"The other day, I was eating delicious Cowboy Burgers at Applebee's with my friends, when somebody pointed out to me that advertising is getting more and more intrusive. Then I took a sip of my ice-cold Pepsi."
Otherwise known as a "plug" or "writing commercials right into a show". The practice of prominently displaying or talking about a recognizable product in a program, in exchange for some consideration from the manufacturer, usually monetary. The manufacturer hopes to cause The Red Stapler effect, but it far more often results in snarky comments from the peanut gallery.
This trope isn't always invoked for mercenary reasons; many times it just wouldn't be plausible for a character in a shopping mall to walk past nothing but unnamed Brand X. Or a world set Twenty Minutes into the Future won't have suddenly lost the culture of billboard advertisements and product logos which defines the modern day. Real brands add veritas in these cases. On the other hand, even when it begins with the best intentions, contractual obligations to have the dialogue actually mention a placed product can easily turn malignant.
The least subtle version of this kind of embedded advertising is the Enforced Plug, which, in America, was common in early television and still is in radio.
With reruns, DVD and downloads, this can be the gift that keeps on giving for advertisers. After all, the commercials that aired on the original broadcast aren't retained in any of these. Product placement is, at least most of the time, though there have been instances of company logos being digitally blurred out for things such as television broadcasts of movies, if the sponsoring company didn't pay for the additional product placement in these broadcasts.
One thing important to remember is that not all products visible in television, or film, are the result of product placement; sometimes background logos are unavoidable, or producers choose a product for other reasons, and there's no exchange of money with the manufacturer.
For two particular examples, see Everybody Owns A Ford and its computer equivalent, Everyone Owns a Mac.
Compare Merchandise Driven and Product Promotion Parade. Contrast with Brand X or Product Displacement. When a character from a show is endorsing the product, it's Celebrity Endorsement.
The practice began in the early days of American radio, with companies lending their names to title programs as a way for funding them. The Secretary of Commerce, which licensed radio stations during most of the 1920s, prohibited direct advertising. By 1930, advertising was permitted, but the practice remained for years. Slowly the shows set themselves apart from the ads, with announcers shilling for a product, while the characters had an adventure. Product placement also was frequent during the early days of television, with characters shilling for their sponsor at the end of an episode. However, a quiz show scandal in 1958 forced networks to control their programs, instead of the sponsors. Product placement transitioned to movies until the mid-1990s, when TV regulators relaxed the rules against products appearing outside of ad breaks.
In the UK, a law banning paid product placement was rescinded, effective February 2011. It's now allowed, but only on commercial channels; The BBC's commitment to commercial-free television is Serious Business indeed.
It's still prohibited in Canada. A dishwasher manufacturer can recommend a certain brand of tablets, but the host of a cleaning show can't - in fact, they can't even show the brand name on screen.
In the movie The Great Man a radio personality mentions name-brand products on the air for personal gain. The movie was made in 1956, making this Older Than They Think. Indeed, there is (possibly apocryphal) evidence that suggests that merchants in Ancient Greece would attempt to bribe playwrights at drama festivals for favorable mentions of items in their plays. Someone epically telling the audience how great figs are could be quite good for business.
Examples - A large variety as only Heinz® can bring it to you!
The directory inquiries service 118 118 has a daily advert in British newspaper Metro in the form of a short comic strip. Bizarrely, many of these strips feature blatant plugs for other products.
Sprint's ads for its "Now Network" namedrop services like Twitter. Which makes sense, since a lot of people tweet from their phones. Mentioning specific websites to buy shoes, or saying that X amount of money generated by sales of Y is enough to build a Dunkin' Donuts...in space, not so much.
Bee Movie had Bumble Bee Tuna in a pantry for the main character to do a double take at. (Too bad they didn't also go for Bit-O'-Honey with the candy with which the opposing lawyer was taunting him later.)
Some of Cars' characters have real car models. For instance, Sally is a Porsche 911. Flo is a generic V8. "The King" is an ink-suit version of his voicer Richard Petty's 1970 Plymouth Superbird. "Junior" is basically Dale Earnhardt, Jr. voicing his own #8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS.
