Iowa State University
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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

09-08-06

Contacts:

Jay Newell, Greenlee School of Journalism & Communication, (515) 294-3445, newelljj@iastate.edu

Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986, ferlazzo@iastate.edu

Product placements saturating the small screen, ISU researcher says

AMES, Iowa -- TiVo was supposed to allow television viewers to watch their favorite shows without all the ads. But advertisers are increasingly using product placement -- integrating a commercial product directly into a television scene -- to target potential consumers in TV land. That means even the most discriminating viewers still may be seeing more brand messages than they think, says Iowa State University's Jay Newell.

Newell, an assistant professor in ISU's Greenlee School of Journalism, has extensively researched product placement in motion pictures -- a technique nearly as old as the movie industry itself. Now, with technology like TiVo forcing television advertisers to find other ways to reach the masses, more products are creeping into shows and storylines. The research firm PQ Media estimates that the worldwide value of product placements will grow this year by 25 percent to $7.5 billion. Considering the barrage of brand messages in and around the programming, Newell says television advertising is rapidly reaching its saturation point.

"We're starting to see just the faint glimmerings of that question, both at academic conferences and in some of the regulatory traffic: 'How much is too much advertising?'," Newell said. "By saturating mass media with advertising, are we changing what the mass media does for society, and will people change their outlook on mass media? Will you be a little more cynical about what you see and hear on television if you're thinking in the back of your mind, 'Oh, it's all just an ad, so I don't have the pay attention to it.'?"

Author of the history of product placement

Newell used to create marketing and promotional campaigns for Turner Broadcasting's CNN and TNT networks. He is the lead author of a research paper titled "Product Placement 1896-1982: The Hidden History in Product Placement," which will appear in The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media this fall.

Last year, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) consulted with Newell and based a 12-film package on his product placement research. The films ranged from 1932's "Scarface" (in which Paul Muni smoked a cigar and the producers auctioned off the merchandising rights to tobacco companies) to 1980's "Urban Cowboy" (which featured product placements for Budweiser and Stetson).

Newell's research on the history of product placement contradicts a commonly held theory that such placement began with Reese's Pieces candy in the 1982 movie "E.T.".

"The fact is that commercials have been integrated with our visual entertainment for a long, long time," Newell said. "There were product placements in the late 1800s, just six months after the first projected movie." Newell has traced product placement back to May 1896, when Lever Brothers' Sunlight soap appeared in multiple films distributed throughout the world. According to Newell's paper (co-authored with Charles T. Salmon of Michigan State and Susan Chang of the University of Miami), the first projected movie was introduced in December 1895.

The branded integration phenomenon

But product placement has evolved over the years to what is now called "branded integration," Newell says. That's when a product isn't being used as a mere prop, but as part of the storyline.

"The show that obviously does brand integration the best is 'The Apprentice,' where Burger King has paid well over a million dollars to be the task of the day," he said. "And so, if you're going to get the entertainment value as a viewer of these people dealing with problems, you're going to have to see what Burger King or Pontiac -- one of the other sponsors -- has to offer. Of course, you're going to get better than a television commercial in that case."

Reality TV has made brand integration easy, Newell adds. It's become so abundant in all television, both scripted and unscripted, that Newell says television scriptwriters on the West Coast have been taking the lead to avoid what they call "commercial creep."

It makes it all very hard to sort out for the viewers.

"If you're running a commercial, you say, 'Now here's a word from our sponsors,' and you fade to black -- the delineation is very clear. But obviously in this brand integration there's no delineation," Newell said. "I'm not sure to what extent the people who watch these shows are aware of it. You know when it's really obvious, they kind of figure it out -- like 'Oh, now let's stop for a Cola-Cola.' But the Ford Explorers that get driven in 'The Amazing Race' -- do you know they're product integrations or not?"

Newell has found that today's product placement advertising is as much a defense mechanism as a sales tactic.

"Coca-Cola may or may not be sure that product placement is going to help them, but they surely don't want to see Pepsi in someone's hand," he said. "And I'm wondering to what extent some companies are now jumping in, simply because they don't want to be left out in case product placement shows that it's more effective than television commercials."

Newell says he's not aware of significant research on the effectiveness of television commercials.

"As individuals, we have terrific filters that allow us to look at things and evaluate products and evaluate the risk," he said. "There's a growing skepticism about the power of television advertising in general, and I don't think it's just necessarily TiVo-based. People who can't avoid the commercials, how affected are they? Is it worth the money?"

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Jay Newell

Jay Newell

Quick look

Jay Newell, an assistant professor in ISU's Greenlee School of Journalism, used to create marketing and promotional campaigns for Turner Broadcasting's CNN and TNT networks. He is the lead author of a research paper titled "Product Placement 1896-1982: The Hidden History in Product Placement," which will appear in The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media this fall.

Quote

"We're starting to see just the faint glimmerings of that question, both at academic conferences and in some of the regulatory traffic: 'How much is too much advertising?'. By saturating mass media with advertising, are we changing what the mass media does for society, and will people change their outlook on mass media? Will you be a little more cynical about what you see and hear on television if you're thinking in the back of your mind, 'Oh, it's all just an ad, so I don't have the pay attention to it.'?"

Jay Newell