What are the key risks and the potential rewards of product placement in both movies and television? Do think this promotional tool will continue to grow? Why or why not?

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jpgwolf37 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The biggest risk of using product placement for film and TV producers is that the audience will see the overt advertising as inorganic to the story being told, and as a result, the viewer will cease to "suspend disbelief.” In other words, for a fictional film or TV show to successfully engage its audience, and therefore make a profit, the show must first make the viewer forget that he or she is watching fiction and instead become immersed in the “world of the show.” 

Obtrusive or clumsy product placement that is inorganic to the characters or the story being told will erode the audience's trust and goodwill. For instance, if a character in one of your favorite TV shows, who normally does not drink soda, suddenly holds up a can of Coke, chugs it down, and says, "wow, Coca-Cola is really refreshing," that will most likely take you out of the reality of the show.

As a result, you might stop watching or, at the very least, be on the lookout for other attempts at product placement. If that show continues to engage in clumsy product placement, viewers will stop tuning in. When viewers stop tuning in, advertisers stop paying money to place products on the show. The same goes with films.

That said, over the last ten years, successful product placement has paired characters and storylines with brands that make logical sense. These brand “tie-ins,” also known as “synergies,” seem less like mini-commercials and more like a natural part of the TV show or film. For instance, the Fast & Furious films have become terrific vehicles (pun intended) to promote the products of car companies, simply by featuring new models of these cars in the films, and then allowing commercials for car manufacturers to use the stars and even footage of the films in their own commercials.

The James Bond movie franchise has also used this kind of cross-promotional technique to great effect, promoting its films along with commercials for watches (Tag Hauer) and cars (Aston Martin, Jaguar, BMW) as well as other assorted products that the character of James Bond explicitly or implicitly endorses. This type of placement can be incredibly lucrative for both the creators of the films and TV shows, and the companies that are advertising their goods and services. The more trusted or beloved a character or title is, the more likely viewers are to buy products or services that the character uses.

Yet product placement has become even more crucial in the TV business. In the last five years to seven, the increasing use of DVR technology, which allows viewers to skip past commercials, has driven down the average price that advertisers are willing to pay for commercial airtime on the major networks. For hit TV shows, however, product placement money has been a boon. The few shows that can reliably pull in millions of viewers every week can now demand huge sums of money to feature products on their shows. These types of product placement deals are now so crucial to media companies’ bottom line that every studio, TV network and talent agency now employs a team of executives whose sole job is to pair advertisers with “content creators.”

In short, the growth of product placement has exploded over the past decade, and if current trends continue, it will continue to expand at rapid pace.