somewhat out-of-hand. Another interesting sidenote, I toured Screen Gems studios here in Wilmington, and we were able to go onto the set of ‘One Tree Hill.’ The tour guide specifically pointed out how all the soda cans had the logos printed on both sides!! So it didn’t matter how the actor held the can, the audience was always aware of which soda they were enjoying.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this post, as I’ve actually been thinking a lot about product placement lately. Ever since watching “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” in IMC 1, (which focuses on explaining how product placement works) I have been noticing product placement EVERYWHERE – and before I saw that film I’d honestly never thought about it or noticed it before. I just used to see a car in a television show and think, “oh cool, nice car” but never thought that it had been strategically placed there and paid for by a company. For example, like how you mentioned Coca-Cola cups in American Idol, Volvo cars are featured in all of the Twilight movies… they’re not just driving Volvos because vampires like them or something, that is product placement! I have become a little bit mindblown with how often I now recognize product placement compared to how oblivious I was originally.

  8. So true! Until recently I had no idea about this idea of product placement, nor did I really pay attention to all promotion and advertising in TV shows or movies. I was watching the newest Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise the other day and I noticed that Apple products were literally used throughout the entire movie. It was so obvious the promotion they were giving Apple. Do not get me started on Iron Man. It’s just like you said, it’s definitely a way for companies to ensure that their products are being viewed by the public and as long as people consume media, including ourselves, this will never go away. Interesting!

  9. I think product placement is the ingenious answer to creating a marketable story for your product or service without actually having to sing your own praises. This way, you can allow your product or service to piggy back on the success of the image which the TV program portrays. Therefore, if you find a way to have your brand featured prominently in a show, like The Office to follow your example, then your audience identifies your brand with the cool, humorous style and image of the show. Also, with the example of the Cisco phones and the HP computer logos, this establishes a sense that these brands should be seen as standard in a typical office. Because the show aims to portray the typical office workplace, these brands are seen to be the norm in technology equipment for offices across the country.

  10. Another type of “non-traditional” advertising technique I noticed lately is on the Today Show. Since I have COM 200 at 8am this semester, I’m up early enough to turn on the TV and watch the beginning of it before I leave for class. Recently they’ve started running a 30-second Toyota Avalon commercial in between Al Roker’s national weather segment and the local weather insert. It’s only one ad, so the viewer really has no sense in changing the channel. This makes me think… does this open the door for more commercial breaks, but with less commercials in each one? Maybe that would make the viewer less likely to skip over them if they’re watching on a DVR. TV shows online already run short commercial breaks with only one or two ads, but you usually can’t skip them.

  11. I’ve been aware of product placement in television shows and movies since back in high school when a teacher of mine brought it up to us in a theater class. That being about 6 years ago, I have watched the progression of this subtle advertising and marketing grow over the years and its unbelievable how much things have changed. When I first started to pay attention to this product placement, I would occasionally see it in the background of a scene or very subtly mixed in with something the main characters were doing, but now it is nearly impossible to miss all the different products that are thrown in your face while trying to enjoy a show or movie. It just makes me wonder, at this rate, how long until there is so much advertising in television that it completely takes over the industry?

  12. I’m very much torn when it comes to product placement-I love it and I hate it. My roommates and I often point out product placement in shows, strangely enough. It is annoying to the point disappointment. Can a show not function without product placement? Yes, funding comes from advertising we get that. But is the insane amount of product placement really this necessary? However, on the flip side, I almost enjoy finding a new placement on one of my shows, though I have been watching less and less TV. I’m finding that, especially on the Food Network, some brands are hidden. The jar simply says “Mayonnaise” UNLESS it benefits someone directly on the show. Rachel Ray might just sprinkle “Pepper” on her chicken, but we all know that familiar red and white label. Ahem. That’s sneaky product placement, that benefits only the company, not the show! Talk about counterproductive…

  13. I had never really noticed or payed much attention to product placement until around last year. The advertisements in shows and movies is becoming more and more obvious, and is becoming less background material, and more of an actual part of the show. I was watching a new show the other day and an actor said “hold on, let me get out my at&t wireless hotspot!” That type of blatant advertising becomes distracting, and in my opinion takes away from the show. After watching “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” in IMC i began to understand just how prevalent it is. I learned how much money these companies will pay just to have a bulletin board in the background of a scene say their name and logo. It makes sense that advertisers must start doing this because of the lack of actual commercials being watched today. But i think it would help their brand a lot more if it was subtle instead of obnoxious and distracting.

