Jennette Ballas and Aliza Elbert

Dilemma: I was watching the O.C. the other day and realized that all the characters were using Blackberry phones to communicate with one another. I have started to realize this is a prominent trend in marketing a product. Are companies crossing the line by advertising their product this way? – Lauren R.


For anyone who has seen the comedy Zoolander, they may recall hearing, “Orange Mocha Frappachino” yelled out by a character. Who knows if this particular drink was what that person really needed, but what we can assume is that Starbucks paid big bucks for that line to be announced. Marketing students would call this type of indirect advertising ‘product placement.’ Briefly defined, product placement (PPL) is a cost-effective tactic used by marketers in which characters in a movie, TV show, or music video promote actual commercial products by using them during the scenes.


Many people believe that product placement sky-rocketed with Reese’s Pieces in “E.T” as sales of the candy soared up by 80 percent. Over the years, the fine line between advertisements and entertainment is becoming harder to see. But, is this strategy intrusive and unethical to viewers? No, marketers are simply experimenting with different ways of reaching their audience.


Not every form of product placement is advertised in a traditionally positive matter. For example, in the movie “Fight Club,” there were scenes where the Apple store was broken into and the headlights of a Volkswagen Beetle were smashed. In most cases, any product exposure is better than none.


More and more ad-space is popping up every day and I’m sure we’ve all had our annoyances toward pop-up ads online, flyers on our cars, and junk filling our mailboxes. The worst is seeing a full e-mail inbox and realizing it is all spam!! Moving away from the in-your-face ads where the product is the focal point, it is becoming more common for brands and logos to be promoted throughout the scenes. Part of the reason being the average television viewer actively ignores approximately 45 percent of all commercials. For those that own a personal video recorder such as TiVo or Charter’s DVR, this increases to 72 percent. Thus, today’s commercial breaks exhibit less of a purpose because many of the products are promoted during the show itself.


The most basic form of product placement is the inclusion of a product name or logo in the foreground or background of a scene. Payments are based on exposure, including the number of times the product is shown or mentioned, the duration of that exposure and the degree of inclusion of the product in the story line.


Sometimes, product usage is negotiated rather than paid for. A set dresser, producer, director, or even an actor might come across props, clothes and cars they think will enhance the character which saves them from purchasing or renting fees. Let’s say the main character in a program or movie is an unmarried, successful, business-man in his 30s. To enhance this character, he would read particular magazines, drink certain wines and eat certain foods. Also, if someone has a craving for a soda, it’s unlikely they’re going to grab a can labeled “soda.” Instead, it’s going be an up-to-date, exciting product such as Coca-Cola Zero, Sparks or Fanta. Thus, if a show/movie wants to bring a character to life, it’s essential that actual brand-name products are used.


The Bottom Line: Product Placement integrated throughout shows is not breaking any rules, but rather a creative, strategic way of marketing products. This makes commercials sooo last year!


Aliza Elbert and Jennette Ballas are both marketing concentrations with a knack for changing the world -one ethical dilemma at a time. This article is written on behalf of SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) with a goal of teaching others about business ethics.




For a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Best Buy, please e-mail us any ethical dilemmas you want answered at Winners picked March 1st.

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