Product Placement in TV

Intro

I chose to do my project on different instances of product placement in 3 types of TV genres: Teen Drama, Drama, and Situational Comedy. The 3 shows I chose to focus on were Grey’s Anatomy (Drama), Pretty Little Liars (Teen Drama) and New Girl (Situational Comedy).

Before beginning my research on each particular show, I had to get a better sense of product placement. I determined that product placement is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as the inclusion of a product in a television program or film as a form of paid advertisement. From this definition, I dove further and discovered that there are 3 main types of product placement: verbal reference, active placement, and passive placement. Verbal reference is when the product is openly discussed in the work. Active placement is when the product is being used by one of the characters in the work. Passive placement is when the product is captured in a shot or placed in a virtual environment.

The way I decided to do my research was to look for the product placement in the 4 highest rated episodes for each show. I initially believed that if a particular episode had a higher rating, there would be a correlation in the amount of product placement. This hypothesis however was incorrect, but will be analyzed later.

Grey’s Anatomy Data

The first show I decided to research was Grey’s Anatomy. Grey’s Anatomy has been running since 2005, and is a medical drama. The 4 highest rated episodes that I decided to research are as follows: Season 1, Episode 9; Season 2, Episode 16, Season 3 Episode 17, and Season 4 Episode 1.

The first episode I analyzed was Season 1, Episode 9: “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”. This episode received the third highest ratings for the entire series; it garnered an audience of 22.2 million viewers. The main types of product placement used in this episode were passive placement and active placement. The total runtime of this episode was 42 minutes. During this 42-minute runtime, there was a total of 45 seconds of strategically placed products. This means that .0179% of the runtime of the show (2,520 total seconds of run time with 45 seconds of product placement) included product placement. 29 seconds were focused on Fiji Water, 11 seconds were focused on Sun-Maid Raisins, and 5 seconds were focused on SafeGrip Gloves. The Fiji Water was displayed using passive placement. Multiple nurses and a few doctors had the bottle on their tables and trays while eating lunch. The label was faced backward, but the brand was still clearly recognizable. The Sun-Maid Raisins were also displayed using passive placement. A doctor had a box of them on his tray at lunch. The SafeGrip Gloves, however, were displayed using active placement. Two surgeons had a box of SafeGrip Gloves on a table behind them. The camera was focused on the gloves while the rest of the supplies on the table were blurred out. The surgeons then proceeded to take gloves out of the box and use them to perform a procedure on a patient.

The second episode I analyzed was Season 2, Episode 16: “It’s the End of the World”. This episode received the highest ratings, ever, for the entire series. It garnered an audience of 37.88 million viewers. This episode was special, however, because there were no recognizable signs of product placement whatsoever. The only thing that I initially thought was product placement was a box of Family Size Super Bran cereal; this however turned out not to be product placement, but I’ll talk more about that later.

       The third episode I analyzed was Season 3, Episode 17: “Some Kind of Miracle”. This episode was the second most watched episode of the entire series, garnering an audience of 20.93 million viewers. The main type of product placement was passive placement. The total runtime of the episode was 43 minutes. During this 43 minute runtime, there was a total of 16 seconds of strategically placed products. This means that .0062% of the run time of the show (2580 seconds total, 16 seconds of product placement) was product placement. 8 seconds were focused on Ruffle’s Chips and 8 seconds were focused on Diamond Grip Gloves. The Ruffle’s chips were placed in a fruit basket with the label facing forward.The Diamond Grip Gloves were shown in the background of one scene, but then were focused in on later when a surgeon went to put some on.

The final Grey’s Anatomy episode I analyzed was Season 4, Episode 1: “A Change is Gonna Come”. This episode garnered 20.93 million viewers. This episode, like Season 2 Episode 16, did not have any recognizable product placement through the entire 42 minute length.

New Girl Data

The second show I decided to research was New Girl. New Girl is a situational comedy that has been running since 2011. The episodes with the highest viewership that I decided to research were: Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”; Season 2 Episode 1: “Relaunch”; Season 3, Episode 14: “Prince”; and Season 4 Episode 6: “Background Check”.