  14. I have had similar realisations whilst watching my favourite television programs as well! It really is astounding just how much product placement does occur in our television and movies today. Morgan Spurlock’s ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ is a fantastic exploration of this phenomenon in advertising throughout modern day Hollywood. A fantastic example of this is the ‘Bond’ franchise. Even since its beginnings back in the 1950′s advertisers saw a golden opportunity to associate their brand with one of the most famous heros of contemporary film and literature. I actually stumbled across a website completely dedicated to “all brands bond” called ‘jamesbondlifestyle.com’, where you can peruse all the brands james bond (who let’s keep in mind is a fictional character, portrayed by multiple actors) cares to use. This use of product placement is discussed throughout Twichell’s ‘Branded Nation’, he notes that “the process starts early, a marketing professor estimates that 10 percent of a two year old’s nouns are brand names” (p2), so if we’re exposed to this type of media practically from birth, what chance do we have to avoid it in later life?

  15. Before taking IMC I, I had noticed product placement in movies and television shows but never gave it much thought. After watching “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”, it has made me more aware of the subtle marketing techniques placed in everyday shows. Not only are we interrupted during programs to be bombarded with two minute commercials trying to sell us their story, now we are being fed subliminal messages through product placement during our shows. Has advertising gone too far? Will it ever stop? The answer is probably no. Companies often thrive from including their products on the big screen. Give your product to a famous actor/actress and everyone will want it! I am interested to know how much companies profit from product placement compared to normal commercial advertising.

  16. It is crazy to think about the amount of advertisements we see in a given day, let alone the ones we see on Television! I have made it a game with some of my friends to see how many intentional “product placement” shots we find in a given movie or show. What I am interested in, is how effective it really is. When someone is standing at the refrigerator doors at the gas station and are deciding between Pepsi, Coke, or Sundrop, do they think about how JLo drank coke on American Idol or is it not even worth it? I wouldn’t know how to go about honest and effective research on this, but it is definitely something I am thinking about!

  17. I am starting to notice so many product placements in my programs, that I strongly disagree with the definition’s use of the word “subtle.” While I do consider this type of marketing slightly agressive and overwhelming, I do not doubt one bit it’s effectiveness. People are being advertised to so much more than they are aware of. “The Greatest Movie Ever Made” is a great example of how powerful prodect placement can be and the role that it plays in our media! I highly suggest the film to anyone who has not yet seen it.

  18. I believe that although product placement is overwhelming at times, and very obvious, it is also a great way for the product to be recognized. From a company’s standpoint it is very effective in making watchers aware of their product. Although as a viewer it can be distracting and take away from the show. You can tell when a brand of car is obviously being advertised for and they force you to look at it with the use of their camera angles. I view it as a necessary evil, it is there for a purpose, although it is not always nice to look at and takes away from the storyline.

  19. These are some great observations! Ever since I have began my Communication Studies major I have started looking at the television shows and movies I watch with a critical eye. I recently watched “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” and I was blown away by the strong influence product labels have over the production of a movie! One company provided all sorts of treats (limos, food etc.) for the staff on the movie set. When the director thought about taking their product out of the movie, they immediately took all their goodies back. So, after some reasoning, the director decided to reinstate their product into the film. Did he do so for the sake of the quality of the film or because he wanted his limos and pastrami paninis back?

  20. To go along with what Michelle said, I had never really paid much attention to what I saw in films or television shows (from a product standpoint). I’m an Office fanatic… from Michael’s receding hair line in the first season, to Jim’s sports marketing company in 2013 – I’ve been there. But I have never noticed any sort of product placement until you brought this up. They producers must do a poor job (or a fantastic job in some ways) of appealing to me from a product standpoint. After watching “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” everywhere I look now there is a brand in my face. A Coke never tasted so good after seeing that ad in a movie, and man I didn’t realize how much I wanted a Chrysler Seabring until Michael Scott had one.

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