Why product placement is big business

product placementHere’s a question for you. What do these brands have in common? Apple, Aquafina, BlackBerry, Borders, Cadillac, Cisco, Converse, Ferrari, Ford, Fuller’s London Pride, HP, Land Rover, Mayflower, Mercedes, Motorola, MSN, Red Bull, Rolex, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Tracker Boats, Volvo, ZTV. Answer? They all starred in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, last Christmas’s must-see action film. Alongside Nicolas Cage, that is. Product placement is a huge industry. In Europe alone, it’s estimated at $2bn, and is set to grow even bigger after the European Union ruling last year relaxing restrictions. And it’s incredibly powerful.

After the break… (what break?)

Now that technologies like Sky+ and TiVo allow people to skip ads, product placement is more important than ever. Sometimes, it’s obvious. IKEA regularly features in home-improvement programmes, for example. But other times, it’s less noticeable. From a car driven on ITV’s Emmerdale to the PlayStation incidentally featured in Channel 4’s You Are What You Eat, products are subtly introduced so they pass below our radar. They’re even on the BBC, where advertising is banned. Next time you watch an episode of the tense spy-drama Spooks, make sure you check out the Cisco phones on their desks. They’re not there by accident. Neither was the Moët & Chandon brandished by con artist Danny in Hustle, or the Toyota Landcruiser in BBC2’s Manchild. All product placements. And because we’re not being ‘advertised’ to, the message passes subliminally into our brains. It doesn’t always go according to plan, however. Just this week, TV chef Jamie Oliver got into trouble for giving undue prominence to Jamie’s Flavour Shaker on Channel 4’s Jamie at Home. He crossed the line fom subtle to flagrant, and the spell was broken.

The red pill or the blue pill?

Despite these occasional hiccups, product placement remains a powerful advertising force. Some years back, a friend of mine got the latest Nokia – a shiny, sliding, high-tech marvel.  It wasn’t the bright display, the ergonomic buttons or the extensive address book that did it for him. So what was the reason? “Neo had one,” he said, beaming with uncontained pride. Yes, my friend Jack (not his real name – that’s Alex) bought a Nokia because Keanu Reeves had one in The Matrix. He’d even perfected the wrist action, deftly sliding the top section into place as he barked those famous words. “Get me a portal!” (Note to self: get some new friends.) Find out more: