If you’re anything like me, when someone mentions product placement you immediately revert back to Jr High and reminisce about the classic Wayne’s World scene in which Wayne and Garth vow not to bow to any sponsor while posing with Pizza Hut, Reebok and Pespi products. They managed to use product placement not just for profit but for comedic effect. The advertisers got their money’s worth too. Want proof? It’s been almost 2 decades since that scene first aired and we’re still talking about it to this day. That’s some serious ROI.

Where it all started

Product placement has been part of cinema since the beginning. In 1927, silent film Wings won the very first Academy Award for Best Picture and featured a close up of a half eaten Hershey’s bar. In the 1930s, Diamond Suppliers De Beers set out to establish diamonds as the traditional stone for an engagement ring. Romance movies all started to feature the leading man giving his beloved a big shiny diamond ring. It worked so well that the diamond solitaire became synonymous with the engagement ring. The scene was was written for a movie but re-enacted countless times ever since.


Sometimes a well placed product can take on a life of it’s own. The 2 main characters in Cast Away were Tom Hanks and a Volley Ball made by Wilson sporting goods. Even though FedEx covers almost every other shot in that movie, Wilson is the name that’s shouted in distress during the most memorable scene in the movie and that’s what we remember, not Helen Hunt.

Product Placement has the power to make something cool. In 1952, the film Roman Holiday featured Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck galavanting around Rome on the iconic Vespa motor scooter. The result was over 100,000 sales, that’s 40,000 more than just 2 years earlier. No doubt Volvo is hoping to have similar results with it’s current block buster hit the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I, featuring Edward and his new bride Bella cruising in his new Volvo S60 R-Design.



Occasionally a movie can create demand for a product that doesn’t even exist yet. Such was the case with Office Space. Originally, Swingline didn’t even make red staplers. The set designer painted a black stapler red for the film. When Milton lost his beloved Red Swingline stapler we felt his loss… and wanted one of our own. This lead to defictionalization where formerly fictional items are produced in order to meet the demand for the real thing.

Product placement has grown rampant. Michael Bay featured 47 paid brands in Transformers, the makers of Harold and Kumar go to White Castle built the whole plot of their movie around it and now Morgan Spurlock has made a movie about it. POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, is (according to IMDB) “A documentary about branding, advertising and product placement that is financed and made possible by brands, advertising and product placement.” Really, it was the only inevitable outcome.

Embedded Marketing isn’t just for movies anymore, television is just as infiltrated. Reality TV however, has been doing a great job of placing products where they make sense and naturally fit into the show. The Biggest Loser, for example, often features healthily food options as an educational segment of the show. Project Runway designers make use of the Piperlime accessory wall to complete their looks. This allows the viewer at home to get an idea of how to use these products in their day to day lives. Sadly, Reality TV is also guilty of some of the worst placement faux pas. The Subway plugs featured on Pawn Stars are such blatant non sequiturs they’re painful to watch. Don’t try to make those guys act, we love them the way they are.


Video game popularity is at an all time high with some of the best reaching an audience tantamount to Summer Hollywood blockbusters. This is an amazing opportunity for advertisers to get some quality time in front of their target market. The key here is to know your audience because the guy who’s playing Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction is quite possibly the same guy who’s asking his mom to pick him up some Axe Body Spray next time she’s at Wal-Mart.

As professional advertisers we keep our eyes open for product placement and note when it’s used to good effect and when it falls flat. This doesn’t make us immune to it’s power but rather, we may be even more susceptible to them. Ever wonder why the 2 principals of the Agency san diego are often rocking black leather chucks?

What does the future hold for product placement? That’s where Advertising 2.0 comes in. It’s up to agencies like us, at the Agency san diego, to think of new and innovative ways to integrate our client’s product into entertainment. My prediction is that more brands will start producing their own TV shows, video games or movies so that they can control the products used and the messages — like Sears did with Extreme Home Makeover.

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