Do you remember James Bond opening up his Sony VAIO laptop to send an important email, or looking at his OMEGA watch to see if he has one more second to complete his mission in Casino Royale? Or Carrie Bradshaw wearing her favorite Manolo Blahnik shoes in Sex and the City? Or, Julia Roberts running away from her own wedding in a FedEx truck in Runaway Bride? All of these are examples of what in marketing and branding is referred to as product placement, brand placement or embedded marketing. As International Journal of Advertising (2008, 27 (4), pp. 495-509) points out, "Although brand appearances in popular culture may be motivated by creative considerations, such as the desire to lend verisimilitude to a drama or a novel, when such references result from commercial considerations (i.e. brand owners are charged for brand's appearance) the practice is considered brand placement."
Movies are the best known channel for advertisers who want to "place" brands in front of large audiences. Essentially, product placement is simply "less in-your-face" form of advertising. It can also be non-intrusive and fun to watch, as usually brands placed in movies and other media are presented within a wider context that makes them fit in better than an ordinary ad would do. Sex and the City is full of successful examples of product placement, as brands featuring in this series were not "attacking" viewers, but on the contrary, became part and parcel of the movie. And even more so -- they pinpointed the zeitgeist very well, presenting the most "in" trends in New York City, and the most desired labels by New Yorkers.
Perhaps a less known channel for product placement is fiction. Many novelists include mentions of various brands in their work without any intention of being paid for this "placement". Others, however, don't mind "capturing value" and negotiating commercial deals with the brands they mention. One of the known examples is a fee that novelist Fay Weldon received from Bulgari for including references to the brand's jewellery in her book The Bulgari Connection, published by Nelson in 2004 (International Journal of Advertising, 2008, 27 (4), pp. 495-509).
Also read my article Brands in songs.
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