Product Placement: The Future of Advertising?

About six months ago Drew and I cancelled our cable subscription. We’ve been watching our favourite television shows on our laptop.

Losing commercial breaks and all of the stuff advertisers want us to think we need was refreshing. I wasn’t expecting it to affect me as much as it did and does because when we had cable we rarely if ever paid attention to commercials. That time was usually spent by going to the kitchen for another snack or finishing up a quick chore.

Yet when we cut commercials out of our television habits I slowly noticed that I was less and less interested in new stuff just for the sake of having it. I’m happier to wear things out or use them up now. Even though I’ve never been the type of person to, say, buy a new wardrobe every year I did grow tired of what I owned more quickly than I do now.

And then I began to notice something creeping onto the foregrounds and backgrounds of some of my favourite shows:

Product Placement

A few characters gather together for a meal. Rather than sipping a cold drink from a glass tumbler they now drink name-brand juice or fortified water whose labels just happen to be in view of the camera.

They haven’t written what they are drinking into the dialogue (so far…) but until I train my eyes to only read on command I can’t help but know their beverages of choice.

Is this the new face of advertising?

If it is there is at least one advantage: the show doesn’t have to take a break to flash a product at us.

But every time it happens I’m momentarily jarred out of the world that each television show creates. When I watch a program I buy into certain assumptions about the way TV-land works:

  • Vampires were born to mope.
  • Female superheroes fight better in skimpy clothing.
  • Women who wander into dark alley ambushes need a man to rescue them.
  • If two people despise one other the first time they meet it means they are destined to fall in love.

Sometimes these assumptions are turned on their heads (see: Buffy the Vampire Slayer). At other times they are not (see also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

To this list I’d also add:

  • TV-land packaged food is manufactured by imaginary companies.

Part of the allure of fictional stories is the promise of escaping into another world for a little while. Product placement ruins this aspect of it for me.

The question is, in what other ways could products be marketed to us if fewer and fewer people are watching commercials?

What do you think?

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0 Responses to Product Placement: The Future of Advertising?

  1. atimetorend

    I think you are right on with the product placements, I’ve wondered about that with the lack of commercials, as we watch Mythbusters on Netflix (we’ve ditched cable to, internet combined with recorded over-the-air for local football).

    I talked to a relative who is a physician who said that he did not mind drug reps throwing lunches, gifts, trips, etc. at him (before regulations tightened down on that a bit in the US), because he did not let it affect his decision making. I am guessing however that the drug companies are receiving a thoroughly- studied return on their gifting dollars. And I bet most physicians would say they are above being affected by the influence. And I bet product placements are no different, the producers/networks are getting a calculated and proven return on their placements.

    • I suspect that you’re correct.

      If it works so well it will probably never end.

      It does makes me wonder, though, why so many people think they aren’t affected by advertising like most other people?

  2. Honestly, the product placements don’t bother me. I think seeing real products rather than fake ones actually makes it easier for me to lose myself in a fictional world. That little touch of realism helps me forget that vampires and werewolves couldn’t actually be roommates, whereas seeing a fake brand of cola will jar me back to reality and I remember that those two species just couldn’t get along well enough to live together in the real world. 🙂

  3. Sarah Bistline

    I’ve been noticing product placement too. I don’t have cable either, but we have an antenna. The only shows I watch regularly are Bones and Fringe. Lately, especially on Bones, I’ve noticed product placement of a certain popular phone. It was kind of ridiculous how they highlight the phone and its special features at times. My husband and I look at each other and laugh because it’s so obvious. While I can laugh at it, I have to admit I’m a bit irritated by it because it does jar me out of the story temporarily. Maybe I wouldn’t be as irritated it the placement were a bit smoother.

  4. Twyseschoch

    We could always institute a Feed.

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