Case in Point: Product Placement Makes Shows Real, but Is It Ethical?

“Product placement is so common now that we all know it occurs routinely” (Plaisance, 2014, pg. 87). This quote came directly from the Case in Point. When watching TV or movies it is inevitable that there will be some form of brand within the production. It is hard for productions to go unfunded by these products or get some form of benefit from them. It is hard to believe viewers are going to see a Papa Ginos’ pizza and automatically purchase a pizza from there. Product placement adds an authenticity to the production; it is unlikely that a movie that recently came out doesn’t have an Apple product from their watches, televisions, most common phones and laptops. All of these products can be seen in some form of production but it doesn’t make you the viewer want to purchase them. The way in which I see product placement being an issue is in children films or shows. I recall wanting anything and everything that my favorite characters in shows wanted. This generation of children could be exposed to certain brands within their shows and want the same products.

In Talladega Nights starring Will Farrell, there is a scene where they are eating dinner and everything at the table is product placement. They have brands such as Coca-Cola, Wonder bread, KFC, and others. Wonder bread was the biggest brand in the movie because that was the lead sponsor for Ricky Bobby’s race car. According to Thomaselli (2006) of Advertising Age, there wasn’t any form of money exchange between Sony and Wonder bread. The movie did bring about 4.3 million dollars in exposure. For fans of race car driving, the sponsors of the cars add authenticity, if they didn’t have these brands it wouldn’t feel as a legitimate racing movie. With the sponsorship of Bobby’s car it added to the film and it wasn’t necessarily publicity stunt. Also according to Thomaselli (2006), Wonder Bread was apparently bankrupt, so there was no way of them paying to be a part of this movie.

There are a few negatives about product placement, one is it becomes disruptive. In a USA network show, White Collar, they all have HP computers. Every time there is an office scene in one of the corners you can see the HP lighting up on the computers or laptops. It isn’t a massive zoom in to the logo, but as viewers it is noticeable. Same exact concept when it comes to their cars. During an episode they got a new ford car and they were using all of the gadgets and gizmos within the car. They also showed an accident in the car and the man survived but the fact it showed the durability and safety of the car was quite obvious. If viewers didn’t look that closely to the car brand, it would have never mattered. After studying product placement it becomes obvious when you see consistent logos in the background or forefront of shows.

Aside from it being disruptive, it could take away from the show. I noticed on White Collar when the wanted to point out aspects of the car, they would somewhat lose the seriousness of the scene. It became obvious that it was all to bring awareness to the accessories the car possessed. It didn’t all around ruin the episode or anything, but that split moment of promotion took a little away. Another negative which was mentioned in the book was the in the movie Flight. Denzel Washington’s character was an alcoholic pilot and his drink of choice was Budweiser.  This example of product placement could have a negative impact on Budweiser making it seem as if their product contains too much alcohol or causing alcoholism.

The fear of product placement is the artistic element of the film will be misconstrued as an ad campaign of some sort. When people go to movies they want to see it because of the actors, plot, or overall excitement for the movie. No one is taking away from what the actors, directors, and producers do. It is their work of art and that can’t be taken away because of some product placement in the background. It isn’t unethical or unruly towards the creators or cast of the show. It is a concept that has been added to the show for the betterment of authenticity. In my perspective it adds a form of reality to the production instead of drinking a drink unlabeled or using an unmarked product. It takes away from the movie when that happens; it looks as if it is missing something. Product placement could go either way ethically or unethically. I believe it has become part of television and movies in the 21st century.

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

Thomaselli, R. (2006). Movie Gives Wonder Bread Exposure Worth $4.3 Million. Retrieved from http://adage.com/article/news/movie-bread-exposure-worth-4-3-million/110968/

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