In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Product Placement

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Frameworks and Models
  • Cognition
  • Affect
  • Conation
  • Congruity
  • Ethics
  • Content Analysis in Product Placements
  • Economic Worth of Product Placements
  • Cross-National Studies
  • Social Consumption
  • Mediator/Moderator Variables for Placement Effects
  • Qualitative Research
  • Priming Effects and Disclosures
  • Multitasking Environments
  • Individual Differences
  • Placement/Message Vehicle Characteristics
  • Media Other than Movies or TV Sitcoms
  • Exposure and Other Contexts
  • Special Populations
  • Relationship of Product Placement Literature with Advertising Literature
  • Insights from Multiple Perspectives

Communication Product Placement
Siva K. Balasubramanian, Deepa Pillai, Hemant Patwardhan, Tianyu Zhao
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0221


Product placements represent the paid inclusion of branded products through audiovisual means within mass media programming. Placements reflect a “hybrid” characteristic that integrates key elements of advertising and publicity messages. Specifically, advertising messages are paid for and identify the brand sponsor; publicity messages are not paid for and do not identify the brand sponsor; hybrid messages are paid for and do not identify the brand sponsor. Given this hybrid characteristic, placements are attractive to brand sponsors: the “paid for” characteristic allows the brand sponsor to exercise control over the message (content, format, how it is presented, etc.); the lack of identification of the brand sponsor enhances the credibility of the perceived message source, thereby encouraging the audience to process the message as editorial content. In other words, the message is processed less defensively than, say, how the audience processes advertising messages. Product placements have registered impressive growth as evident from increased marketing expenditures devoted to placements, the expanding scope of placements (their popularity in TV programs, movies, songs, etc.), and the remarkable degree to which audiences embrace, accept, or tolerate placements worldwide. Historically, the United States has led the world market for product placements. PQ Media reports predict that the value of US product placements will reach an astounding $11.44 billion in 2019 from $7.39 billion in 2011. Several factors have contributed to this development, ranging from the fragmentation of media, decreased effectiveness of ads, and the general lack of regulation of product placements. For example, industry observers note the diminishing effectiveness of the thirty-second television ad. TV viewers often rely on devices such as digital video recorders (DVRs) to avoid or zip through commercials. Product placements have a strategic advantage over traditional ads in that they lie embedded within the editorial content that audiences actively seek. Additionally, exposure to product placements often occur in a setting (e.g., a movie theater) with a captive audience. When taken together, they provide ideal circumstances to influence audiences unobtrusively for commercial benefit using a message format that projects a non-commercial character. As a result, audiences are less likely to be aware of persuasive character of product placements and thereby process them differently than, say, how they respond to ads. It is noteworthy that ads engender instant audience awareness of their persuasive character, but this outcome is less likely for placements. Research indicates that the credibility of the message source decreases when audiences become aware of the sponsored nature of placement messages, compared to situations where they lack such awareness. However, empirical evidence also shows that this negative outcome or damage does not spillover to the sponsoring brand.

General Overviews

Balasubramanian 1994 conceptualizes product placement as a “hybrid message” that integrates key characteristics of advertising and publicity messages. Product placements commonly appear in television shows, movies, songs, music videos, video games, blogs, and novels. Newell, et al. 2006 asserts that product placements have a significant history that enriches and informs current practice. Chen and Wang 2016 reports that placements have become increasingly bold and salient in top-grossing US movies. Hudson and Hudson 2006 argues that the concept of branded entertainment represents a more comprehensive, contemporary, and sophisticated expression of product placement. Balasubramanian, et al. 2006 (cited under Frameworks and Models) surveys the academic literature on product placements, in addition to providing a model of variables that influence desirable outcomes from placements. Finally, the anthology Shrum 2012 provides significant psychological insights about product placements. The organization of this bibliography broadly reflects the academic and practitioner literature on product placement. Early studies such as Balasubramanian 1994 and Karrh 1998 define product placement, present a comprehensive description of its evolutionary and regulatory history, and discuss its implications for ethics and public policy. Similarly, Nebenzahl and Secunda 1993 reports early empirical evidence that consumers are generally positively predisposed toward product placements. PQ Media 2015 provides an authoritative overview of the impressive recent growth of product placements in both the United States and worldwide. Lehu 2007 describes several reasons for such growth, including the diminishing effectiveness of TV ads. A more recent work addressing blogs, Colliander and Erlandsson 2015, indicates that message credibility is diminished when audiences become aware of the sponsored characteristic of a message. Nevertheless, the negative aspects of this damage to credibility does not carry over to the sponsored brand. An implication for product placements could be that even if audiences were aware of their commercial character, such awareness is unlikely to diminish perceptions of the placed brand.

