Tom Cruise wearing Ray Bans in the movie Risky Business

Product placements: types, examples and tips for small businesses

June 21, 2022

What is Product Placement?

Also known as embedded marketing, product placement is a form of partnership marketing that involves strategically positioning a brand’s products or services into an existing work, such as a TV show, film, event, radio, live performances, and more. This is done with the intention of promoting the brand to a larger audience. Production companies are usually paid in cash or a partnership can be created where a brand offers goods or services in exchange for the product placement. Product placements are an interesting alternative to digital marketing.

The ins and outs of product placement

The main aim of a product placement is to position the brand being advertised in a positive light. It’s not meant to be an explicitly salesy segment, but is meant to look like a natural part of the script, which helps the audience connect to the brand in a more authentic way than if the audience was being overtly marketed to. 

Product placements have become more creative in the past few years, with advertisers opting to show a brand’s recognizable colors as opposed to their logo or product. While this is so, the traditional method of product placement which involves overtly showing a product or logo is still prevalent. Obvious product placement is still the most prevalent and is still seen as more authentic in comparison to traditional advertising.

For really successful product placement producers need to walk a fine line of the audience seeing and recognising the brand enough but without becoming annoyed by it.

In 2021, agreements between brand owners and film and television are estimated to be in excess of $20 Billion US dollars but not all product placements are paid product placements. See some of the more local examples below for examples of more authentic partnerships.

This form of advertising is a great way to boost brand sentiment, attract attention and inspire action in the consumer. 

Types and examples of product placement

Now that we’ve touched on the basics of product placements, let’s look at the types of product placements that exist.

Brand integration

An image of the restaurant Shoney's from Rick and Morty

This form of product placement refers to when a brand or its products become a part of a show to a point where they contribute significantly to the storyline while creating brand awareness. It is usually common in unscripted reality TV shows, but can also be found in scripted TV shows. A great example is restaurant chain Shoney’s appearing frequently in the popular adult cartoon Rick and Morty. 

Branded content 

A screenshot of The New York Times write up about incarcerated women which was sponsored by Netflix

Branded content is content that is produced or paid for by an advertiser whose main aim is to help their brand reach a wider audience. Examples of this include The New York Time working with Netflix’s Orange is the New Black on a sponsored segment that shed light on how the American prison system affects female inmates negatively. 

This was a creative way for a news publisher to receive revenue in a time of declining newspaper sales, and it also helped Netflic advertise the new season of their show while promoting a social cause to the audience. 

Related: Cause marketing benefits, types and examples

Cross promotion

A screenshot from Apple show, Ted Lasso

In this context, cross promotion is an effective marketing strategy that includes brands promoting their offerings across various corporate divisions. For example, huge companies often use this strategy to feature their own products or services as product placements in their media to create synergy across parent and child companies. 

An example is Apple placing their products throughout their movies and shows on Apple TV. The Wall Street Journal reported in video format that throughout 74+ episodes of Apple TV shows such as The Morning Show, Trying, Ted Lasso, and more — Apple had placed 120 MacBooks, 300 iPhones, and 40 AirPods. 

Cross promotion or cross marketing should be a part of any product placement campaign.


A picture of open Campbell's soup tins

Just as the name suggests, re-placement refers to placing modern products into content that already exists. This is often done for video releases or reruns. Products can be digitally added into media where they never existed before. They can also be customized depending on the target audience. An example is the TV show Numb3rs adding Campbell’s soup in post production. 

Product displacement

A screenshot from the movie Grease

In this type of product placement, logos and brand names are changed or completely removed to distance the brand in the production from its real life counterpart. This usually happens when brands are unwilling to license their names to be used in specific productions, especially if the production goes directly against the company’s values or portrays them negatively.

A popular example of product displacement is the movie Grease. It was filmed with a variety of Coca-Cola products, which presented an issue as the producer signed a deal with Coke’s biggest rival, Pepsi, after the film was shot.

Reverse placement

A real life Willy Wonka chocolate bar

Reverse product placements happen when fictional products result in real life products. This leads to the audience watching or listening to a production with a specific placement being able to purchase the item in real life. One of the most renowned examples has to be the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, which led to the creation of the Willy Wonka Candy Company. This started out as a brand licensing agreement.

Movie product placements 

When people think of product placement they tend to think of Hollywood movies. Whilst product placements are found in many other areas it is some of the Hollywood blockbusters that have had the most dramatic effect and have the most examples.

