Does Product Placement Work?

Does product placement work?   If so, why?  If not, why not? And is it ethical?  I’d really like to know the answers to these questions.  So would many advertisers.   If I see a movie character sipping Starbucks coffee – will I go out and buy a Venti skim cappuccino?   If I see James Bond driving a BMW – will I go out and buy a Z3?  If I see a Survivor contestant pouring Mountain Dew down his gullet, will I be inclined to do the same?

Here are some reasons why product placement works:

  • You can’t Tivo it out.  It’s ingrained in the actual entertainment.
  • It’s not interruptive.  Viewers aren’t annoyed at being interrupted by an advertising message and having to wait to get back to what they really want – the TV show or movie.   
  • It’s almost like a celebrity endorsement – if these famous people (or characters) are using the product, they must like it.
  • It’s subliminal, so the filters in our brain that normally weed out advertising messages don’t step in to block the message.  It sneaks into our subconscious.

Here are some reasons why product placement doesn’t work:

  • Consumers are not stupid.  They know these advertisers are paying big bucks to have their products “placed” into the entertainment.  They are skeptical and don’t buy whatever message the advertiser is trying to get across.
  • Consumers feel manipulated.   They think of this kind of “advertising” as sleazy because it’s not honest.  At least with a commercial, the advertiser is admitting it’s an advertisement.  With product placement, it feels like the advertiser is trying to “put one over” on the consumer.
  • The product or brand attribute is not tied into the product placement.   James Bond driving a BMW DOES tie in the “cool” factor the brand is trying to portray. But when a Survivor contestant who’s eaten nothing but rice and twigs and insects for last month chows down on a bag of Doritos like it’s the best thing ever – does that really help promote the Doritos brand image?   What if it’s a really gnarly contestant nobody likes – does that affect how you feel about the product?   
  • Diminishing ROI – product placement costs are skyrocketing and it’s extremely difficult to measure the effect.   So many advertisers may ask if it’s worth it.

Movies and reality shows aren’t the only hotbeds for product placement – look at music.  McDonalds is going for product placement in rap songs.    Hmmmmm – ok – the urban youth culture is a prime target for McDonalds.   Rap is what they listen to – so I guess it makes sense to try to get the Big Mac into a rap song.   Are there any ethical issues?  Well, hey – lots of other brands are doing it……

McDonald’s plan was to adopt the way rap artists have previously endorsed products in their songs — from Run-DMC’s "My Adidas" to Busta Rhymes’s "Pass the Courvoisier." Missy Elliott and Ludacris have name-dropped Cadillac’s Escalade, while Gucci, Prada, Cartier, Bentley, Porsche, Gulfstream, Dom Perignon and Dolce & Gabbana have been heard in tracks from Nelly, Lil’ Kim, Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg, among others. Last year, Kanye West mentioned 19 brands, including Lexus, Versace, Cartier, Mercedes and Cadillac in four singles, according to American Brandstand, which tracks the number of brands music acts mention in their songs.

Here’s where I find some disconnect – look at the other brands mentioned.  What’s the one thing they all have in common?  STATUS.    Rapping about driving around in your Cadillac Escalade is one thing, but rapping about driving around eating your Big Mac?  (The first thing that comes to mind is all the sexual euphemisms you could apply in this context – but I won’t go there)

The project quickly found itself in the crosshairs of America’s child-obesity fighters, and drew the ire of watchdog group the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which called McDonald’s plan “new and deceitful ways of targeting children. … Listeners won’t know the rappers are being paid to push Big Macs — these ‘adversongs’ are inherently deceptive."

McDonald’s countered, saying, "This is where brand relevance has gone and we have great confidence that the consumer understands this," a spokesman said.

Let me just make sure I have this right…….So – you want the placement in the song, because it’s not an advertisement so people will accept the message because they don’t think it’s an advertisement.  But that’s ok, because people DO know it’s an advertisement and will accept the message as such.  Just so we’re clear on that.

While product placement is not technically word of mouth advertising, I think there are some similarities.  One of the most important points stressed in the Word of Mouth Marketing conference was their code of ethics.   WOMMA is very clear in their opposition to unethical word of mouth marketing tactics.

“Ethical and responsible word of mouth marketers do not….

Impersonate people, shill, or hide their identities

Manipulate or corrupt honest opinions

Infiltrate, invade, or violate online or offline venues. 

Dishonest word of mouth will always be exposed and deplored." 

This brings me back to my beginning question – does product placement work?  And is it ethical?  Women are especially concerned with ethics, transparency and manipulation.  Will there be a backlash if people feel like advertisers are not being transparent and are trying to manipulate them?   


What do you guys think?

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18 Responses to Does Product Placement Work?

  1. Product Placement and Word of Mouth

    Holly Buchanan has a post that is a good follow up to the post that appeared here yesterday. She points us to the music business as another industry that has adopted product placement. Holly says: “Movies and reality shows aren’t

  2. I use product placement on my TV show for a specific episode. Yes, viewers are not stupid and know the companies paid for it, however, when combined with a ‘feel-good segment’, they do not feel negative about it.
    When the product is given away to someone who really really needed it, it creates a feel good about the show and the products. This works very well with the women viewers.

  3. Mary Schmidt says:

    I think it’s a matter of how and where (and how much) it’s used.
    It is of some value in reinforcing a brand name, but no, I’m not going to dash out and buy Bud beer because Brad Pitt drinks it in a film (However, if I thought he’d show up at my house to drink it, I’d fill up the fridge, the spare bedroom and the garage…) But seriously folks, personally, I find it both irritating and jarring to see “fake” brands in an otherwise gripping, realistic movie or tv show. That and the fact that all the phone numbers begin with “555” (Yes, I know they do that so obnoxious people with way too much time on their hands not call real people, but still…)
    Brings to mind the old New Yorker cartoon showing “Viagra” on the side of the Empire State Building. Caption (two men looking out a window at it) “Now, that’s what I call product placement!” Ahhh, but is it positive or negative? To your point above about Mickey D’s.

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