Product placement from Hollywood to influencers and affiliation

by | Mar 16, 2021 | Advertising

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Product placement is an indirect advertising technique by which products are placed within narrative contexts and integrated with the story. The difference with traditional advertising is that the promotional message is not separated sharply, but becomes part of the narrative, sometimes an important decisive element of it.

This is a very strong association that plays with the viewer’s unconscious. The feeling is that of “already seen” when we stand in front of the supermarket shelves. In other cases it triggers a desire to emulate because we link a car to the successful person we somewhat envy or a fashion brand to a musical star we admire.

Product placement is legal and is usually reported as advertising in different ways depending on the medium of communication. For example, in TV shows it may be introduced by this statement, “There are commercial product placements in the program.” Google has asked that “rel=sponsored” be added to paid external links. If it is not reported, it can become surreptitious advertising.

The history of product placement is ancient and has always been linked with the entertainment market. Techniques have evolved as consumption and information-use habits have changed. In this article we will look at how starting with Hollywood cinema, product placement has found new avenues through online information and social media.

Product placement in cinema

Hollywood has always been fertile ground for product placement strategies. Movies are seen by billions of people around the world, and a brand’s awareness can grow rapidly. There are examples of more subtle product placement, for example, a drink consumed during a key scene. There are also examples of more aggressive product placement where products are mentioned explicitly.

Top Gun and the Ray-Bans

Let’s start with an iconic movie of the 1980s: “Top Gun” starring a young Tom Cruise (aka Pete Mitchell, Maverick) who is a U.S. Navy F-14 pilot. He and the other pilots are classic examples of the American hero, the fearless macho man who puts his life on the line to defend his country and is always surrounded by beautiful women.

All of these pilots wear Ray-Ban sunglasses that are thus associated with this model American hero. The message is: if you want to be as cool as Maverick, start looking like him. And Ray-Ban glasses are the first step. The result: sunglasses took off and sales increased by 40 percent thanks to Maverick and his companions.

These are the models that appear in the film (still for sale on Amazon) and are worn by all the pilots when Maverick swaggeringly recounts his adventure with the Russian Migs and begins to attract the attention of the beautiful instructor played by Kelly McGillis.

Cast Away and the Wilson Ball

Another example is the Wilson volleyball from the movie “Cast Away,” directed by Robert Zemeckis. In this case, the product becomes an important character in the narrative. The main character Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks) finds this blood-covered ball on the beach, draws a smile and makes it his best friend, his only companion when he is isolated on an island in the middle of the Pacific.

One of the balls used in the film sold for $18,400, but this is about collecting. What we are interested in about product placement is that the company Wilson made a series of balloons inspired by what we see in the film and which we can still find on Amazon today.

Product placement in TV series

From movies we move to TV series. Today they are a universal success thanks in part to Netflix and other streaming platforms, but product placement was also present in earlier years. Unlike cinema, for TV series the concept of seriality comes into play. The protagonists become our lifelong companions and friends. As a result, we trust them, lower our defenses and listen to their advice. In some cases we want to be like them.

Friends and Pottery Barn

The first example is that of the TV series “Friends.” In episode 11 of season 6 (“The One with the Apothecary Table”) the name of theAmerican furniture company Pottery Barn is repeated again and again. The entire episode revolves around a model table and the dualism between socialite Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) who appreciates the brand and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) who despises it for ethical reasons. At the end of the episode, the idealistic Phoebe reconsiders and tries to convince herself to buy the Pottery Barn lamp as well.

While producer David Roth admitted that a deal had been necessary to recover production costs, the company denied that it was a business deal. The fact is that for 22 minutes all we talk about is Pottery Barn.

The House of Paper and Diesel

Turning to more recent TV series, here is “House of Paper.” The show is full of product placement, but here I focus particularly on the Diesel clothing brand. The gang members, positive anti-errors who storm the Madrid State Mint, wear a red uniform and Salvador Dali mask, elements now linked to the hit TV series.

The production of these uniforms was entrusted precisely to Diesel, which then put on sale an official capsule collection inspired by the hit show.

Product placement in music

Another area where product placement takes place is in music. We find products displayed during concerts, interviews, and especially video clips. They are also often mentioned in songs, sometimes because they are real symbols of cultural reference, others by virtue of complex commercial arrangements.

