Product Placement In Marketing During a Pandemic

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The Ubiquity of Product Placement

When you think of the Netflix’s series Stranger Things, the phrase “Eggo Waffles” might come to mind. This may be because of the food’s extremely obvious, yet strangely subtle, inclusion in the show. It’s explicit, yet feels natural— and here lies the art of product placement.

Almost any mainstream media content you can think of includes some product placement. Wilson Sporting Goods is humanized in Castaway, Twinkies are the butt-end of a running joke in Zombieland and Robert Downey Jr. makes Audi look oh-so-cool in the Iron Man trilogy. Even in the anti-capitalist Fight Club, Starbucks makes a meta cameo in every scene.

Product placement occasionally includes a verbal mention of the product by characters, but it’s usually more subtle. The Stranger Things Eggo example is obvious, but did you realize that the show actually mentions a total of 75 different brands? A recent study estimates that around 75% of original content, which streams on subscription platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, include product placement.

But why is this form of marketing so common?

Benefits of This Marketing Technique

Product placement is beneficial to media producers, as well as brands. This form of marketing can save studios money in the props, costumes and locations departments, as well as in marketing. If a company is paying for a character to carry a Louis Vuitton bag, eat at Subway or drive an Aston Martin, your studio will no longer have to pay for a bag, a location or a car. Has there been a car chase in a movie from the last decade that did not include a BMW or a Mini Cooper (same company)? The brand might even include images from your content on their social media, providing some free marketing for the series.

The more straightforward benefit is that many companies will pay big money to have their products actually mentioned or used as a plot point. Stranger Things season three included gratuitous dialogue about Coca-Cola and made finding a 7-Eleven a plot point.

The fact that streamed shows and movies tend to include so much product-placement is no accident. One of the biggest benefits of this marketing approach is that brands can reach users that usually wouldn’t be consuming commercials.

Why It’s Important Right Now

The reason that the COVID-19 pandemic has made product placement so important is that it allows brands to capitalize on the surge in streaming platform use. As unemployment rises and people are forced to stay in their homes, it has become very difficult for brands to stay relevant. With media trending toward a streaming video on demand system (SVOD), there can be no advertising slots to be filled. 

It is also important to note that product placement is especially important in marketing toward Generation Z audiences. That’s because Gen Z viewers consume almost no television ads. Their media is mostly consumed through streaming and when it is gotten through actual television, commercials can be fast-forwarded through by using DVR.