The film has a makeshift television consisting of a magnifier and an iPod, among other Apple Shout Outs. Apple founder Steve Jobs used to run Pixar and was the largest stock holder of Disney-Pixar, so it's probably a tribute.
The Evil AI uses a default text-to-speech voice option on older Macs, and the Mac boot-up chime can be heard as well.
Food Fight is riddled with this, with the plot featuring established characters/mascots fighting against generic Bland Name Products in a supermarket after-hours.
First, a Subway cup is seen at the arcade, then there is Nesquik Sand, and Laffy Taffy vines that laugh are shown.
It also has a lot of real video game characters in it. Some, like Fix It Felix Jr. and Sugar Rush were made for the film.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children had some rather gratuitous close-ups of Panasonic FOMA P900iV cell phones, which at the time were available only in the movie's native Japan. Some of the usage is humorous; there's a scene where after a fight, the "Victory theme" from the game is heard... but it's the bad guy's cell phone ringtone. It should also be noted that this was so effective that it has created demand for this phone in regions where it will not even work as a phone due to network differences.
Monster House has a deal with the manufacturer of "Mr. Clean" products which actually includes putting an actor dressed as Mr. Clean in shot during the "final prep" stage of each house.
Toy Story features several real toys as its characters. The toys that weren't currently in production at the time of the movie were quickly made available again to cash in on the massive success of the movie and best of all, Mattel didn't let Pixar use Barbie in the first movie, thinking it would flop. Four years later, Barbie featured prominently in Toy Story 2 and became one of the main characters in Toy Story 3, along with male counterpart Ken, in the third film. The fact that sales of Mr. Potato Head went way up after the toy was featured in the first film gave Mattel a change of heart and they were more then happy to have Barbie in the sequels.
Speaking of Mattel, in the first film, Rex literally mentions he's from Mattel and Mr. Potato Head mentions he's from Playskool.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore features an awful lot of glowing talk about Google. One of the main characters is a brilliant Google employee, and Google's amazing resources play a large part in the plot. Although Google doesn't solve the central mystery, it is presented as the pinnacle of modern technology and ingenuity.
Jason Aldean name-dropped Shiner Bock beer in his song "Take a Little Ride". A week after the single was released, the line was changed to "Rocky tops" because he had signed an endorsement deal with Coors, so his label sent out notes to radio stations asking them to play the "Rocky tops" version instead. (Interestingly, the countdown show Bob Kingsley's Country Top 40 still plays the "Shiner Bock" version.)
In the video for the 2012 fun. song "We Are Young", great pains are taken to make it obvious the phone that starts the riot/food fight is a Windows Phone, showing the Metro UI as it tumbles in slow motion.
Hip-hop's over-reliance on product placement has become a point of embarrassment for some fans and artists. It's nothing new, what with Run-DMC's "My Adidas" coming out in 1985, but some rappers avoid it entirely while others live for it, not even getting paid for the brand-dropping. Interestingly, some companies (like high-end wine makers and pistol manufacturers) have expressed disdain for the practice, half because they don't want their product associated with something as crass and low-brow as the type of rap likely to do it, half because they feel such rappers irresponsibly promote drinking and guns to minors.
Rap videos can be really bad with this. Several, such as "Pass the Courvasier" by Busta Rhymes and "Air Force Ones" (about a brand of basketball shoes) by Nelly are basically 4-minute, unpaid commercials. In fact, many fine wine makers don't like the publicity from mainstream rap; half out of snobbiness, half out of concern that it promotes underage drinking.
Visual Kei is similar to Hip Hop in this: nearly everything from an artist's fashion to his or her gear to, sometimes, the brand of preferred alcohol and/or tobacco is a Product Placement or sponsorship deal. And if a company (especially a gear or instrument company or existing fashion house) is lucky enough that one of "their" stars becomes the biggest breakout rockstar, they will be practically set for business for a long time (at least until people forget that artist and all his or her imitators wanting to be just like him or her). For example, the Japanese Visual Kei guitarist and bassist equivalent of Everybody Owns A Ford is, thanks to Fernandes being lucky enough to product place with hideandHeath, "everybody owns a Fernandes."