The first movie with product placement was the 1920s film The Garage with signs for Red Crown Gasoline appearing constantly throughout the film. It was never officially announced that Red Crown paid for it but it was so consistent a lot of people thought so.

Still image of Tom Cruise in Top Gun

Ray Ban cashed in on this twice in short succession. Risky Business in 1983 is directly attributed to an approximately 50% increase in sales of overall Ray Ban sales. Followed closely in 1986 by the original Top Gun movie which made the Aviator famous around the world. Moreover, the release of the sequel Top Gun Maverick was responsible to a 40% increase in the Aviator model.

Actor Daniel Craig posing as James Bond with his watch exposed as a publicity shot for Omega
Daniel Craig as James Bond for Omega Seamaster

James Bond movies have some of the best product placement examples although they're not necessarily a product placement opportunity for many brands due to their long partnerships with a handful of prestige products.

Blue, Red and white mini cooper in a scene from the Italian Job movie as product placement
Mini Coopers in a scene from the Italian Job

The Italian Job re-release was very much a case of film history repeating itself. The original film had Michael Cane driving Mini Coopers so BMW were happy to oblige for the second film and provided 30 of them.

A promotional image from the movie Toy Story of a bunch of toys spilling out of a box
Hard to imagine but none of these toys is actually product placement

A lot of people assume Toy Story has a lot of product placement but at the original film's release there were none. There was just one exception: The Japanese release had Panasonic batteries appear in the baby monitor. Many brand-name toys were a part of the script, and clearance had to be obtained for each one.

Wayne from the movie Wayne's World holding a can of Pepsi as part of product placement
Wayne's world was infamous for a product placement scene

Wayne's World famously placed Pizza Hut, Dorritos and Pepsi in a one minute scene.

Audio product placements 

A man speaking into a mic at a studio

Although most product placements are visual, some of them can be audio only. These types of product placements can be on radio, podcasts and even TV. They usually involve a casual mention of a company’s products or services and with a 2002 study by CA Russel showing that audio product placements are much easier to remember, it’s definitely recommended that brands explore these types. 

Music product placements

Jay-Z and Beyonce posing with Armand De Brignac Champagne

The music industry is one of the most influential industries out there, so it comes as no surprise that marketers collaborate with record labels to get their artists to mention certain brands in their songs and products are often placed within the associated music video.

One music product placement example is seen in Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Mood 4 Eva music video, where Armand De Brignac Champagne makes an appearance. If you go re-watch some of your favorite music videos now you'll be surprised at how many of them contain brands that you will recognise. Some music videos really go over the top with blatant product placement.

Product placements and small businesses

All the examples of product placements above included huge conglomerates,   which may make this form of marketing seem out of palace for your small business. The truth is, you don’t have to spend huge sums of money (or any money at all) to collaborate on product placements with local businesses. 

Here are some ideas you can implement to help your brand reach a wider audience:

Collaborate with local TV and independent films 

A TV crew consisting of 3 people holding a camera and a mic

Who says you have to reach out to Marvel so they can place your product in their next blockbuster? You can reach out to your local TV network and ask for your product to be plugged in sport shows, local news, and other programs.

You can also find independent films that will be open to placing your product in their films. They’ll likely be more receptive than huge production companies.

Reach out to your local theaters

A theater with a red curtain

If your local theater is hosting a play, ask about how you can get your product placed. This can help you reach potential customers in your locale and can boost your business’ sales. You should also consider approaching school and community productions for placements. 

Place your product in community events 

A community event full of people holding up signs in protest

Collaborating with a community event not only allows more people to become aware of your brand, but it also helps you position yourself as a brand that cares about more than just profit, which increases your brand sentiment. Be sure to find community events that match your brand’s values and work out how you can use your product placement to benefit the organizers you’re collaborating with.

Network, network, network

A large group of people networking

Knowing who the people that run your local film and television industry are is key if you’re looking to get product placements. Get to know who the people behind the camera are, from the directors, to the set designers, producers, etc. You should also get to know local talent and reach out to film bureaus.

Offer your store as a location shoot

An open brick-and-mortar store

If you have a brick-and-mortar store, you can offer it as a free location for film makers in exchange for a product placement. It’s a win-win situation!

Although most examples of product placements are of huge brands being plugged into international media, product placements aren’t limited to large conglomerates only. Small businesses can make use of the resources they have, no matter how small, to get their products placed in local media through a mutually beneficial partnership. 

If you're still looking for more inspiration then check out our epic list of co-branding examples.

If you're looking for a simpler partnership activity read all about link insertion in our article on how to get backlinks.

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