Is Product Placement an effective form of advertising?

Mondelez UK came under fire from the BBC and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) last week after they commissioned five YouTube vloggers to take part in an ‘Oreo Lick Race’.   The videos, which were produced and released by the vloggers on their own YouTube channels, were not explicitly marked as marketing communications. According to journalists and the ASA, this failure meant that viewers were unaware they were watching promotional content. The videos were banned from appearing on the platform in their current state and Mondelez were instructed to ensure all future videos they commissioned were clearly identified as advertisements.

The uproar sparked by the Oreo videos made product placement a hot topic for public discussion, so we asked our panel to give us their opinion. We wanted to find out which brands were most frequently featured in TV programmes, films and YouTube videos; the effect this had upon viewers and, ultimately,  whether they thought product placement was an effective form of advertising.

Almost everyone said they had witnessed on-screen product placement at least once, but their opinions on it differed considerably.

UK soap-operas, Coronation Street, Eastenders and Hollyoaks, were identified as the most likely television programmes to include product placement. They were closely followed by reality programmes such as Big Brother.

Far fewer members of the panel were able to name a specific film containing product placement, despite the fact that many of them claimed to have seen it. However,  James Bond’s Aston Martin was cited as a monumental example of film product placement.

‘James Bond had an Omega watch and an Aston Martin. These brands are well known in the Bond series’ (Matt, 35, Kingston-upon-Thames)

People were even less familiar with instances of product placement on YouTube, but a few claimed they had seen it frequently in make-up tutorials and other videos of a similar nature.

People noted how electrical and food brands were the most likely products to feature in television programmes and films. Coca-Cola was the most recorded example of product placement, appearing in current television programmes and in films as old as 40 years ago. Apple, Samsung, Evian and Walkers Crisps were also amongst the brands our panel identified as using product placement.

‘I’ve seen it in a few movies. They all seem to have Apple products, like Apple Tablet, Apple iPhone’ (George, 23, Ipswich)

About a third of the respondents felt that product placement was an incredibly effective way for brands to advertise their products. They found it interesting and admitted that it did influence the products that they bought.

‘It’s a more informal way to see the products as long as the people are quite honest about it’ (Emma-Louise, 23, Spalding)

‘I actually find it quite interesting to try and think which products have actually been placed’ (Fil, 36, Chesterfield)

‘When I look at Will Smith driving an Audi, I do go and look at Audi’s’ (Richard, 48, Exmouth)

One member of the panel noted how by using product placement, recognisable brands helped to promote the TV programmes, films or video. Cadbury’s longstanding sponsorship of Coronation street is an example of this; the Coronation stage set became an essential part of the Cadbury advertising campaign. Similarly, people thought that companies that commissioned YouTube users to feature and review their products in their videos helped raise these vloggers’ online profiles. 

‘I think it’s a good idea to associate your product with the people you’ve been watching’ (Leigh, 34, Great Yarmouth)

For some of the panel,  product placement was a preferable form of promotion in comparison with traditional long advertisement breaks between television programmes.

Yet there was a general consensus that product placement on television and in films was only successful when it was subtle.

‘It’s got to be really subtle, imprinted in the story so that it sticks in your mind’ (Chloe, 31, Bromley)

However, there were members of the panel who were strongly opposed to product placement. Many argued that they found blatant product placement annoying and that it actually evoked negative feelings towards the company. People did not want to be told or shown the things that they ‘needed’, they wanted to make the decision on their own.

‘In my opinion it’s annoying – it doesn’t make me want to buy the product’ (Mohammed, 30, Walsall)

‘It makes me feel really like I absolutely hate the company’ (Lady Jennifer, 31, London)

Some respondents said that they thought product placement was a dishonest method of advertising. Much like the complaints that were made by the BBC and ASA against Mondelez,  these members of the panel believed that promotional material should be clearly labelled so that viewers knew exactly what they were watching.

‘I don’t like the idea of manipulating people outside their awareness’ (Thomas, 21, Sheffield)

However, for the majority of the panel, product placement generally went unnoticed. Whilst people had recognised specific brands on screen, many admitted they hadn’t actually realised that this was an advertising ploy.

‘It’s not something that really registers with me – I’m used to seeing products in daily life’ (Erica, 47, Hornchurch)

‘I’ve  got serious doubts about whether it does make people go out and buy’ (John, 69, Dumfries)

Consequently, many of the panel had doubts about the value of product placement. For these respondents, their inability to register the products as a form promotion demonstrated the ineffectiveness of these campaigns.

Even though some of the respondents advocated the strengths of product placement, it was generally considered as a less effective form of promotion than billboard posters and TV commercials.