The first episode I analyzed was Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”. This episode was the second highest rated for the entire series, drawing an audience of 10.28 million viewers. The total run time of the episode was 23 minutes. The main types of product placement used in this episode were active placement and passive placement. During this 23 minute run time, there were 27 seconds of product placement shown. This means that .02% of the 23 minute run time was focused on product placement. (1380 seconds total, 27 seconds of product placement). 5 seconds were focused on Ford, 16 seconds were focused on a MacBook Pro, and 6 seconds were focused on an iPad. A Ford car was shown in the opening scene of the show driving on a road. A main character in the show was using the MacBook Pro. The label on the MacBook Pro was covered up, but it was still obviously a MacBook. The iPad was being used by another character. It had a case on it, but you could clearly tell it was an iPad.

The second episode I analyzed was Season 2, Episode 1: “Relaunch”. This episode garnered an audience of 5.35 million viewers. The total run time of the episode was 21 minutes. The main type of product placement used in this episode was active placement. During this 21- minute run time, there were 85 seconds of product placement shown. This means that .067% of the 21 minute run time was focused on product placement (1260 seconds total, 85 seconds of product placement). 20 seconds were focused on a MacBook Pro, and 65 seconds were focused on a MacBook. A character was using the MacBook Pro, and the apple logo was completely visible. The MacBook (older, white version) was also being used by a different character at a different time.

The third episode I analyzed was Season 3, Episode 14: “Prince”. This episode garnered the highest viewership of the entire series, with 26.30 million viewers. The runtime of this episode was 21 minutes. The main types of product placement in this episode were passive placement, verbal reference, and active placement. During this 21-minute run time, there were 39 seconds of product placement. This means that .03% of the 21-minute run time was focused on product placement (1260 seconds total, 39 seconds of product placement). 9 seconds were focused on a Cadillac Escalade, and 30 seconds were focused on a Ford Fusion. The Cadillac Escalade was seen driving past 2 main characters in the show; the label was blacked out but was still clearly a Cadillac. The product placement for the Ford Fusion was the first example of verbal reference that I had come across during my research. Four of the main characters were sitting in the car, and the Ford logo was visible on the steering wheel. The character driving the car then proceeded to say, “Excuse me, we’re in a Ford Fusion, the best car ever made. It gets double the gas mileage which means you go double as far”.

The fourth and final episode I analyzed was Season 4, Episode 6: “Background Check”. This episode garnered 3.8 million viewers. The total runtime of this episode was 21 minutes. The main types of product placement in this episode were active placement. During this 21-minute run time, there were 56 seconds of product placement. This means that .04% of the 21-minute run time was focused on product placement (1260 seconds total, 56 seconds of product placement). 22 seconds were focused on an iPhone, and 34 seconds were focused on a Ford Fusion. One of the main characters was using their iPhone to make phone calls and send text messages. Another character was seen driving a Ford Fusion. The Ford logo was visible on the steering wheel, and the outside of the car.

Pretty Little Liars Data

The third and final show I decided to research was Pretty Little Liars. Pretty Little Liars has been running since 2010 and is a Teen Drama. The 4 highest rated episodes that I decided to research were: Season 1, Episode 22: “For Whom the Bell Tolls”; Season 2 Episode 25: “UnmAsked”; Season 3 Episode 14: “She’s Better Now”; and Season 4, Episode 24: “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t”.

The first episode I analyzed was season 1, Episode 22: “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. This episode had a total viewership of 3.64 million viewers. The main types of product placement in this episode were passive placement and active placement. The total runtime of this episode was 44 minutes. During the 44 minute run, there were 52 seconds of product placement. This means that .02% of the episode was focused on product placement (2640 seconds total, 52 seconds of product placement). 15 seconds were focused on Zatarain’s Creole Mustard, 9 seconds were focused on a Ford Explorer, 22 seconds were focused on a Toyota Corolla, and 6 seconds were focused on a Toyota Highlander. One of the main characters was seen making a sandwich, and used the Zatarain’s Creole Mustard on the sandwich. The label was in focus while the rest of the shot was blurred out. A character was seen inside a Ford Explorer. The Ford logo was zoomed in on in the beginning of the scene, then zoomed out to reveal the rest of the car and the character. A character was seen getting out of her Toyota Corolla, and the car was seen in the background while she was talking to someone else. There was also another, older Corolla in the background of the same shot. A main character was seen driving a Toyota Highlander.

