In the media today, transparency is essential to building trust and credibility with consumers and audiences. A brand’s overall success lies in its abilities to allow their information and content to be visible, open, trustworthy and honest. Another factor that ties into transparency is authenticity.
In the case of product placement, one of the advertising industry’s most popular techniques, brands create authentic environments, which makes situations in the media believable (Plaisance, 2014). Product placement is considered “the practice of embedding a product, brand or service into a film or storyline in lieu of airing more traditional commercials (Plaisance, 2014). Product placement is prevalent across numerous media platforms today including film, television and music. Although this advertising method is so popular, why is it considered a problem?
The ethical question surrounding the appropriateness of product placement is disclosure. Since product placement has become so common, it is hard to determine when the appearance of a brand in some type of media platform is a form of artistic expression or simply a way to make money. Many do not see a problem in this type of advertising. However, many consider this a shameless advertising technique. At times, audiences can be turned off from a program for using product placement and diminishing its credibility. Today, different industries are working together to basically create a story around a specific product. For instance, Absolute Vodka got “Sex and the City” to build an episode around their drink called the “Absolut Hunk” (Plaisance, 2014). Although this is increasing brand awareness and somewhat enhancing a show, this practice can be seen unethical because audiences are unaware of the paid advertising they are being exposed to when choosing to watch television programs.
This research is appealing because of my thesis that I completed on product placements in contemporary music videos. In all of my research, product placement seemed very appealing to both creators and consumers. Product placements in music videos have proven to be successful in increasing brand awareness, brand recall and brand recognition (Burhalter & Thornton, 2014). As I was looking at how influential brands in this type of platform can be, I found that people were very aware of product placements, but generally weren’t influenced to purchase brands they’ve been exposed to. When looking at this through an ethical perspective, I now see the division between artistry and advertising. Since music is such an artistic platform and music videos are the chance for artists to tell a visual story, how are viewers able to distinguish the difference between the enhancing of a story or the way to make money?
In the two videos that I looked at in my thesis and asked survey respondents to screen, people were not very influenced in actually going out to purchase a product that they’ve seen in a music video. The two videos included “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga and “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus. Survey respondents were very aware and paid attention to the product placements in the videos, but this did not link to people’s purchase intentions. It is possible that the lack of people’s interest in purchasing the brands seen in the videos is directly linked to whether or not they see it as an unfair way to advertise to viewers.
Burkhalter, N. J. & Thornton, G. C. (2014) Advertising to the beat: An analysis of brand placements in hip-hop music videos. Journal of Marketing Communications, 20(5), 366-362.
Plaisance, P. L. (2014). Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.