Product Placement…clever marketing or brain washing?

Is product placement within movies, television and magazines having its desired effect? Have you been caught out by the marketing wizards in the media?

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Product placement let’s face it, it’s everywhere! TV, radio, film, magazines, the web, live events and even books to an extent! You can’t escape it and it’s a tool that has been used for years but is it used to good effect?

Since I started watching movies I can remember thinking “I want Marty McFly’s hi-tops” or “I really fancy a Pepsi and I don’t know why”. This is the desired effect that product placement has on a viewer and helps a brand shift thousands, sometimes millions of units on a daily basis. It is responsible for many of our day-to-day rituals, habits and cravings and most of the time we don’t even notice.

Product placement very cleverly relies on the subliminal intake of information that we process every second of the day through various means, whether it is verbal or visual. Have you ever wondered why you can remember the words to a song you can’t stand or the theme tune to a TV show you never actively watch? This is because your brain is working on a subliminal level to take in this information without you realising, sometimes when you don’t want to (see songs such as Mr Blobby, Bob the Builder, Mambo Number 5 etc). I find the only way to get the song or theme tune out of my head is to actively listen to it or watch the show. I’ve even resorted to buying a song on iTunes just so I can listen to it and get it out of my head. Sad but true when you look at the songs on my phone but it happens. Here are a few examples:

  • Let It Go from Frozen,
  • Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson,
  • Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke,
  • I Would by One Direction

There are others but I feel I may have damaged any street cred I had as a DJ enough for now and proved my point.

This is loosely the same principle as our topic. Product placement relies on your brain picking up on products on the periphery of the main shot, event or article to generate your interest. It can be as subtle as a can of Coke on a table, someone wearing an ADIDAS t-shirt or driving a Chevrolet. It can even be something as simple as sitting in arena, watching a sporting event or gig, thinking “I’m thirsty. I’ll go and grab a pint of Becks” even though you may not like it, you sit back down and realise that that brand of beer is advertised all around the arena. Spooky.

The main avenue that product placement is prevalent is cinema. It can be seen in most movies but you may not have even noticed it. Here are a few of my favourite examples:

1. Transformers (the first 3 live action movies)

Now, I’m not sure how many people noticed this or have a working knowledge of car manufacturers (perils of my previous occupation within motor insurance) but all the Autobot cars in the first 3 movies were made by the General Motors (GMC). GMC own such brands as Vauxhall, Chevrolet (Camaro, Bumblebee), Pontiac (Soltice GXP, Jazz), Hummer (H2, Ratchet) and their own GMC (Topkick, Ironhide).

Transformers - Vehicle Advertising

2. Happy Gilmore

At one point in the movie Adam Sandler’s character Happy Gilmore is a bit strapped for cash and as a result decides that sponsorship is the way forward. This sponsorship? Not some fictitious brand but the high street’s favourite sandwich maker, Subway. Adam Sandler appears to be a master of product placement with the Michelob Open in this film, Popeye’s Chicken (an American chicken chain) in Little Nicky and McDonalds in Big Daddy.

Happy Gilmore - Happy Subway

3. Forrest Gump

This masterpiece of cinematic story telling did its part for product placement but you may not have noticed. Apart from creating its own brand in Bubba Gump Shrimp, it also gave us a cheeky little nod to Dr Pepper with the line “Now, since it was all free and I wasn’t hungry but thirsty, I must’ve drank me 15 Dr Peppers.

4. Back to the Future series

Another classic film series with more product placement in it than we all care to remember is Back to the Future. With the likes of DeLorean, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Nike (admit it, you wanted those hi-tops), AT&T, Texaco and Mattel this series weighed in with a lot of big names but at the time I never realised. I just dreamt of having those shoes and a hover-board. Unfortunately, whilst the Nike’s where available for a limited time (and ridiculous cost) a hover-board is still a pipe dream. Come on Mattel, a world of 80’s kids is relying on you.

The famous Back To The Future shoes

5. Wayne’s World

I save my favourite until last, Wayne’s World. Before Wayne and Garth tried to create a music festival with the help of a half-naked Native American they sold the rights to their show to a mainstream network and with it came the sponsorship. Rather than explain it to you, I’ll just leave you with this clip:

Wayne's World - Product Placement

Blatant much? NO WAY!

In my opinion Product Placement isn’t brain washing but a very clever way of marketing and advertising a product or brand. It happens throughout our daily lives and hopefully you will be slightly more aware of it after reading this article. I invite you to play the Product Placement game the next time you and friends or family sit down to watch a movie. The rules are pretty simple, whenever you see an obvious use of product placement you shout it out and win a point, the one with the most points at the end of a film gets to pick the next film for a movie night.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a new pair of Nike’s in my Chevrolet and maybe grab a Subway sandwich with a Dr Pepper.

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