Product Placement

Small of a matter as many may see it, the act of inserting advertisement in movies and television has troubled me for quite some time now.

Sure, I can understand that there are brands in everything we do. There are logos on our morning cereal boxes, the cars we drive to get from A to B and the company uniforms we dawn on a daily basis. Yes, even people can be walking billboards. So in many respects, I shouldn’t be troubled by this. If reality enables a big, yellow “M” on a 50-ft stick to be at the corner of our eyes at every quarter mile, why shouldn’t the moving pictures?

One of my frustrations comes from having the plot come to a screeching halt for the sake of pushing the product in question. I may not have been the biggest fan of “Home Alone 2” in its attempts to promote the Talkboy, a once shiney-new-toy capable of recording and replaying audio. But at least the filmmakers of that time had the decency to not go down the list of each excessive feature the gizmo included. Today, they do. I recall a scene from the NBC show, “Chuck”, where actor, Zachary Levi, is forced to boast of the Toyota Sienna’s dual screens, sound system, Bluetooth, comfortable seats and automatic doors…all in one breath. This would have been tolerable if the scene involved Levi being a car salesman, pitching this information to someone actually looking to invest in an automobile. Seeing that the context actually consisted of him and another character being on a stakeout: no.

Another problem can be in appearance alone. While not embedding the product’s details in the dialogue, some names appear too much as if they have a sparkly, white “ting” coming off them. For this example I will address “Man of Steel”. A fight escalates between Superman, humanity’s last hope and several kryptonians. Pitted against each other on a small town street, they throw and tackle each other through buildings, vehicles and other reinforced structures, with rubble and debris strewn everywhere. That is unless the camera veered in front of a Sears or iHop. All of a sudden, the dust and smoke begins to subside, somehow avoiding interference with the line of vision between the viewer and the title. I might have excused this if this were set in New York City where advertisements are omnipresent, but in a fictional middle-of-nowhere location, it was clear what the filmmakers were trying to do.

The sad thing is, I actually do believe that products can be advertised in films and televisions shows without insulting the audience’s intelligence. And most of my paper will concentrate on just that. How can companies insert themselves in a pivotal scene, a moment of emotional turmoil, without coming off as too intrusive? Some products and their functions can be used for the sake of the plot, benefiting the characters in their escapades. Good advertising in scripted medium can also exist by self deprecation, or at least, openly admitting how shameless the plug is. Personally, my favorite incorporation of product placement in entertainment involved the pushing of Subway on the comedy series, “Community”. But I’ll explore that more in my paper.

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