The Ethicality of Product Placement

The marketing practice of Product Placement has become increasingly common over the last several years. Alongside it, however, concerns of the practices’ ethicality have also continued to rise. Many scholars, and general consumers alike, have argued for quite some time that the practices’ deceiving nature should be cause for concern. As a matter of fact, advocacy groups have been concerned about the ethicality of product placement in films since the 1990’s (Kovalenko & Wooliscroft, 2012).

According to Plaisance (2014), product placement is best defined as “the practice of ‘embedding’ a product, brand, or service into a film.” Although the practice itself can be observed in films such as Back to the Future and E.T, it has become much more prevalent in recent cinema. For example, Zack Snyder’s 2013 superhero reboot, Man of Steel, featured over one hundred promotional partners and brought in an impressive $160 million dollars in promotional support (Morrison, 2013). While this may be beneficial for both the movie and the featured brands, many consumers believe that the practice is unethical. The problem itself lies within the lack of transparency. Opponents of product placement argue that since the filmmakers is not being up front with them and telling them that they are being marketed to, the practice is unethical and shouldn’t be tolerated.

As a student of Marketing Communications and an avid fan of cinema, I personally have no problem with the practice itself. As a matter of fact, I would argue that product placement within films and television should be considered a positive attribute for several reasons. First, the presence of real world products within feature films and television shows adds a depth of immersion otherwise impossible. When I watch a movie, I want to be immersed in the story and relate with the protagonists. With the support of product placement, the world the film takes place in better resembles reality and allows for the audience to relate with the both setting and the characters that inhabit it.

Secondly, many modern films that we have come to grow and love were arguably impossible to create without the assistance of product placement. Although one can argue various reasons as to why the practice has come about, I personally believe that the trend has arisen due to the increasingly higher production values within today’s movies and television shows. By allowing companies to buy screen time for their products, producers have been able to bring in extra funds for their movie’s production. For example, let’s revisit Zack Snyder’s 2013 superhero blockbuster, Man of Steel. Those who have seen the film can attest to the incredible amount of computer generated imaging (CGI) and special effects that are present throughout the film. In order to create the citywide fight scenes and the incredible explosions, filmmakers needed to allocate a portion of their production budget into the technology and work to make these effects possible. Unfortunately, the cost of doing so is not cheap. However, with the assistance of product placement and the extra money brought in, filmmakers are allowed more flexibility to achieve their vision and deliver a final product that looks and sounds fantastic.

References

Kovalenko, A., & Wooliscroft, B. (2012). Risky products in movies: a special type of the embedded message requiring special treatment?. International Journal Of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Marketing, 17(4), 334-340. doi:10.1002/nvsm.1433

Plaisance, P. L. (2014). Media ethics: Key principles for responsible practice (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Morrison, M. (2013, June 3). Superman Reboot ‘Man of Steel’ Snares $160M in Promotions. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://adage.com/article/news/superman-reboot-man-steel-snares-160m-promotions/241822/

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