The second episode I analyzed was Season 2, Episode 25: “UnmAsked”. This episode garnered the highest viewership for the entire series with 3.69 million viewers. The total runtime of this episode was 44 minutes. The main types of product placement in this episode were active placement and passive placement. During the 44 minute run time, there were 95 seconds of product placement. This means that .039% of the 44 minute run time was focused on product placement. 10 seconds were focused on Special K Cereal, 2 seconds were focused on Birch Beer, 27 seconds were focused on a MacBook Pro, 41 seconds were focused on a Toyota Highlander, 5 seconds were focused on a Jeep Grand Cherokee, 7 seconds were focused on a Ford Mustang, 8 seconds were focused on a Chevy Cruze, and 2 seconds were focused on a Mercedes Benz Car. The Special K Cereal was seen in the background as a character was passing a refrigerator. The Birch Beer was shown in the form of a bottle cap necklace. The camera focused on this cap while blurring all the other caps around it. The main characters were all sitting around the MacBook Pro to research information. The apple logo was covered up, but the computer was still recognizable. One of the main characters was driving the Toyota Highlander while the other characters were also riding in it. The Jeep Grand Cherokee was seeing driving along a road in the background. A character was seen getting out of an older (1969-1970) Ford Mustang. Two characters were seen inside of a Chevy Cruze, and the Chevy label was prominently seen eon the outside of the car.

The third episode I analyzed was Season 3 Episode 14: She’s Better Now. This episode had a total viewership of 3.21 million. The total runtime of this episode was 43 minutes. The main types of product placement in this episode were active placement and passive placement. During the 43-minute run, 121 seconds of screen time were focused on product placement. This means that .05% of the 43 minute show was focused on product placement. 4 seconds were focused on a Toyota Highlander, 27 on a Chevrolet Suburban, 10 on an iPhone, 21 seconds on a Studio C binder, 16 seconds on a MacBook Pro, 7 seconds on a Scion car, 4 seconds on POM Quality Bath Tissue, 10 seconds on a Volvo C70, and 22 seconds on an Under Armour Jacket. The Toyota highlander was seen parked on a street in the opening scene. The Chevrolet Suburban was used in a chase scene in the beginning of the episode. There were 2 instances of iPhone use. In the first instance, a character reads a text message. In the second, another character on a different iPhone was using it during class. One of the main characters was holding a Studio C binder during class. Another character used a MacBook pro to do research; the logo on the MacBook was covered up. A Scion car was in the background while one of the main characters was speaking. The camera started off super focused on the logo, but blurred and became more focused on the character as the scene went on. POM Quality Bath Tissue was seen in a janitor’s closet. A Volvo C70 was shown being unpacked by one of the characters. Finally, a sports coach was wearing an Under Armour warm-up jacket with the school logo on the chest.

The fourth and final Pretty Little Liars episode I analyzed was Season 4, Episode 13: “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t”. This episode had a total viewership of 3.33 million. The total runtime for this episode was 43 minutes. The main types of product placement in this episode were active placement and passive placement. During the 43-minute run-time of the episode, there were 95 seconds of product placement. This means that .034% of the show consisted specifically of product placement. 10 seconds were focused on a Ford Mustang, 11 seconds were focused on an iPhone, 8 seconds were focused on a Mercedes Benz Car, 12 seconds were focused on a Gatorade Bottle, 5 seconds were focused on a Speedo Bag, 8 seconds were focused on a Wilson tennis racket, 8 seconds were focused on a Maria Clark novel, 30 seconds were focused on a MacBook Pro, and 3 seconds were focused on a Ford Explorer. The Ford Mustang was shown twice: once in the background of a shot, and another time it was seen driving down the street. The iPhone was also used in 2 different instances: once when a character used an app to translate, and another when a character was reading a text message. The Mercedes Benz car was also focused on two separate times. During the first, the camera zooms in on the logo, and then pans out to show two characters in the car. During the second instance, someone is in the driver’s seat and when he moves the camera focuses on the Mercedes Benz logo. The Gatorade bottle is shown on a nightstand surrounded by other objects. A Speedo Bag was seen when the camera was panning through the room; it was resting on a chair. A Maria Clark novel was seen on a coffee table. The MacBook pro is used for research; while in use, the label is covered up. Finally, a Ford Explorer was seen parked on the street.

Comprehensive Analysis

      After gathering and reviewing all of the information, many different points became evident to me.

First, contrary to what I believed, higher ratings for episodes have no correlation whatsoever to the amount of product placement that is in that episode. Some of the highest rated episodes for shows that I had researched (i.e. Season 2 Episode 16 of Grey’s Anatomy) lacked a single instance of product placement. This could possibly suggest that shows with lower ratings tend to have more product placement because they may rely more heavily on the revenue product placement provides them with.