  • Balasubramanian, S. K. 1994. Beyond advertising and publicity: Hybrid messages and public policy issues. Journal of Advertising 23.4: 29–46.

    DOI: 10.1080/00913367.1943.10673457

    A widely cited and early contribution to the academic literature on product placements. Presents conceptual and theoretical rationales for a new class of marketing communications labeled “hybrid messages,” which integrate aspects of advertising and publicity in a manner that marketers consider desirable. Product placements, infomercials, and product tie-ins are good examples of hybrid messages. Offers extensive discussion of the evolutionary, economic, and legal ramifications of product placements. Reviews managerial and public policy implications and concludes with directions for future research.

  • Chen, H., and Ye Wang. 2016. Product placement in top-grossing Hollywood movies: 2001–2012. Journal of Promotion Management 22.6: 835–852.

    DOI: 10.1080/10496491.2016.1214203

    This historical analysis concludes that product placements are prolific in top-grossing US movies. Product categories such as automobiles, electronics, media, and entertainment enjoy the bulk of brand exposure in movies. Over this time horizon, brand appearances in movies have become more bold and salient.

  • Colliander, J., and S. Erlandsson. 2015. The blog and the bountiful: Exploring the effects of disguised product placement on blogs that are revealed by a third party. Journal of Marketing Communications 21.2: 110–124.

    DOI: 10.1080/13527266.2012.730543

    Investigates the effect of disclosure by a third party of the sponsorship of a blog by a firm whose products are favorably reviewed therein. The credibility of, and attitude toward, the blog decreased for readers exposed to this disclosure, while attitude toward the sponsoring brand and purchase intention did not decrease. Damage from disclosure (of information not previously admitted) appears limited to the blog and does not spillover to the brand.

  • Hudson, S., and D. Hudson. 2006. Branded entertainment: A new advertising technique or product placement in disguise? Journal of Marketing Management 22:489–504.

    DOI: 10.1362/026725706777978703

    Examines the debate on the distinction between product placement and branded entertainment to conclude that the latter describes a more comprehensive, contemporary, and sophisticated use of product placement. It must be noted that other influential writers advocate the opposite view that branded entertainment is different from product placement.

  • Karrh, J. A. 1998. Brand placement: A review. Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising 20.2: 31–49.

    DOI: 10.1080/10641734.1998.10505081

    Karrh improves previous definitions of product placement and expands the media covered beyond TV programs and movies. Offers insightful discussion on the symbolism inherent in brands. Notably, placements may powerfully convey identity characteristics through brand/character pairing. The study also describes legal and ethical challenges to product placement. Overall, this is an excellent review of the product placement literature, including categories such as content analyses, qualitative studies, memory-based effects, and attitudinal research.

  • Lehu, J. 2007. Branded entertainment: Product placement & brand strategy in the entertainment business. London: Kogan Page.

    An insightful exposition on placements and other forms of branded entertainment that cogently blends academic and managerial insights. Scholars will find the concluding sections on “Branded Entertainment and Brand Integration” especially useful to understand and navigate the emergent future of placements. The content devoted to novels and plays, song lyrics, and branded videogames is exceptionally informative.

  • Nebenzahl, I., and E. Secunda. 1993. Consumers’ attitudes toward product placement in movies. International Journal of Advertising 12.1: 1–12.

    DOI: 10.1080/02650487.1993.11104518

    One of the earliest and most influential journal articles in the product placement literature. Finds that consumers are generally not opposed to movie product placements; this is a robust finding supported by several subsequent studies. Consumers appear to consider placements a legitimate form of marketing communications. The minority who oppose placements base their objections on ethical considerations. The study also indicates that consumers may prefer placements to alternative onscreen promotions.

  • Newell, J., C. T. Salmon, and S. Chang. 2006. The hidden history of product placement. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 50.4: 575–594.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15506878jobem5004_1

    Authors rely on internal documents from motion picture studios, ad agencies, TV networks, and PR firms to trace the history of product placement over several decades. This research approach is refreshingly different from the more common anecdotal accounts of the evolutionary trajectory of placements. Offers good insights on the developmental differences between product placements in movies and television.

  • PQ Media. 2015. PQ Media global branded entertainment marketing forecast 2015–19. Stamford, CT: PQ Media.

    PQ Media is a widely cited source of historical growth of product placement revenues, both for the United States and the world.

  • Shrum, L., ed. 2012. The psychology of entertainment media: Blurring the lines between entertainment and persuasion. London: Routledge.

    This unique anthology focuses on understanding psychological effects at play in the product placement domain. Well-written chapters from leading researchers shed light on the implications of nexus between entertainment and persuasion that characterize placements and extend this discussion to the broader context of entertainment media. The sections devoted to product integration and in-game advertising/advergaming are especially informative.

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