Nirvana and Converse

Product placement also involved rock legends. In the video clip for the song “Smells like teen spirit” by Nirvana, a foot tapping the clock wearing a Chuck Taylor model by Converse(available on Amazon) is immediately visible in one of the first shots. The design is immediately recognizable. The same model is worn by Kurt Cobain during the video clip.

Nirvana and Converse were thus the forerunners of an advertising model, popular today, that connects musical artists with sneakers and streetwear brands.

Lil Pump and Gucci

Taking a closer look at the rappers or trappers who are all the rage among young people today, we find fashion brands everywhere, from songs to social profiles. Money and wealth have become one of the recurring themes ( you can read “Trap Game” to learn more), and behind these kids are billion-dollar sponsorship contracts. One of the brands that is investing more in these genres of music is Gucci, which is mentioned in several songs and inspired the song “Gucci Gang” by Lil Pump. She even wears a flashy belt from the Italian brand in the video. The message of these songs is explicit: to be part of our community you have to wear these clothes and accessories that are increasingly becoming distinctive identifying elements.

The controversial product placement of cigarettes

A separate discussion should be made about cigarette advertising, which has always been the focus of controversy. In many films of the 1970s and 1980s we often see the main characters intent on smoking. These are examples of product placement that, according to some studies, have contributed to the spread of this habit among younger people as a result of articulated campaigns by the Big Tobacco industry.

One example is the James Bond flms. For “Never Say Never” with Sean Connery, $10,000 was spent to have the main characters smoke Wiston and Camel cigarettes. Later, for “Agent 007 – License to Kill,” Philipp Morris signed a $350,000 sponsorship deal and launched a massive advertising campaign to coincide with the film’s launch in Japan.

Today it is no longer possible to make such advertisements for cigarettes and smoking-related products.

Online product placement

Let us now turn to online product placement, a strategy that should not be viewed in isolation, but as part of a more complex multichannel communication plan. Below I describe some of the most popular ways, but I invite you to contact me to learn how best to advertise your products or services.

Product placement on Instagram and Facebook

Let’s start with social. Instagram is the one where there are the most instances of product placement today thanks to influencers. I mention for example the Italian Chiara Ferragni. This is a girl who did not become famous for particular artistic gifts, but managed to build a trusting relationship with a mass of teenagers to the point of becoming one of the most courted icons by major fashion brands. Each post manages to reach millions of users and set current trends.

Video-related product placements are widespread on Facebook. Thus, the most popular format is branded content, short videos offered by the advertiser who inserts the product within the narrative. Nothing new: It is the social evolution of the Wilson ball from Cast Away.

I also mention the emerging phenomenon of TikTok where product placement is mainly related to challenges that go viral. But in order to advertise on this social, it is important to understand that the target audience is of a low average age and that it is necessary to use a very different style of communication than is usually used.

YouTube video reviews

The YouTuber is another example of a social persona that plays on virality. In the platform there are the classic advertisements around the videos, but we can find products displayed and recognizable.

Without taking into consideration the somewhat more disguised product placement, the most obvious case is reviews. The influential YouTuber can give his or her opinion about a product, film or service. Often it is the companies themselves who send their products asking for a review. It is advertising in its own right.

Affiliate marketing

We close with a very common form of product placement among publishers and bloggers: affiliate marketing. There are different types of affiliation (the most common among those starting out is Amazon). It’s all about conversion: if I get a subscription or a sale, I make money. To do this, I have to include within the articles the product I want to sell, I have to describe and contextualize it. I become like a spokesperson for the company. In this case the focus is less on suggestions related to brand awareness and moves more toward direct conversions.

An example? The Ray-Ban sunglasses I mentioned in one of the first paragraphs of this article. I contextualized them and added links to Amazon with the tracking code. I will earn a commission for each pair of glasses sold. So run out and order Aviators (by clicking on my link) to show the world that you are as tough as Maverick 🙂

Luigi Nervo

Luigi Nervo

Digital Marketing Manager

Marketing, Seo and content expert (read the bio).

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Luigi Nervo

Luigi Nervo

Digital Marketing Manager

Marketing, Seo and content expert (read the bio).