As an example, the following is a composite of a usual artist profile in Visual Kei. The items have been randomized, and there is no artist name so this doesn't stick to a particular artist, but this is how far Product Placement goes into the image of an artist.
Modern Visual KeiPerformance Videos are often similar. Early VK only had the instrument and gear and fashion form of Product Placement, with other direct forms of Product Placement somewhat eschewed by most artists, but modern videos often product place more. A good example of this is the available footage of the (as yet unreleased) 2010 version of Rusty Nail by X Japan: there are product placements for, among other things, Apple with an iPhone getting prominent time, and for Maserati (the car Toshi is driving) and for Honda (the bike Heath has)... and those are just a few of the more obvious ones.
Lady Gaga's "Telephone" contains a lot of product placement for everything from Virgin Mobile and Plenty of Fish to Diet Coke and Miracle Whip. Compared with how hamfisted it is compared to the placement of stuff like Wii nunchucks in "Bad Romance", the explanation that it's Stealth Parody is more likely.
Beloved Australian ballad "Waltzing Matilda" was bought from Banjo Paterson by the Billy Tea company, who changed one of the lines from "And leading a water bag" to "And waited till his Billy boiled" for the purposes of promoting their product. The second one is the better-known version, to the point that US kids have for decades thought a 'billy' was a kettle or can or something you'd boil water in to make tea. Since the tea brand was named after the device used by Australian travellers to boil water over a campfire, the line "waited till his Billy boiled" is cunningly ambiguous.
In Vanities: A New Musical, the second and third versions of "Mystery"(so far only used in ACT's version) name various cosmetic and fashion brands. In "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing", Mary mentions a "Troll doll wearing a pillbox hat" and a "Ford convertible". That song's predecessor, "Hey There, Beautiful", also had several, including Maybelline, Ultra Lash, the Flintstones, and the aforementioned Troll doll.
Comedian Dane Cook name-drops so many brands in his act that it'd be more shocking if he wasn't paid to do it.
In Homestuck, one of the walkaround flashes allowed Horuss to unlock a treasure chest containing a Bad Dragon Chance the Stallion Flared dildo. This was at the same time as Bad Dragon were running an ad on the Homestuck front page featuring a screenshot of that exact moment and describing themselves as 'purveyors of classical art sculptures' (in Homestuck, Furry pornography is considered high art). (Bad Dragon had become briefly notorious in the Homestucktumblr fanbase, as one of their dildo colouring options resembles the colours of troll horns, which may have inspired the sponsorship.)
A blatant example from lonelygirl15 is the Ice Breakers Sours Gum, which is shown in "Truckstop Reunion". When Daniel asks what Bree is holding, she gives the full name of the product (rather than just saying "gum"), holding the packet up so the viewers get a good look at the logo. Daniel and Jonas then beg Bree for some gum, but she puts all four remaining pieces in her mouth instead, to the boys' dismay.
Kate Modern contains frequent product placement. In most cases it serves to make the show more realistic, although in the case of Tampax, it became a little odd (who makes a video about the brand of tampon they use?). Then there's "Skittle Yourself", which actually asks viewers to create their own Skittles adverts and put them online. Go on, it'll be fun!
Fred maintains a modest six figure income through blatant product placements of zipits, t-shirts, and his merchandise.
Due to LoadingReadyRun's recent deal with game company Wizards of the Coast, several of their recent videos have contained prominent product placement, including "The Secret Life of Board Games", the Feed Dump episode "Soldiers of Fortune", and the commodoreHUSTLE episode "Roll For Treats". It should be noted, though, that they were giving total freedom as to the method by which they placed the products, and the resulting sketches are no less funny for it.
