Published on August 24, 2015 by Michael Matthews  

Product placement, psychological manipulation at its finest, continues to be a wildly successful form of marketing that benefits multiple parties at once. As time goes on, product placement stands to become increasingly successful as it expands into different media.

The History of Product Placement

The idea of slipping your product into a film that you know will reach millions of people is not a recent strategy. A few examples of early product placement include Horse Feathers (1932) featuring Life Savors candy, and the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) featuring National Geographic. As time went on, this form of integrated marketing became even more strategic, embedding products within the very narrative of films.

Steven Spielberg’s 1982 hit E.T. broke ground as it incorporated Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces into the plot of its story. This deal involved Hershey paying $1 million for the production of the film, while Hershey benefited through a 65% increase in Reese’s Pieces sales in the year after the movie’s release. The success of product placement could be ignored no longer.2

Modern Product Placement

Man of Steel (2013) took product placement to a new level by partnering with over 100 brands around the world-- promotions which totaled ~$160 million.3

The most recent example of this behavior was in the past month’s blockbuster Jurassic World, which heavily promoted Mercedes, Starbucks, and other brands. For a film with a budget of over $150 million, it is easy to see why studio executives would be so open to letting other companies help foot the bill in return for a few minutes of screen time. From the opposite perspective, the deal has proven to be a massively good deal for Mercedes and other brands, considering Jurassic World turned out to have the highest-grossing weekend both domestically and worldwide.

Clint Dempsey-on the ball

Pictured above is U.S. World Cup superstar Clint Dempsey, as featured on the front of the widely popular FIFA 15 soccer video game. As a player for the Seattle Sounders Football Club, Dempsey is shown sporting the team jersey which boldly displays their XBOX sponsorship.

Last summer, MLS revealed that the Clint Dempsey Seattle Sounders jersey was the best selling in the league. Whether this is due to his performance in the World Cup, the popularity of XBOX, or both (which is most likely), XBOX is getting thousands upon thousands of fans to walk around with their logo across their chests. This is one of many examples of how sponsorship can pose a massive benefit to both parties. Like the plethora of Mercedes logos inundating Jurassic World from start to finish, XBOX is reinforcing brand recognition by coupling itself to the success of another popular entity.4

On top of this, the decision to slap an XBOX logo on their jerseys creates an additional benefit: consumer loyalty. The MLS, still struggling to reach the popularity levels of the NFL and NBA, depend heavily on the support of millennials. By receiving sponsorship from a company with similar targets, MLS is putting more jerseys into the hands of future patrons. Owning a jersey will make them more inclined to support the league by going to games, buying video games, and buying more merchandise.

The Future of Product Placement

As technology and culture evolve, it is only natural that product placement also evolve. The most likely medium for this marketing practice to find a foothold may be YouTube—with channels providing daily content to millions of subscribers, there is huge potential for integrated marketing. The LA Times published a piece last summer telling the story of “YouTubers” finding success in infusing brands into their content; online content creators Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal closed 15 deals with brands over the course of only 18 months.6

Product placement works—yielding huge returns for both parties involved. This “teamwork” approach to marketing is likely to increase in scope, as blockbusters continue to feature more heavily emphasized product placement, and the strategy expands to new media.

This blog post was written by Samford University student Michael Matthews.



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(5) [photo credit]