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Informed Opinion

It is no surprise that the modern consumer gets bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands of advertisements on a daily basis. From the early morning commute with giant advertisements slowly passing by as we make our way to work on crowded highways, to the numerous advertisements on Facebook that seem to be catered specifically to the consumer based on what his/her activities on the internet are, all the way to the commercials sandwiched between television shows which are targeted to the specific audience of that show, advertisements are heavily embroidered in the fabric of modern culture. This is something that consumers expect, but there is one type of advertising that borders on, if not crosses into, the realm of subliminal messaging. Product placement is a way in which companies can sneak brand names into films, television, and other media forms to reach their target audience. Product placement may be necessary in today’s world of DVR’s in which advertising can simply be skipped over, but the consumer, on ethical grounds, should be made aware of the advertising that is taking place throughout the entertainment medium.

            While some product placement is barely noticeable, some companies have directly inserted their products in the television shows, a practice that should be entirely eradicated as it takes away from the audience experience of watching the show and the storyline of the show. A great example of blatant product placement in a show would be Snapple’s product in NBC’s 30 Rock. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) voices her anger during a meeting about having to integrate a product into her show.  A co-worker interrupts her by taking a drink of Snapple and saying “wow this is diet Snapple?” Without missing a beat Liz replies “I know, it tastes just like regular Snapple, doesn’t it?” Another co-worker quickly chimes in, “You should try Plumogranete, it’s amazing.” This scene mocks the transparency of some product placement and aides to the humor of the show; it can be painfully distracting in other shows. This distraction takes away from the storyline and takes the audience member out of the fiction they have immersed themselves in and my ruin the experience for some.

            Product placement, at times, seems out of place in a world so heavily dominated by advertisements, especially in an age of social mediums on the internet. Facebook is a social media site that takes full advantage of what the consumer likes and dislikes, and can therefore customize advertisements for the consumer. In “The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth” Joseph Turow states that “The website’s facilities for sharing photos, activity updates, videos, and comments among friends—and, importantly, with companies they “like” on so-called fan pages, which companies establish as a marketing tool for specific products—allow marketers to link people’s names to what they say about their lives and the products they do and don’t like” (139). Even commercials are customized to the supposed audience of the shows that are being aired. One would most likely see a commercial for dish soap during daytime television than on the Spike network during peak primetime hours.  With all of this advertising that has become so customized to the individual consumer, it seems that it would be unnecessary to use product placement.

            As much as product placement would seem unnecessary in today’s ever-growing intelligence for the consumer, it is a necessary evil for those who supply the entertainment, especially in film.  Independent or low budget films may rely on the money gained by companies to implement their products into the entertainment. Even though these films may be weighed down with placing products discretely within the mise en scene, at least these films have a chance to be made, and depending on the amount of money received by these deals, be watched by a larger group of consumers due to advertising. Some filmmakers may even favor product placement as it adds to the realism that he/she is trying to achieve.

Although it is necessary to have product placement in films, television, and other media forms, it is absolutely necessary that consumers be made aware of what is being sold to them.  Some believe that this awareness should happen the moment the advertising happens. In the documentary film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, director Morgan Spurlock interviews Robert Weissman who is the president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.   When asked what should be done with product placement, Weissman responds “The most important thing, especially for television, is to have simultaneous labeling that people are being hit with an advertisement at the moment they are. There should be some little pop-up that comes on and says “Advertisement.”  It could be a scroll at the bottom, a little pop-up, whatever. At the moment that people are being advertised to they should know they’re being advertised to.”  Though this may be a great way to reveal just how much product placement is implemented and to insure the audience is aware of the product placement, it will become just as distracting as Liz Lemon’s Snapple placement (and unfortunately less humorous).  Also, this would ruin the entertainment itself, just as badly as blatant product placement does. A solution to this would be to have some sort of statement prior to the show or movie which states that brand placement deals have been made with the following companies. This way, the audience members are made aware that product placement is taking place, but in a non-distracting manner.

Modern entertainment has enabled us to fast-forward through commercials and get right to the good stuff. Sometimes we can choose when advertisements can be shown to us, but most times we cannot. Regardless, people should be made aware that product placement is taking place to try to sell you something. It is ethically wrong to use product placement and not inform the consumer, otherwise that product placement can turn into subliminal messages.  Even though it seems unneeded in a world of customized advertising, it is vital for the survival of some media forms.  Instead of having characters interrupt the storyline to name-drop a product or having a pop-up message stating when and where a product is placed within the frame, people should be forewarned that product placement has been implemented in the show or film he/she is about to watch. 

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