Also, there seemed to be a trend in brands present in each show. With the exception of Grey’s Anatomy, each show included Apple Products (particularly iPhones and MacBooks) and Ford cars (Grey’s Anatomy may not have fell under the iPhone category, however, because the iPhone has not existed for the entire run time of the series). Ford was a heavily present brand in both New Girl and Pretty Little Liars, with specific models getting particular emphasis. The Ford Fusion in particularly was something highly focused on in New Girl. The Ford Fusion reference in New Girl was the only time that a verbal reference was used in anything that I had researched. Ford, Apple, and Toyota were the three brands that used the most product placement over the course of the shows I had researched.

This graph compares the screen time of the top 3 brands that were seen in the shows that I researched.
This graph compares the screen time of the top 3 brands that were seen in the shows that I researched.

The discrepancies in Apple product placement, however, did confuse me slightly. Sometimes the Apple logo was covered, while other times the logos were freely visible. This led me to believe that Apple consented some shows to use their products while others were not allowed to use their products. This hypothesis, however, was incorrect. Apple does not even pay for product placement; instead they freely give TV shows the materials they need to use in their shows. Apple uses free exposure, which was completely unique in the product placement world generally dominated by payment. This reasoning conflicts with the initial definition of product placement that I found: the inclusion of a product in a television program or film as a form of paid advertisement. Apple completely defies this traditional definition, yet still had the most screen time for their products in all of the shows I researched.

I also thought it was interesting that the show with the absolute highest ratings used the least product placement of the shows that I researched. Overall, the amount of product placement found in Grey’s Anatomy was extremely underwhelming compared to the other television shows I researched.

This graph shows the overall seconds of product placement between the 3 shows.
This graph shows the overall seconds of product placement between the 3 shows. Pretty Little Liars far surpassed Grey’s Anatomy and New Girl in seconds of product shown. 

I found this peculiar for multiple reasons. First of all, Grey’s Anatomy was the show that absolutely garnered the highest number of viewers out of the 3 shows I decided to research. The 4 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy that I chose to analyze garnered a total of 108.4 million viewers, almost 2 times as many as New Girl and Pretty Little Liars combined 59.16 million viewers. Grey’s Anatomy also differed from the others in that the other shows generally featured more noticeable brands. Grey’s Anatomy, however, included obscure brands like Diamond Grip gloves and SafeGrip gloves. Another thing about Grey’s Anatomy that I found interesting was that they spent camera time focusing on the Family Size Super Bran Cereal; this cereal, however, is not even a real brand. It’s merely a prop distributed by Independent Studio Props, a company that supplies props to television shows for a fee. I thought this was an interesting deviation from product placement. This, however, may hearken back to the fact that Grey’s Anatomy is a serious drama at most times; consumers may be more reluctant to accepting product placement in this show than in the others.

My research has also proven to me that shows with younger, more impressionable audiences may tend to have more product placement. Pretty Little Liars, a teen drama, had a total of 363 seconds of product placement over the 4 episodes that I researched.

The 4 main characters of Pretty Little Liars, all in high school, are seen sitting while one is holding a Studio C binder.
The 4 main characters of Pretty Little Liars, all in high school, are seen sitting while one is holding a Studio C binder.

This is more than Grey’s Anatomy and New Girl combined. Adolescents and teenagers may be more tempted to try and convince to their parents that they need the same products as the characters on their show. This, however, may not be completely true because this show features multiple high-end brands that are generally inaccessible to the average teenager (i.e. Mercedes Benz, Volvo)

The verbal references in New Girl also drew my attention while I was conducting my research. The references to the Ford Fusion were the only times I saw verbal references in my research, and the result was a bit off setting.

This picture was from a scene in an episode of New Girl that I didn't research, but is still relevant to the product placement topic. The entire scene revolved around the main character modeling for a Ford Commercial.
This picture was from a scene in an episode of New Girl that I didn’t research, but is still relevant to the product placement topic. The entire scene revolved around the main character modeling for a Ford Commercial.

With the passive and active placement, I was able to just see the products and ignore them if I chose to do so. With the verbal placement, however, I felt bombarded by the praise of the Ford Fusion. The open references and almost aggressive promotion of the product made me feel overwhelmed instead of feeling accepting of the brand. It was almost as if it was an inescapable commercial in the middle of  my highly valued TV time. From this, I concluded verbal placement is my least favorite type of product placement. I feel that consumers have to watch through several minutes of advertisements during the commercial breaks already; such overt advertising isn’t necessary during the show. I think this is why active and passive placement are the most used in television; verbal placement comes off as too aggressive to viewers.