From about Season 6 onward, they have had an uncanny obsession with Dr. Pepper. It's almost guaranteed to be the beverage of choice unless the plot calls for otherwise. Two particular examples that stand out are "Last of the Meheecans" where the boys are all sitting at the dinner table with rows of Dr. Pepper cans lain neatly down the screen, and "The Poor Kid" where a foster home has a refrigerator consisting exclusively of it, and bans all other beverages. One has to wonder if Trey Parker has a thing for the drink.
Another soft drink was used (this time for laughs) in the Season 16 episode "I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining" where Cartman drinks Mountain Dew—known for being the most caffeinated of sodas—to counter the sheer boredom of the gang's ill-chosen field trip. This escalates into him drinking a (as of writing) fictional variant called Double Dew with twice the caffeine and sugar.
Frisky Dingo had some fun with this, as an entire episode simultaneously hawked and mocked the Scion TC: Killface plans to spread his plans for world domination on Live with Mitzi & Verl, but his first segment got bumped because the hosts were so caught up in discussing the car, then it takes up a good chunk of his second segment as well, before he sarcastically screams that once he takes over the world, "you won't have much use for 17-inch alloy wheels". The studio crew takes this impetus to show ad footage of the Scion behind him as he rants about everyone falling victim to "Scion fever", which the hosts and crowd also take and run with. He then storms out of the studio, and gets splashed with mud by a passing Scion TC.
At one point, WWE wrestlers Edge and Christian happened upon a vending machine selling RC Edge cola. Upon discovering that there's a cola "named after him", Edge declares, "Now, more than ever, Sodas Rule!"
Just about every time an episode of WCW Monday Nitro cut to the announce desk, a bottle of Surge would be plainly visible, with the label facing the camera.
At one point, X-Pac was pretty blatantly shown drinking Hansen's Energy - even on the way down the ramp before a match. In fact, his entrance video briefly featured several closeups of a Hansen's Energy can.
This really obvious product-placement was parodied savagely on the (old) ECW by having someone 'force' wrestler CW Anderson to wrestle dressed as a bottle of power-drink. ("Cap" hat, little armholes sticking out of the bottle, really hard to get up once knocked over, etc)
Then there's the 3 hour episode of WWE Raw that was commercial free. It may have not had actual commercials, but in between matches the announcers would shill KFC and other sponsors. They even had a bucket of KFC chicken on the announcer table.
Another episode of Raw had Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler doing a pitch for Subway, with Subway sandwiches on the announce table in front of them. After the next match, Santino Marella stole Lawler's sandwich and ran back to the locker room, cackling like a supervillain the whole time. Lawler then spent the better part of an hour pouting about his lost sandwich. It was one of the funniest examples of Product Placement on record, just because of everybody's reactions.
And in yet another example, Subway spokesman Jared Fogle appeared on Raw to pitch Subway himself. CM Punk subsequently decided that Jared's message of healthy eating would fit well with his own message, and decided to make Jared join the Straight Edge Society — whether he wanted to or not. Jared ended up getting rescued by DX, but not before an extremely funny segment with Punk chewing scenery like there was no tomorrow.
An episode of WWE Raw that had a fairly drawn out skit involving Maria working out on a Bowflex in as little clothing as possible, with someone dropping by to comment on how great the Bowflex is and how it'd help to improve Maria's in ring skills. The particular one was even eventually sold on WWE's website autographed by Maria! The fact that the next time something involved WWE and a Bowflex was the Chris Benoit story, though, well...
Parodies - Because we produce the only true Quaker Oats®:
—> You Could Advertise Here! <—
Two Sprint commercials have made fun of this, presenting their commercials for the Instinct phone as movie trailers. They're actually called something like "the finest product placement movie this summer", with "finest" often replaced for a more genre-appropriate word (such as "scariest" or "heartwarming").
A Budweiser commercial featured a movie director wondering why there was a bottle of window cleaner on the set of his medieval-period sword fighting scene. He's informed that if he shills products in the movie, the company will give him free stuff. Cue everything on set being branded with the Budweiser logo.
Booster Gold, a superhero with a reputation for being self-interested, tools around Metropolis with a dozen logo decals stuck to his costume. (He later learns his lesson. And then explodes. But gets better.)
