What is product placement? Plus examples and benefits

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 June 2022

Product placement is an innovative and subtle technique used in modern marketing. The approach is growing as a key publicity method for brands to reach their target audiences indirectly. Businesses of all sizes use product placement to grow their brand awareness, engage customers and grow sales without using traditional advertising so it's wise to consider it in your team's business development strategy. In this article, we explore the concept of product placement, describe ways that marketers can use this strategy and outline why it's useful.

What is product placement?

Product placement is a common marketing strategy, sometimes called embedded marketing. Marketers use it to embed products and services subtly into other forms of media, usually TV. Smaller businesses may use retail settings and social media. Brands use this modern merchandising strategy to reach their target customers, and when used well, it can be an effective alternative to modern advertising. Product placement can take different forms. For example:

  • Screen placement: a product or brand appears on a screen such as a commercial, sign or physical object

  • Plot placement: the service, product or brand features as part of the plot

  • Script placement: characters mention a certain product or brand in their dialogue

  • Retail placement: smaller brands physically place their products in a partner store

  • Social media placement: brands work with influencers to share their content in subtle ways

Related: How to create product plans (with steps and best practices)

Existing examples of product placement

Some of the most famous examples of product placement took place in films. For example, Manolo Blahnik shoes became associated closely with Carrie Bradshaw in 'Sex and the City'. Film producers often work with brands to build their own revenues. For example, 'Superman: Man of Steel' reportedly had over $160 million of product placement deals with over 100 international marketing partners, including Sears, Nokia and Kellogg's.

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Hypothetical examples of product placement

There are various creative ways to use product placement. Even smaller brands with limited budgets can use creative strategies to place their products and services in front of target audiences in subconscious ways. For example, many smaller brands now work with social media influencers to place their products and services in front of niche and targeted audiences. Some hypothetical examples of product placement include:

A character eating at a branded restaurant

A character eats a certain favourite meal at a branded restaurant. The script might include a reference to the restaurant. There could also be more than one scene at the restaurant to show the character enjoying it.

Athletes in movies wearing certain trainer brands

In a film or show, the winning team might wear a certain brand of trainers. The losing teams might wear generic trainers. This can influence the audience to feel that their performance would also increase if they wore the same brand of trainers.

An advert in a film or TV show background

For outdoor scenes, there might be a certain background advert such as a billboard. The programme or film might have a TV that shows an advert as part of the scene. This places the brand in the viewer's mind and attaches it to the resonance of the scene.

A character driving a branded car

A scene might include the hero or heroine driving a certain brand of luxury car. The filming might include visuals that showcase the speed and features of the car. Sometimes, the car might become synonymous with the character and become an integral part of the plot.

A character using a digital app

A character might play a branded digital game on their smartphone while they wait in a scene. Another character might reference a certain application when solving a problem in the script. This builds awareness, intent and desire in the viewer's minds.

Drinks and sunglasses in music videos

Some brands use music videos to place desirable apparel, such as sunglasses, trainers, phones, headphones, clothing and handbags. Music videos can be very influential with younger demographics. Some videos for up-and-coming artists, for example, release on smaller budgets. These can be opportunities for mid-sized brands to place their products.

Taxis and couriers in a scene

Scripts often include travel and deliveries so taxi firms and couriers can place their brands in the scene. To increase the value, a scene could include references to the speed, friendliness and experience in receiving the service. Scenes might include conversations with drivers that positively add to the script and the outcome of the plot.

A film or TV show about a toy

'Toy Story' launched an entire industry of branded toys and companies often try to product place their toys and games in films and TV shows for children. They may do so imaginatively, for example by commissioning a short cartoon that shows life from a toy's perspective. Children then engage emotionally with the toy and want to own it.

A character reading some media

A character could read a magazine or newspaper in their scene, showcasing certain topics or branded adverts. They might also share information related to the content. This creates a positive association in the viewer's minds and gives an opportunity for the plot to include a reference to the brand.

A character talking about brands they love

Films often include scripted references to preferred brands. A character might only drink a certain brand of alcohol or wear a particular brand of jewellery, for example. Characters might also talk about their desire to stay in a specific hotel or visit a certain place.

A character taking photographs

In the script, a character could take photos of loved ones. The characters could later look at the photos and admire their quality. The image of smiling characters photographed in a positive situation can create positive recall in customers' minds.

A product mentioned in a song

Some brands have the financial clout to commission songs that include their brands. For example, a pop song might include a date at a certain brand of coffee shop to create that emotional connection and intent to buy. These songs can become viral and widely heard.

A beauty supplement in a reality TV show

Companies might partner with popular reality TV shows to promote relevant products. For example, a reality TV show might include a mystery delivery box of beauty and wellness items for the contestants to try. A cooking show might include branded cooking utensils.

Characters eating snacks

Characters in a conversational scene might talk over pizza or snacks. They might also share the food items and comment on them favourably. This can lead to an immediate purchase intent from viewers and a tie-in opportunity could mention a delivery service that brings those snacks or food items to the door.

A scene at a car garage

In a situational scene, the character could have their car or motorbike repaired or refuelled at a certain garage. The director could incorporate this setting into the plot. There would be opportunities here to show multiple products, including the car itself, food in the kiosk or a coffee.

A social media make-up campaign

A beauty brand could work with a social media influencer on a platform. The influencer could talk about the brand's new make-up line. They might wish to launch a seasonal campaign with tutorials to create certain looks.

Visible products at an event

A food or drink brand could donate its products to an event. This could be a family day, conference or trade show. The products are visible to target customers who then positively associate the brand with the event. They might be given as a gift at the event or later in a goodie bag.

Local business promotions

A smaller business could approach a local store to see if it might consider a seasonal end-of-aisle promotion with its products. The business could provide merchandising and a fee. This can raise awareness amongst local customers who might try the product for the first time.

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What are the benefits of product placement opportunities?

Product placement can build brand recognition and grow sales. Although the activity can be an expensive outlay, the return on investment can be very high. Viewers may automatically recognise a brand once placed, or advertised, subtly in a show. The highest levels of engagement occur when products appear in emotionally engaging scenes or shows, creating a positive association known as the 'Halo Effect'.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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