Product placement is indeed an extremely prevalent thing in TV, and not just for any specific genre. My research has proven that product placement occurs regardless of genre, and may not be directly correlated to the amount of viewers each show garners. Generally, product placement is generally an effective way for companies to promote their products.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Product Placement in TV

  1. This was incredibly thorough and I am really, really impressed. I like that you thought of a hypothesis, trying to connect product placement with the amount of viewers watching. I appreciated how you broke down each episode with the number of seconds of product placement per episode. I agree that perhaps with shows like Pretty Little Liars, or shows that may be geared towards a younger, more impressionable may have more product placement. Maybe this could be a future research project idea.

    My question is do you think that the shows that did seem to have more product placement did just as good of a job portraying their story line? Do you think that they effectively used product placement or that it may have ended up hurting them in the long run?

    Also for shows like Grey’s Anatomy, they use very little product placement, is it because they don’t need the money or if not, where are they getting that money from?

    Like

      1. Absolutely! I went to the movies the other night and couldn’t help but notice all the product placement that was in it; I think it’s pretty insane once you realize just how much effort is put into it.

        Like

    1. Thanks so much! I spent a lot of time on it, so I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

      I think the shows that used product placement did indeed do just as good of a job portraying their story line. The problem that really occurred to me was when they tried to use too much verbal placement (i.e. the New Girl episode with the Ford car). It seemed to almost make a break in the story line and didn’t make it come off as smoothly as it could have been. Now, I think in those cases it could hurt them in the long run, just because of how overt the placement is. In the case of shows that use more passive placement like Pretty Little Liars, I think it’ll help to continue to bolster their success.

      Now, with Grey’s Anatomy I actually have found that they started to use product placement in the later seasons (Windows tablets and computers) way more than they did in the earlier seasons. So it’s a possibility that they’re somehow getting money from that now even though they weren’t before.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      Like

  2. This was a really detailed report and I learned that there is a lot more to product placement than I realized. I learned a little about it in my tv production class in high school so I always notice different brands being used on television and in movies, but the way you broke it down into different genres really gave a lot of insight. After reading your analysis of tv drama and product placement I was curious about how reality tv used it as well so I did some research. As it turns out reality tv shows are just as guilty, if not more, of using product placement as a source of revenue. CBS Survivor is one of the reality shows I read up on. Im not sure if this was the case with the shows you researched, but the show used product placements for Mountain Dew, Doritos, Budweiser, etc.. and it covered the ENTIRE cost of production. The money that the show made other ways, such as from commercials, was pure profit. For CBS this deemed product placement as an invaluable strategy for increasing the networks income.

    Like

    1. Woah, I had no idea about the reality shows use of product placement so I’m glad you did a little digging! This just continues to show the scope of product placement; how vast it is and how many genres it crosses just shows how effective of a technique it is and how valuable it is to companies who use it.

      Like

  3. Your analysis was really thorough, and I also like the shows you chose to review. It’s interesting to me that you mentioned the quote “Excuse me, we’re in a Ford Fusion, the best car ever made. It gets double the gas mileage which means you go double as far,” because, as an avid New Girl binge-watcher, I specifically remember that happened, but until you pointed it out, I didn’t think of it as product placement. I just thought of it as a funny character quirk that he loved his car. It makes me wonder if Ford asked for that to be in there (because it is kind of random and not necessary for the plot) or if New Girl approached Ford. It seems to me that Ford and New Girl have a pretty longstanding relationship. It might just be that Ford pays for a certain amount of “screen time,” but that is just speculation.

    Also, the reason I am such a big fan of New Girl is because I found it on Netflix. It makes me wonder if product placement could be on the rise in shows that are primarily viewed through that medium since they show no traditional commercials.

    Like

    1. I’m so glad you watch the show because now I can bring up another instance! You might remember that there’s another episode of New Girl where Jess is LITERALLY modeling for Ford like she’s in a commercial; it’s an entire minute or 2 of her being on a turntable trying to show off the car, and the whole time I watched it I was just like: this seriously cannot be happening right now.

      I also think that, not only does Ford have a deal with New Girl, but I think that they have a deal with Fox in general (this is probably why American Idol was once so focused on the Ford Cars, and having Ford Music videos for the contestants). Unfortunately I couldn’t find any solid data on this, so it’s just a hypothesis of mine.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s