What is Product Placement?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Imagine this scene in a movie: The hero is drinking a bottle of soda as the bad guys drive by disguised as delivery men. The hero leaps into his sports car and a chase ensues. The bad guys finally crash their delivery truck into a coffee house and surrender to the hero.

Hollywood films use product placement all the time.
Hollywood films use product placement all the time.

There is a reason why the hero was drinking Pepsi, the bad guys were driving a Federal Express truck and the crash scene was a Starbucks coffee shop. That reason is called product placement, and it is more prevalent than one might suspect. This is an advertising technique in which companies pay a fee or provide services in exchange for a prominent display of their products. It is primarily used in connection with the movie industry, although other venues such as concert halls, convention centers and high-profile nightclubs may also agree to some form of placement.

Product placement often involves prominent brands like Coca-Cola.
Product placement often involves prominent brands like Coca-Cola.

One infamous example of product placement occurred in Steven Spielberg's movie ET. Originally the alien creature was supposed to be lured out of hiding by following a trail of M&M chocolate candies. The company which produces M&Ms, however, did not wish to have their product associated with an unproven and potentially unmarketable movie. A rival company agreed to provide a similar candy called Reese's Pieces. The movie became a huge financial success, and the product placement boosted sales of Reese's Pieces substantially.

Product placement has become common place in films.
Product placement has become common place in films.

The use of this practice in movies has proven to be controversial. Some film makers see it as too commercial. Others, particularly those with severe budget restrictions, welcome any company willing to invest money in exchange for placement.

The debate often centers around the necessity for a particular brand name product in a scene. In our hypothetical chase sequence, the use of one Federal Express truck establishes the bad guy's cover. Placing a fleet of Federal Express trucks on the street, however, may be an obvious case of product placement and considered too commercially motivated.

Despite the debate between artistic integrity and practical commercialism, there is no doubt that product placement is effective in most cases. Moviegoers may not even be aware of all the examples of product placement in an average Hollywood film, but they might remember enough details to boost sales after the fact. If nothing else, the company benefits from the use of their brand name or logo in connection with an exotic locale or exciting action sequence. If James Bond shoots out a Coca-Cola display, for example, the audience will remember that sequence long after the movie ends.

Steven Spielberg's film "E.T." used Reese's Pieces candies in the film as a product placement advertisement.
Steven Spielberg's film "E.T." used Reese's Pieces candies in the film as a product placement advertisement.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Being new to all this, there is a question I would dearly like answered but which I cannot find the answer to, anywhere.

"How is "Reverse product placement" done? (—What?)

As everyone knows, "Product Placement" is when a company (say Ford) in wanting to advertise its product, contacts (say Time Warner) with a view towards having Fords appear as the object-equivalent of "extras" in a TM production. "Reverse" Product Placement is when the reverse happens—when and for the same purpose (again, say Time Warner) proposes that Ford have its cars on show in their production. (There's a bit of free product placement, right there, but wouldn't have been nice, and fair, had I been paid for it? I could, after all, have chosen to mention any other two companies.)

Granted, reverse product placement is not marketing. It's finance acquisition. But surely the two live facing each other on a two-way street.

Or do they? Surely it's in the interest of would-be advertisers: instead of having to spend money searching for placement, to open an avenue by which the place-holders could come to them?

I would dearly like to know how someone like me, with a spot to fill—and in need of finance—can contact prospective advertisers looking for spots? Comments?


Suntan12-I agree. I always like to see product placement in films. It actually makes the scene seem more authentic and real.

I think that product placement marketing is a great idea because the image of the product is ingrained in you throughout the entire program.

People can also relate to the usage of the product so many people like to see their favorite or would be favorite products used by their favorite celebrities in film or television.


SurfNturf- Product placement in television shows allows the product to be viewed for a considerable amount of time and often throughout the entire program.

Coca Cola product placement is very common because it is a well known brand that many people embrace. Product placement in TV shows may influence those who have not purchased the product to actually buy it because they view the main character of the show so favorably.

Some people want to identify with celebrities and celebrity product placement allows the public to see what products their favorite celebrities consume. This is why product placement in TV and product placement in films is very effective.


I just want to add that product placement is effective because of its subliminal properties.

Companies know that television advertisements are often ignored, but how can you ignore a subtle commercial during your favorite television show.

Furthermore, advertisers hope that if you identify enough with the character that maybe on a subliminal level you will view the product more favorable and possibly purchase it.

The most commonly placed product is Coke Cola, which can also be seen during episodes of American Idol. The judges there are seen drinking from a cup with the red Coke Cola cup.

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