American Idol is an enormous reality TV success. It is one of only three television shows to rank #1 in Nielsen ratings 5 years in a row (the other two being All in the Family and The Cosby Show). Since the show is massively profitable, it is no surprise that product placement is all over the show. Contestants often wear Old Navy clothing during performances, for instance, and songs and videos are available on iTunes after they air. AT&T customers can vote via text message. There are far, far more.
Perhaps most famously, however, the judges seem to be perpetually seated behind red Coca Cola cups. Even in the earlier episodes, when the judges are traveling the country to hold auditions, those Coca Cola cups are often there, logos facing the camera, seen by millions of viewers each week.
Napoleon Dynamite contains an example of a relatively rare phenomenon sometimes referred to as “reverse product placement.” This occurs when a fictional item becomes a real one as a result of a movie’s success, then profits from the movie’s placement! When the main character, Napoleon, decides to support his best friend, Pedro, in his bid for class president, he makes a simple “Vote for Pedro” shirt. The movie became an overnight cult sensation, and the homemade look of the shirt was easy for people to recreate at home. Soon, t-shirt vendors on the Internet began selling the shirts as well. Tshirts.com lists the Vote for Pedro shirt as one of the Top 25 bought in the United States in the following year.
Cast Away is a 2000 film starring Tom Hanks widely noted for its product placement. The main character, Chuck Noland, is a FedEx employee who ends up stranded for four years on a deserted island after a plane crash. It’s impossible to miss the FedEx branding throughout the film, but what most viewers remember the most is “Wilson”, Noland’s anthropomorphic friend. When a Wilson brand volleyball washes up on shore and Noland accidentally creates something that looks like a face on it, he runs with it, and it becomes his only companion.
The inspiration for Wilson came just as coincidentally in real life as in the movie. Screenwriter William Broyles Jr. forced himself to live in isolation on a deserted beach for a week as research for the project, and during that time a volleyball washed up on shore, giving him the idea. Wilson also served a practical function, creatively allowing Noland to have dialogue despite the fact that he is alone for the majority of the film. Eventually, Chuck Noland loses Wilson in the ocean.
Supa Strikas offers a glimpse into the power of product placement outside of the TV and movie mediums. It’s a comic book about a soccer team, and one of the most popular in the world. It is distributed in 16 countries worldwide each month, and it is estimated that Supa Strikas is read by 10 million readers each week. There’s also an animated series that plays in those same countries, as well as throughout South East Asia and Latin America. Each episode has about 1 million viewers per episode in South Africa alone.
Supa Strikas is sponsored by a variety of corporations, most notably Chevron. The brand logos for sponsors are worn on the jerseys of players in the comic, as well as featured on billboards and signs in the stadiums. Brand names and company imagery saturate the pages, but since they are also an integral part of sports they are not terribly jarring. Either way, this corporate involvement allows the comic’s creators to distribute the series to readers free of charge.
One type of product placement is referred to as a “call to action”, which is less about placing a physical image of a product in front of viewers or readers and more about influencing the decisions of the viewer. When American Idol tells viewers to call in and vote using their AT&T phones, for instance, they are implying that the viewer should own one. Sometimes, a call to action may not be intended for marketing purposes at all, but may instead be used by different types of organizations.
In 2009, BBC News reported that the United States Border Patrol commissioned a music CD from Elevacion, an advertising firm based in Washington. The album was called “Migracorridos”, and it was played on 25 radio stations in Central America to positive reviews. The songs are largely about the dangers of illegally crossing the border into the United States, in an attempt to discourage individuals from doing so. Some of the songs are about “coyotes”, people-movers who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border, and how they cheat and betray those they are smuggling, sometimes leaving them to die.
Once you start thinking about product placement, you’ll see it everywhere. When you see movie characters lounging in a bar with a Budweiser neon light overhead, you’ll find yourself asking how much Bud paid for that little plug. Brand recognition goes a long way in marketing, and you’ll notice it in virtually every form of entertainment media, from movies, to TV, even to video games and books.
- - Superman II: http://www.redcmarketing.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/superman5.jpg
- - Sideways : http://chismetime.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/1512_sideways_wideweb__430x267.jpg
- - Code Geass: http://koibitoanime.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/code_geass_pizzahut1.jpg
- - Fight club: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/uimages/la/012809fightclub01.jpg
- - Jerry Maguire : http://sportsmaven.files.wordpress.com/2007/02/rodtidwell-2-6-07.jpg
- - American Idol : http://thinkwritenow.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/american-idol.jpg
- - Napoleon Dynamite : http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlDC/original/vote-for-pedro.jpg
- - Cast Away : http://www.lodinews.com/blogs/wineguy/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/wilson.jpg
- - Supa Strikas : http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Supa-Strikas-EXTRA-TIME--Cover-1.gif
- - Migracorridos : http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/45466000/jpg/_45466124_45454265.jpg