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To those who think ads are only for commercial breaks, read on

It’s no surprise when companies go to extreme lengths to sell their product. Instilling elements of the glitz and glamour…

By Lucy Gotell , in Blogs You Expect Me to Buy That? Issues in Media Marketing , on January 18, 2008

It’s no surprise when companies go to extreme lengths to sell their product. Instilling elements of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood into TV advertisements is such common practice that we barely take notice anymore.

But what about when the reverse occurs: ads being increasingly injected into movies and TV shows like so much Botox into Cher’s browline?

Until the issue of product placement was brought up during a Psychology course I took last semester, I hadn’t really given the common phenomena much thought. But I’ve since come to wonder, how much covert advertising are we actually exposed to? Furthermore, how do companies get away with it, and does it work?

Based on examples given by my Psychology professor as well as those ever-reliable internet sources, it would appear that product placement is a frequent practice of big-budget movies and TV shows in the US. Since we in Canada watch so much American TV, we are likely exposed almost just as much as our neighbors to the South. The James Bond films “Die Another Day” and “The World is Not Enough” have sported such brands as BMW and VISA, and the hit show “Desperate Housewives” had Eva Longoria promote Buick cars through one episode’s storyline.

Here are the rules around product placement: basically, if a referral to a product is obviously deliberate and has nothing to do with the storyline (for example, while House shows his patient an X-ray of the ginormous tumor nesting in his basal ganglia, he happens to mention how much he loves his new Nike running shoes), than it is illegal and the CRTC has a right to step in. If, on the other hand, the placement is incidental to the plot (after a steamy love-fest with Mr. Big, Carrie reaches for her pack of Marlboro Lights), then it is not technically considered advertising. Obviously, these rules provide more than enough leeway for Hollywood writers to slip in an ad or two.

So, final question: how effective is all this scheming? According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter last month, placements on the hugely popular TV programs “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “The Apprentice: Los Angeles,” proved to be “the most effective product integrations on television in 2007 based on their positive impact on brand opinion.”

To give an idea of how much money these companies are raking in, consider this statistic given by The Hollywood Reporter last month: “European product placement revenue could total 107 million pounds by 2010, but will remain substantially behind the U.S., according to new estimates from FremantleMedia” (italics added). With numbers like these, we shouldn’t be expecting this type of advertising to ebb any time soon.

So next time you turn on the TV or pay exorbitant amounts to see the new Hollywood bloodbath, keep in mind what you might previously have missed: a cameo of the new car, sneaker or soft drink they’re just dying to sell you.