In the early '90s, Booster headed up a corporate superhero team called The Conglomerate as competitors for the Justice League of America. The members wore jackets over their regular superhero outfits that featured various DCU-native companies such as Star Labs and Lexcorp. The companies then made the mistake of insisting that The Conglomerate start looking after the companies' interests over the welfare of the world in general, which ultimately backfired on them.
Transmetropolitan parodied this. At one point, the main character, Spider Jerusalem, very newsworthy, goes on a booze fueled rant. As shown in other points, one can clearly click over to buy the booze Spider is holding as he does his thing. In another aspect, Spider, naive to the ways of City life, is hit with an advertising bomb that unloads ads in his sleep. Society isn't completely insane; chemically induced ad visions cause mucho neurological disasters and are illegal...until they aren't for about five minutes every few legal cycles. Guess what the citizens get sprayed with then? And last but not least, the TVs in your home don't seem to have an off switch... Spider's TV might be an exception, though. He explicitly programs it to change channels every twenty seconds in the first issue and leaves it on. Constant information overload probably goes with the territory of being a journalist.
Paige: I hate how the American Idol judges always have those Pepsi cans in front of them.
Peter: It's called product placement, Paige.
Paige: Well, it's tacky.
Peter: Get used to it. Altoid Mint?
Paige: Yes, thanks! They're Curiously Strong!
One Pearls Before Swine strip had Larry secretly eating Kentucky Fried Chicken in the closet because he's too lazy to catch a zebra. Pastis said in the Pearls Sells Out commentary that people ask him if he's paid by companies to mention their products. He says no, and that he's never been approached.
"It tastes like a cup of heaven!" he whispered. "And it goes down smooooooooth," added Hobbes, quoting the soda ad. Sherman was confused. "Is this just an example of product placement?" he asked. "Who cares?" Calvin said, taking another gulp. "Fresh, delectable beverages at reasonably cost prices is enough to win me over."
Literature (Dan Brown's™ Illuminati)
In Rally Round the Flag, Boys! by Max Shulman, a bunch of advertising executives representing a breakfast-cereal company meet with the producer of a Biblical Times drama series sponsored by their client to debate the question: "How do we identify King David with Crackle-Crunchies?" They variously propose having David Time Travel into the twentieth-century to eat Crackle-Crunchies and David having a vision of God presenting him with a bowl of Crackle-Crunchies. The producer's own idea is to have King David invent the delicacy of Crackle-Crunchies and write down the secret formula in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Web Comics (Penny Arcade™)
For a brief while, John Campbell claimed that pictures for sad children was being sponsored by the Long John Silver's restaurant chain. He made thesetwo pages during that time, and for the duration of the joke, the pages in question were colored blue and yellow and the plain white background of the website was replaced with a splash ad for LJS.
Oreos, saving squirrels from being eaten since 1912. At least according to the squirrel Sid from Sandra and Woo.
Neglected Mario Characters is absolutely plastered with ads for a poker playing website, so they mocked this with both a poker machine being the 'comic president' and the entertaining quote at the bottom of the page:
Just as a note, Jay wrote these articles as a Mario fan. Unfortunately, he did not play poker. That is why we had to get rid of him. Some of parts of his writing come from factual Nintendo information. Which gets in the way of the gambling. The rest was his own imagination. After Jay left, others continued in his stead, until becoming addicted to poker.
Italian Spiderman parodies this trope, with the "Il Gallo" (a fictional label, mind you) cigarettes often smoked by the main character — he even blatantly exhibits them during one episode.
The Irate Gamer: In his Yo! Noid review, he notes at the beginning that the game's developer sold out by making a bad game based on a Domino's Pizza mascot. As he reviews the game, he wonders why Domino's would do such a thing. He then gets a check from Domino's and decides that selling out isn't a bad thing and starts promoting and namedropping random products ("After all, a logo can go a long way.") while praising the game. He finally stops when he sees how bad the ending is and decides that he'll only sell out to himself.
