Branded Entertainment: Product Placement & Brand Strategy in the Entertainment Business

Joyce M. Wolburg (Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 25 January 2008




Wolburg, J.M. (2008), "Branded Entertainment: Product Placement & Brand Strategy in the Entertainment Business", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 66-67.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Branded Entertainment offers an insightful look at product placements – not only their use in films but across other media such as television, novels, plays, song lyrics, and videogames. One of the book's many strengths is that it approaches the subject with depth and understanding. Author Jean‐Marc Lehu does not merely look at the effectiveness of product placements; he also provides a solid understanding of how audience members experience media, why they have come to shun much of the intrusive advertising they encounter, and how product placements “offer the opportunity to bypass this viewer censorship” (p. 33). Although Branded Entertainment is a must‐read for brand managers who seek an understanding of the effectiveness of this practice, it is an impressive read for others who simply need help getting into the mindset of consumers.

The book is divided into four segments: origins of and reasons for product placement; advantages and methods of the use of product placements; branded entertainment in all its forms; and brand integration. The origins section does what it promises by providing the history of placement – not only in the US but also in Europe – and a discussion of the way placements work within the congested media environment. Lehu explains how placements overcome the problems with traditional advertising and achieve synergies through realism and credibility in a consumerist world.

We live in a brand‐consumerist world. How could we imagine Rocky Balboa stepping into the ring again in 2007 … without sponsors around him, when the world of boxing is to a large extent financed by these partnership contracts? And how could it appear without Everlast, NEC, Pepsi, Boyd's Coffee, HBO PPV, Fuji Film and Miller, in particular, appearing around the ring? (p. 47).

The advantages section considers the effectiveness of placements. The chapters examine factors that affect costs and influence purchase behavior in addition to examining legal and ethical issues, such as the use of product placement as a way of skirting bans and restrictions on advertising of certain products (e.g. for tobacco, pharmaceuticals, weapons). When addressing the effectiveness of product placements, Lehu points out that they have one major advantage over most other forms of advertising – consumers like them, particularly when the product has a logical reason to be in the film or program. Lehu maintains that respecting the “rule of a tolerable and justified presence” (p. 65) goes a long ways toward creating a positive perception of the brand. He also includes interviews with industry experts, who speak of the advantages to advertisers who use product placements (visibility, low cost per thousand in an uncluttered environment) as well as the caveats (e.g. the placement must be integrated naturally within the film rather than regarded as an afterthought).

Product placements take many forms, and their use in films, TV series, novels, song lyrics, and video games have their own unique differences, but one commonality holds them together – the financial support they offer. In the third section of Branded Entertainment, Lehu points out the different relationships that consumers build with the brands as a result of the different characteristics of each medium. For example, the shorter format of television programs is “suitable for the seduction of the modern consumer, who is always in a hurry and does not necessarily have the time to dedicate 90‐120 minutes to a feature film” (p. 161). Placements with recurring characters are also appealing because audience members build greater familiarity with the actors.

Placements within video games (also called advergaming, in‐game advertising, or advertainment) have certain advantages over the same placement in a film and are, thus, growing in popularity. One important advantage is that the duration of the exposure is more concentrated in time. Lehu helps us get into the mindset of the players with his explanation of how they think.

The player generally pays much closer attention than the viewer. The possibility of control and the concomitant feeling of mastering the environment are greater for players. They must construct a mental map of the game space, as if it were a real space in three dimensions, each constitutive element of which is important (p. 181).

The author moves to the final section on brand integration by explaining that the process of placing products in entertainment has become more sophisticated than in the past. “Branded entertainment should be … an opportunity to write actual stories” that integrate the brand's personality and stimulate an emotional link between it and the individual (p. 209). For example, PepsiCo has joined a host of other advertisers who produce their own programs to control integration. The challenge is to avoid crossing a line that makes programs too explicitly about the brand, for consumers have evolved and are more savvy, too.

Lehu closes with an example that he notes is usually the opening case study in a book on product placement, Steven Spielberg's ET: The Extraterrestrial (1982). As the story goes, Hershey's Reese's Pieces was chosen only because Mars declined the offer to use M&Ms in the film. He speculates on why Mars turned down the opportunity and concludes that it was “a failure to perceive the real potential of a medium of communication that was still little exploited, and whose usage methodologies were as yet unmastered” (p. 246). Mars was then and still is the market leader, so the success of Reese's Pieces did not pose a threat to Mars. However, there is little doubt that Mars would respond differently today, and missing such an opportunity might not ruin the brand leader but could cost a smaller brand dearly. Lehu leaves us with this final thought, “Branded entertainment offers exceptional advantages for creating a link with consumers, but it will not do everything” (p. 246).

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