Product placement: brilliant or blatant?
Careful use may provoke curiosity but too much kills interest
By Bahk Eun-ji
Most fans of the Hollywood blockbuster “Mission Impossible” series may easily recognize Ethan Hunt ― played by Tom Cruise ― who is into iPads and BMWs: he uses the tablet to create an illusion for the guards to sneak into Kremlin and dodges a hail of gunshots on BMW i8.
Product placement is also easily seen at the opposite side of the Pacific as shown at the recent popular Korean soap opera “The dignity of gentlemen.”
In the drama, Korea’s top actor Jang Dong-gun drives the new M-class model of Mercedes Benz to imply that the luxury sedan is a must-have item for successful middle-aged men like Jang, a outstanding architect in the drama.
Tom Cruise’s iPad and Jang Dong-gun’s Mercedes are not chosen by chance. The embedded advertisements are called product placement, which an increasing number of marketers adopt thanks to its effectiveness.
“Ever since the car appeared in the soap opera, phone calls flooded in asking about it,” says Choi Yoon-sun, a PR manager of Mercedes-Benz Korea.
PPL originally means the task of organizing or placement of stage props for film, and later it became an active marketing tools aimed at boosting brand recognition.
Brief history of product placement
Products used as props in dramas, movies and various TV shows are typically placed in a context so as to avoid being too obvious advertisement from the perspective of consumers.
The most well-known product placement was M&M chocolate in the movie E.T., directed by Steven Spielberg in 1982. The chocolate candy played a role as a bridge for E.T. and the kids on Earth, so it was one of the important props in the film.
In fact, only two weeks after the movie was released, sales of the candy soared about 65 percent, according to the data aggregated by the company.
Although there were some disputes on detailed data, it seems obvious that the bite-size candy was suddenly being consumed in great handfuls with the popularity of the film.
“Reasons for appearance of new brand communication tool like product placement are that traditional methods like TV commercial have reached the breaking point,” says Choi Soon-hwa, a professor of the International Business Department at Dongduk Women’s university.
Choi pointed out that there have been double suspicions for both customers and advertisers with regard to the efficiency of TV commercials.
They show specific products for 15 seconds fully and only tell good things about the products that can hardly impress customers. Likewise, advertisers could also doubt they can achieve the effectiveness from TV commercials as much as they paid.
In comparison, experts point out that product placement is cost-effective.
“Of course it depends on how much the products related to the story line of dramas, but generally, when the products appear in about five episodes, the advertising impact equals to two TV commercials,” said an industry source.
Cho Jin-kyung, a marketing director of TRIA Beauty Korea says the costs for product placement are lower than TV commercials.
Right after the actress Kim Ha-neul used its products, a grainer in the drama, “The dignity of gentlemen” became the most searched words of various major portal sites including, Naver and Daum.
And then, visitors to the TRIA Beauty’s website instantly soared more than 240 percent.”
Cho also said that it was a good chance for them to enhance their brand recognition.
Downsides of product placement
However, not all product placements are as smooth. The key to success for product placement is how well the products are exposed in the context of the story.
It should be neither too blatant, nor too unnoticeable. The Mercedes, driven by the successful architect, Jang Dong-gun was driven frequently to construction sites in the drama since he needs a means of transport to distant locations.
On the other hand, another popular television series, “Yuryeong,”or ghost in Korean, is not a good example for a well-done product placement.
Its heroine Lee Yeon-hee, a popular entertainer, works as a model of SK2, a cosmetics brand, and the products appeared frequently without probable reason.
For example, one of the actors gave the cosmetics as a present to Lee with a card written “Be prettier,” which is a catchphrase of the company, and the appearances do not appear very natural for customers, critics claimed.
“The drama is a serious story about a serial killer and detectives. It was a bit annoying because I don’t see any relations between the cosmetics products and the story of the drama.” said Kim Hye-kyung, a 20-something office worker in Seoul.
Researcher Hong Sun-young at the Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI) took caution about “anti-consumption” in her report, “Anti-consumption, why is it important?”
Hong pointed out that if consumers get too much information about products through the media, they lose their interest in consumption and eventually cut back on spending, and this is called “anti-consumption.”
When customers get tired of commercials, they can get an impression that the company only pursues its own interests. Therefore, customers doubt the credibility of both products and the company, Hong said.
“The ultimate goal of advertising, including product placement, is to arouse customers’ curiosity and get them familiar with the products. So the products should be placed in the context. Furthermore, advertisers invent unique and new tools for communication with consumers and eventually enhance purchasing” said Prof. Choi.