Imagine this scene in a movie: The hero is drinking a bottle of soda as the bad guys drive by disguised as delivery men. The hero leaps into his sports car and a chase ensues. The bad guys finally crash their delivery truck into a coffee house and surrender to the hero.
There is a reason why the hero was drinking Pepsi, the bad guys were driving a Federal Express truck and the crash scene was a Starbucks coffee shop. That reason is called product placement, and it is more prevalent than one might suspect. This is an advertising technique in which companies pay a fee or provide services in exchange for a prominent display of their products. It is primarily used in connection with the movie industry, although other venues such as concert halls, convention centers and high-profile nightclubs may also agree to some form of placement.
One infamous example of product placement occurred in Steven Spielberg's movie ET. Originally the alien creature was supposed to be lured out of hiding by following a trail of M&M chocolate candies. The company which produces M&Ms, however, did not wish to have their product associated with an unproven and potentially unmarketable movie. A rival company agreed to provide a similar candy called Reese's Pieces. The movie became a huge financial success, and the product placement boosted sales of Reese's Pieces substantially.
The use of this practice in movies has proven to be controversial. Some film makers see it as too commercial. Others, particularly those with severe budget restrictions, welcome any company willing to invest money in exchange for placement.
The debate often centers around the necessity for a particular brand name product in a scene. In our hypothetical chase sequence, the use of one Federal Express truck establishes the bad guy's cover. Placing a fleet of Federal Express trucks on the street, however, may be an obvious case of product placement and considered too commercially motivated.
Despite the debate between artistic integrity and practical commercialism, there is no doubt that product placement is effective in most cases. Moviegoers may not even be aware of all the examples of product placement in an average Hollywood film, but they might remember enough details to boost sales after the fact. If nothing else, the company benefits from the use of their brand name or logo in connection with an exotic locale or exciting action sequence. If James Bond shoots out a Coca-Cola display, for example, the audience will remember that sequence long after the movie ends.