A Very Potter Sequel parodies this with Ron's love of Red Vines - complete with smiles directly to camera and zooming close-ups, as well as Harry and Ron's friendship being rooted in a mutual love of the things.
The Potion Masters Corner parodies that in Joey Richter's (who played Ron) interview. Snape interrupts Joey to mention Cookie Crisp frequently.
"Invention Pioneers of Note" parodies this in Season 4, which contains multiple instances of forced and awkward product placement, as well as itself being a thinly disguised commercial for a restaurant.
Tobuscus manages to parody this trope and play it straight at the same time. His schtick is to get paid by advertisers to produce parody videos about their products, under the theory that humor creates buzz. On the other hand, some of his videos are straight parodies, such as the FarmVille series (which almost got him in copyright trouble due to an overzealous Zynga employee). As if that weren't enough, any time a brand name appears in any of his videos or he mentions one in passing, he yells "Sponsor!", whether the appearance is sponsored or not.
Critic: So to put it bluntly, he'll be back after these messages. (Lights start dimming) No, hey what are you doing? That was a joke. It wasn't serious. It wasn't serious. No, hey, what are you doing? STOP! (a real blip ad plays and then the lights come back on) Chester, report!
Red Letter Media in their Half in the Bag series ended their Jack and Jill review by purposely shoving various products in front of the camera, mocking the movie's overuse of it.
Western Animation (Nick Toon's® The Fairly Odd Parents®)
In an episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Harvey Birdman's drink suddenly turns into a can of Tab. Then there is an extended live-action sequence where Birdman and a 5-foot can of Tab frolic on the beach.
In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the main characters are wandering through a Nevada desert until they find a Wal-Mart smack dab in the middle of it. When D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) remarks how stupid it is, his "love interest" studio executive Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman) simply replies "Product Placement. No one notices that anymore" and no one else cares, since they are thirsty and tired. When they leave, they are loaded with stuff and Bugs Bunny says "It was very nice of Wal-Mart to give us all of these Wal-Mart products for saying "Wal-Mart" so many times."
A few episodes are choked with fake ads for Grizzlebee's, a riff on Applebee's, TGI Friday's, and other US-based "down-home neighborhood family restaurant" franchises. "Grizzlebee's: You'll wish you had less fun!"
And at that, the episode "Tinfins" was itself one long advertisement for a fake movie, interspersed with advertisements for a fake restaurant.
Not to mention during the interviews with the makers of the movie, they clearly had Grizzlebee's.
As Captain Murphy learns, you don't mess with corporate sponsors.
Futurama made a few jokes mocking this by putting advertising in dreams and also with Nixon's repeated shilling for "Charleston Chew" during his speeches, although that one might be a matter of them finding Nixon saying "Charleston Chew" hilarious.
Futurama is brought to you by: Molten Boron!"
Female Voice: "Nobody doesn't like Molten Boron!
Used again in the "Gunderson's Nuts Holiday Spectacular Featuring Futurama"
In one episode, the favored cigarettes of notorious badass Brock Sampson is revealed to be Marlboro cigarettes — which in the Venture Bros.-verse are called "Manboro".
King Gorilla, one of Monarch's jail buddies from the last part of Season 1 and beginning of Season 2, makes his return in the second half of Season 4. At the welcome back party King Gorilla is now suffering from lung cancer and the gift Monarch gets him? You guessed it — a carton of cigarettes.
An episode of Arthur had Francine filming a music video. When asked why she put a bottle of tomato ketchup on top of a tombstone, she explained it was product placement.
In The Proud Family, Oscar Proud managed to get his Proud Snacks onto product placement in the ending of the episode (after his attempts at getting his commercial aired resulted in it being interrupted, the first time due to a pointless breaking news story about a tv show getting cancelled, the second due to Penny protesting). It airs on a TV show, and... well, let's just say that the snacks apparently killed one of the co-stars upon ingestion on-the-air. Also counts as a subtle Take That to The Parkers.
After reading all this, you must be hungry. What about a delicious Pizza Hut® and a Pepsi®? Yummy!