A look at Art and Marketing through Product Placement

Whether or not you notice, at some time or another while viewing a movie or television program there are subtly placed ads. These paid for endorsements are known as product placement and differ from commercials in that they’re woven into the fabric of the story you’re being told. However, in the case of news segments and live coverage, brand logos or products may undergo what is known as ‘product displacement’, but more on that later.

For the artists and/or studios, product placement serves as a co-branding effort between large organizations and the film industry. The incentive for the studio is economic while in the case of the brand, it is a subtle endorsement.  For example, check out the  clip below.

While Senator Bernie Sanders has officially endorsed Hillary Clinton, the presidential candidate has long since received endorsements from notable public figures in the entertainment industry. To be fair, all candidates have received public endorsements from a number of celebrities. So, what makes the entertainment industry such a perfect partner for politics?

High caliber actors, singers, athletes, etc. all share a common quality with politicians: magnetic personalities. It is personal branding that creates endorsement and sponsorship opportunities between major retail brands and other opportunities. Their celebrity has often been measured by box office success and target audience research. As illustrated by Hillary Clinton’s cameo on Comedy Central’s ‘Broad City‘, the presidential candidate was able to reach her tested demographic. However, instead of the endorsement coming in the form of a PSA, it was woven in the narrative of a television series.

Now, Clinton isn’t a product so-to-speak, but she like every other candidate must sell their audience on her policy or personality. So in this case, Clinton’s brand is up for product placement. While the TV show is fictional, Clinton and the context of the presidential race is real.

Looking more closely at product placement, what is it’s official definition?

An advertising technique used by companies to subtly promote their products through a non-traditional advertising technique, usually through appearances in film, television, or other media.- As defined by The Business Dictionary

Now that we understand product placement, lets look at the definition of product displacement which exists in two forms:

  • Fictionalized

    “…Fictional brand and/or product which closely resembles and mimics a non-fictional product or brand. This is often done, so the viewers can make close correlation with an already existing non-fictional brand that they may use on a daily basis without having to create another fictional dimension for a separate product altogether – Wikipedia.org

  • Unbranded

    Companies pay big bucks for Product Placement, and popular media certainly appreciate the value of this cash cow. So much so that when products or corporate logos turn up incidentally in TV programming without having paid the requisite dues, they will be censored – TVTropes.org

Needless to say, numerous opportunities exist for both product placement and displacement in visual media. Why? Because branding occurs in every facet of our lives. Logos adorn our garments, vehicles, technology, real estate, etc. So no matter if you’re shooting a personal home video or a large scale production, there’s always a chance a logo will appear within your content.

Filmmakers however are extremely conscious of this fact due to the potential for legal proceedings. That being said, they take great efforts to either eliminate or strategically place brand logos throughout their setting. Here’s another example from the 2005 film Constantine.

As seen, the ad cleverly toes the lie between fiction and reality. Additionally, Chevrolet vehicles can be seen throughout the movie with select shots designed to spotlight the car manufacturers logo. In the case of Constantine and films like Transformers and Forrest Gump, brands spent big money on advertising to their audience.

However, not every film or television series is able to receive paid-for advertising dollars. Some simply choose not to take such a route at all. However, in the event a scene requires direct product placement within the narrative, a fictional brand can be created and in this case product displacement occurs. As noted above, product displacement can be completely fictional or closely based off an actual brand.

In this scene from NBC’s Scrubs, product displacement occurs in the form of the restaurant chain, Coffee Bucks. By name and logo, the brand draws upon the Starbucks coffee chain, recognizable worldwide.

As you can see, art imitates life or vice versa in many of these cases, as the lines between fiction and reality are regularly blurred. For that reason, we at TalenAlexander have curated some of our favorite examples of product placement and product displacement in film, television, and sports.

Without further ado, let’s look at some of our favorite examples of product (dis)placement.

Soul Glo – Coming To America

The cult classic starring comedian Eddie Murphy is sometimes said to have single-handedly ended the jheri curl fad. Since the film’s release in 1988, the fictional ad for jheri curl activator has continued cracking the voices of all who attempt to imitate the falsetto key of singer Christopher Max.

Mococoa – The Truman Show

The Truman Show saw funnyman Jim Carrey showcase his acting chops in the drama genre. Product displacement occurs throughout the film as protagonist Truman is the only person unaware of the reality network in which he lives. This scene in particular shows Truman as the fabric of his reality begins to unravel.

Gofer Cakes – The President’s Council on Health and Physical Fitness

As part of presidential policy in the 90’s, health and physical fitness was the leading initiative for youth. This ad was featured on television, as well as, in previews of theatrically released films like Dr. Dolittle. While considered largely considered a failure, the ad lives on as a reminder of the eccentricity of the 90’s.

Dunder Mifflin – The Office

NBC’s version of The Office is a reality television-themed sitcom featuring the staff of a fictional paper company. While the ad is in character with the irreverence of protagonist Michael Scott, it’s entertaining and well done, and could show real-life brands a thing or two about advertising.

The Mighty Ducks – Anaheim Ducks

The beloved 90’s film featuring a rag-tag team of misfits has become a cult classic –  no remakes please. However, the success of the first film led to it becoming a trilogy, the launch of a spin-off animated television series, and an NHL expansion team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. While Disney no longer has a stake in the Ducks (hence the removal of ‘Mighty’), the lovable cast remains endearing to its original millennial aged fan base.

BubbaGump – Forrest Gump

While not officially affiliated with the novel or film of the same name, BubbaGump Shrimp Co. has transformed from a fictional business to real brand. The cringeworthy ad features owner ‘Forrest Gump’ in a case of life imitating art. While this may not be the BubbaGump Shrimp that we imagined, the restaurant chain has satisfied numerous diners, and for that we’re sure Bubba would be proud.