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  • Serge Sinyutin

Product Placements in Movies, TV Shows and Even Video Games

Have you ever watched a movie or a TV series and suddenly spot one of your favorite brands integrated within the entertainment content? More often than not, these brands have been strategically positioning their products for the consumer to see. Let’s explore this type of embedded marketing to see how it works.

Why Product Placements Work

Product placement is a marketing technique used in movies, TV shows, music videos, and other productions where references to a specific brand or product are “part” of the script and incorporated to promote that particular brand or product. The brand gets marketing through the film forever, and the movie gets some of the costs covered. When companies are aware that an upcoming film has high expectations of reaching millions of viewers, it is only natural that they want to get those millions of viewers in a creative way that does not feel too sales-y. Product placement has long been a feature of Hollywood. Seeking a boost in brand recognition and association with cool characters, alcohol and car companies, especially, have for decades paid or engaged in a kind of quid pro quo to get their products into films. The rise of streaming has led to an explosion in product placement. Brands are looking for new ways to get eyeballs on their products and productions are looking for creative ways to offset costs. Product placement is now a $23 billion industry, up by an estimated 14 percent since 2020.

“People aren’t paying attention to ads,” says the research consultancy Forrester. In a recent survey conducted by the group, only 5 percent of online adults in the United States said they rarely skipped ads; 74 percent said they often did. The success of product placement as a marketing strategy relies on the interplay between the suspended reality onscreen and the free market economy of the offscreen world. It became obvious just how powerful this exchange can be when a character on “And Just Like That” had a heart attack while riding a Peloton — causing the real-life brand’s stock to plunge. On the flip side, the breakfast brand Eggo was reinvigorated when it was featured on the show “Stranger Things” as a key plot point in the series. 

A Few Unique and Iconic Examples

Heineken - James Bond

James Bond has always been one of the top movie franchises to include product placement and has included everything from cars to computers and laptops to watches. While Bond has always been associated with martinis, Skyfall decided to mix things up with the introduction of Heineken beer. Since it was shown in more than one or two instances, where even Bond himself passed out the beers, this example is one of the most blatant product placement. 

​​​Subway - K-drama shows

The appearance of sandwich chain Subway in Korean television dramas has evolved from the occasional product placement to practically an integral part of the genre. This phenomenon is due to Korean television regulations. Advertising breaks do not occur during the programs, so the only way for these programs to make advertising money (and for businesses like Subway to reach a television audience) is through product placement.

Dr. Dre Beats Headphones - Music Videos

The Popular Beats headphones can be spotted in many recent music videos. Even though the product is placed throughout the video, it still feels natural. It makes sense for that scenario to see the artists listening to music from their favorite headphones. 

There are countless examples of product placements throughout the media. But how far can it go? 

Product Placements in Video Games and even VR? 

Believe it or not, brands have been marketing for a long time with in-game placements and now are starting to experiment with VR/Metaverse environments. This is still an interesting field for brands as it is harder to seamlessly implement product placements into games. However, one of the best examples is when Mercedes-Benz partnered with Mario Kart 8. In this video game, we can see the player choosing Mercedes-Benz as their racing vehicle in Mario Kart 8. Product placements like these put the video game player in the shoes of the person “playing” the ad by selecting a specific vehicle for the purpose of the game. These types of product placements may not seem evident at first since, as a player, you are immersed into the world of the game. However, these smart product placements are very effective and subconsciously raise brand awareness among their target audiences.

Another older example is from Final Fantasy XV. Cup Noodles is a popular instant noodle brand that's known all over the world. In the game Final Fantasy XV, Cup Noodles is a game element that can be consumed to boost the stats of the players. But in one of the game's DLCs, the maker of Cup Noodles, Nissin, has pushed the pedal to the metal when advertising the ramen brand. Besides having a side quest that's dedicated to Cup Noodles, purchasing any of the limited edition Final Fantasy XV Cup Noodles allows players to gain a Cup Noodle-style helmet as an in-game item. 

There are plenty of examples of regular video game product placements, but with the recent expansion of VR software and support, brands are eager to test out native in-game advertising in more immersive worlds that Virtual Reality and potentially the Metaverse can offer. However, there seems to be some backlash from the VR gaming community regarding product placements. The community sees this as a “sellout move” and gamers don’t feel that it is compatible with the nature of the games. It is still so early but we can expect some promising campaigns for VR in the future as the trends shift in gaming. 

As you can see, there are plenty of excellent examples of how product placement has been used in both movies and TV shows throughout the years, starting from the 19th century. Product placement will keep evolving as our source of media shifts. Some product placements are subtle and make total sense. Others feel forced or even awkward. Either way, we’ve repeatedly seen that product placement works and can immensely improve any brand’s sales.


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