The Product Placement Evolution

Katrina_Kaif_Classic bullet

These days, product placement has become a larger-than-life notion that’s always updating the way products are shown.

Do you recall Katrina Kaif riding a Royal Enfield Bullet in the movie Zindagi Na Mile Dobara?

While the term “product placement” may seem modern, it has a long history. Famous Japanese comic novelette creator Santo Kyoden would promote his tobacco business and other works inside his cartoons, dating back to the 18th century. An American performer, Dan Rice, used to travel about performing songs that included the names of local eateries and lodging establishments before the Civil War. The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens, is an early example of product placement since the title character rides for the Pickwick carriage line.

Based on these instances, it’s safe to say that product placement has a rich history, the likes of which are unknown to even the general public. Nobody ever gave this custom a name back at its inception. The professionals in the field were most convinced by the concept of partnerships. As time progressed, people began to recognise this technique as product/brand placement. Whether on purpose or by accident, this technique has been used by almost every film production company in the globe.

The Garage, a 1920 film starring Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, has one of the first known examples of product placement. The auto store proudly displayed  Red Crown Gasoline beside signs selling Firestone tyres.

While it was never confirmed that Red Crown Gasoline paid for the advertisement, the brand’s pervasiveness raised eyebrows and sparked debate.

Red crown gasoline

In 1927, Wings was the first Oscar-winning picture to use commercial advertising. There were many sequences in the film depicting actors snacking on Hershey’s chocolate bars.

Hersheys wings

And they did more.  In the ’80s, Hershey struck a huge deal to have Reese’s Pieces featured prominently in the film E.T.; the confectionery company shelled out $1,000,000 for related marketing and product placement. The screenplay called for M&Ms, but Mars, Inc., declined the offer.

Once the movie came out, sales of Reese’s Pieces more than doubled in the first two weeks.

Reese ET

Product placement became a lucrative industry after E.T.’s popularity. Big businesses began bidding against one another for product placement in blockbuster movies.

Most people think that the first time product placement happened in a Bollywood movie was in 1955’s Shree 420, when Raj Kapoor first arrives in Bombay and a huge Coca-Cola billboard appears in the background. Following this, the 1967 film An Evening in Paris had a visual for Coke. A crate of Coke was also shown next to the protagonist in the 1972 film Koshish. It’s impossible to know for sure if Coca-Cola paid for these activities on purpose or not, but it is known that they were among the first Western companies to see India’s huge economic potential. The Rajdoot motorbike, more often known as the Bobby motorbike, was featured in the 1975 film Bobby, which became renowned for its commercial placement. Some people think that putting products in Bollywood movies to make money started in the late 1990s.

Product placement subtypes

  1. Screen Placement

Depending on the context of the picture, a product may be placed in the foreground or background. The product isn’t specifically named, but it gets plenty of screen time. Transformers: Age of Extinction has a record-breaking 55 separate brands.

  1. Script Placement

Script placement involves incorporating a product into the screenplay so that it is referenced by name by a character in the film. In Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly orders a Pepsi.

  1. Plot Placement

Inserting a product into the narrative of a film. Products like James Bond’s array of gadgets fall into this category. For many years, Aston Martin has been a staple of James Bond films. 

Sean connery james bond Aston martin


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