Did Stranger Things make you crave Eggo waffles? Of course it did. Product placements have been a part of movies and TV for years now. From those unforgettable Ray-Bans Tom Cruise sports in Risky Business (which, according to Ray-Ban, resulted in the sale of over 360,000 pairs of Wayfarers) to James Bond opting for a Heineken instead of his trademark “shaken not stirred” martini in Skyfall. But did you know that they also include mentions of a real brand name in conversation or any time a product logo appears on screen?
Product placements, or sometimes called plugs, began with the inception of American radio in the 1920’s. The Department of Commerce prohibited direct advertising at the time, so companies instead sponsored programs as the next way to increase brand awareness through verbal mentions. By 1930, advertising was allowed on the air, but product placements stayed because they were effective. As time progressed, product plugs expanded into movies and television as they are today. 85% of audiences notice placements in TV and film, 60% feel more positive towards a brand they recognize from a placement, and 57% will buy a product based on something they saw on screen. With modern recording technology that allows viewers to skip commercials, placements are even more valuable.
When we unknowingly associate an emotional feeling with an object, it’s called forming an implicit attitude. Product placements can directly influence our implicit attitudes. The emotions we experience while watching a program transfer to the featured product in real life. They can also be more effective than advertisements because of the halo effect, associating a brand with a particular character you like, making it more likely you will purchase.
There are three main types of product placement: visual, verbal, and signage. Visual is when you see the product with its logo on screen, verbal means the brand is mentioned, and signage is when an ad for the product is visible but the product itself is not.
One of the most famous product placements ever is Reese’s Pieces in E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial. In the movie, Elliot leaves a trail of Reese’s Pieces to lure E.T. to his house. Hershey, Reese’s parent company, made a $1 million deal with the movie studio to use E.T. in its advertisements in exchange for the product placement and it paid off. When theatergoers watched this in 1982, sales of the candy increased 65%. When the movie was re-released in 2002, they launched a campaign that gave consumers the chance to win a free movie ticket when they bought Reese’s candy.
One of my personal favorite product placements is in Back to the Future when Lorraine sees Marty wearing Calvin Klein underwear and assumes that’s his name. She calls him that throughout the whole film. Another good example is Netflix original shows. Those programs get high ratings but don’t show commercials, so product placement is essential for revenue generation. Uber is mentioned several times in Netflix episodes of Fuller House, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, and even A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Someday in the near future, product placements may become “clickable.” When you see an onscreen product that you like, you could just click, tap, or take a picture to buy it. This would give viewers the instant gratification of learning more about those brands in real time. Imagine, you could have a lifetime supply of waffles at your door before the Stranger Things season is even over.