Key Product Placement Mistakes That Businesses Make

It’s very rare to see a movie or TV show that doesn’t contain some product placement. In some cases, product placement has nothing to do with any effort on the part of brands to be noticed. For example, in spite of being featured prominently in the Tom Hanks vehicle, Castaway, FedEx did not solicit the studio for product placement, nor were they compensated.

In this case, the decision was made to use a real company rather than a fictional one because the director worried that a fictional company could be unintentionally funny.

Here’s what director Robert Zemeckis had to say about that,

There was absolutely no product placement. We weren’t paid by anybody to place products in the movie.

I did that in the past, and it wasn’t worth the little bit of money that they give you, because then you end up with another creative partner, which you don’t need. However, it just seemed to me that the whole integrity of the movie would be compromised if this was some phony trans-global letter delivery service, with some Hollywood fake logo and all that.

It wouldn’t seem like it would be real. So very simply, we asked Federal Express for their permission to use their logo, and they could’ve said no. And that was it.”

In spite of these rare exceptions, most product placement is intentional. It’s also a shame that Zemeckis didn’t find a way to create that kind of relationship with FedEx. It is rare that product placement can reach people in the B2B segment as well as the B2C segment. When it works well, everyone involved can benefit. Unfortunately as with all things advertising, brands sometimes really miss the mark. Here are some of the most egregious mistakes they can make.

Failing to Create a Usage Association

In Ironman 3, the main character uses Oracle’s Exadata database to gather information about people. This helps him to succeed in achieving his missions. For the audience, this creates a usage association. They get to see Oracle’s product in use as it would be in real life, albeit in a bit of a fantastic scenario.

Failing to Use Product Placement to Simplify

Complexity may be one of the key differences between B2B and B2C. With B2C, once a product appears on the screen, audiences can easily fill in the blanks. They understand how these direct consumer products work, how to use them, and where to obtain them. With B2B products, all of these things can be more complicated. Nobody needs much explanation when they see a character wearing a certain pair of shoes or holding a beverage with the label facing the camera.

Now, imagine a piece of complex office technology or machinery. B2B can make use of product placement to take the mystery out of their products and allow them to be seen in context. One example of this is the use of New Holland construction equipment in the James Bond film, Casino Royale. There, the character is seen operating the construction easily.

Blatant Product Placement That Doesn’t Mesh With The Plot

The point of product placement is subtlety. Products should be noticeable enough to pique interest, but they should be there for a reason. Audiences need to be convinced that there is a reason why your product would be where it is. As James Daily, digital marketer and author of Brainished explains:

There are several options that can work very well. These might be:

  • A tool or device that the main character uses to get out of a jam
  • A food or beverage item that a character would reasonably consume, such as a kid playing video games and eating potato chips
  • A business is shown in a location where it would be expected. For example, a designer boutique in an upscale shopping district.”

When a product doesn’t mesh with the plot, things become awkward. The placement can sully the viewing experience and make the entire thing feel like a commercial.

One example of this is the scene in the Thomas Crown Affair where Rene Russo’s character suddenly interrupts an intense interrogation scene to purchase and guzzle a Pepsi One. The action had no relevance to the scene, and her holding the can at camera level with the label out only made it seem even more blatant.


This can be especially challenging in B2B as it can be more difficult to include B2B products seamlessly in movie scenes. It’s much easier to find reasons to have a consumer product by comparison.

Ignoring Emerging Product Placement Opportunities

When companies want their products in blockbuster movies or the latest hit, Netflix series, they can expect to invest quite a bit of money for the privilege.

“Most up and coming brands don’t have that money to throw around unless they want to take a big gamble with a big chunk of their advertising budget and then some. That’s a pretty risky investment for a smaller or newer company”, Amanda Sparks, professional content marketer and author of TopDownWriter blog clarify.

That doesn’t mean that product placement is only meant for companies with deep pockets. Today, there are more opportunities than ever for businesses of all sizes to get in on the action. Rather than focusing only on major productions, consider the following:

  • Apps or Video Games
  • Independent or Student Films
  • Plays or Musical Productions
  • Locally Produced Television Shows
  • Low Budget Straight to DVD

Verizon and Energizer product placement in Alan Wake

Verizon and Energizer product placement in Alan Wake: A 90s Kid

Don’t forget social media channels as a potential source for product placement.  For example, you may be able to find an influencer in your industry with a popular YouTube channel who is willing to feature your product. Even minor social media celebrities are often willing to feature a product for a bit of money.

You might even consider product placement in live streaming videos. Do you plan on attending an event in the near future? You could find someone who plans on live streaming the event who is willing to get your product on camera in return for a similar favor from you. This is a great opportunity for B2B brands to partner with one another.

Placing Products in Vehicles That Are Counter to Branding

It boils down to this. Would you feel comfortable sitting down with your most conservative client and their family to watch a television show or movie in which your product appears? If the idea makes you cringe, you should probably reconsider your relationship with that production.

Remember that the benefits you receive from product placement are likely to be slow and subtle. Unlike consumer products, there is unlikely to be an immediate ‘rush’ on your product simply because it is seen on screen. Because of this, anything that creates controversy is likely not going to be worth it.

As Veronica Wright, CEO at ResumesCentre shared: “We’ve been heavily investing in product placement on the variety of events and resources related to job search – recruitment events and career fairs. But we’ve noticed some positive effect on our brand visibility only 4 months later. And we had to do a few test iterations to make the campaign more effective.”

Before pursuing a product placement opportunity, do some research. Explore what the production is about. Then, consider whether or not it is in harmony with your branding, and whether or not it will be appealing to your target customer group. It is highly recommended that you avoid having your products associated with crime, violence, or drug and alcohol consumption. Doing so can create a negative product association that is not beneficial to your brand at all.

Not Considering Person or Company Placement

Not all product placement involves showing a product on screen. Instead, it might be a person associated with the company making an appearance. There might also be a reference to the business itself. If there isn’t a way to place your product, consider one of these options.

For example, your company’s logo could be featured on a sign or the side of a coffee cup. If you have a company spokesperson or CEO who has earned a bit of fame and recognition, the movie or other production can mention them by name. They may even be able to get a ‘walk on’ role of a brief cameo.

Marc Jacobs Beauty and Sephora Store Taxi Advertising in Ocean’s 8

Marc Jacobs Beauty and Sephora Store Taxi Advertising in Ocean’s 8: Product Placement Blog

As John Reede, the chief content officer at BestWritersCanada reveals from his experience: “Small businesses and startups have to be more creative if they want their services to get noticed. Product placement online might be a good opportunity for them. There are a lot of niche sites, blogs, and influencers who could promote your product for their audience. You just need to find a niche where your potential customers are and tailor your campaign according to their needs”.

Failing to Maximize Product Placement in Your Own Marketing Efforts

When you negotiate a product placement deal, think beyond the moment that your product or company might appear on the screen. How can you carry the momentum created by product placement into your other marketing efforts? For example, will the production company allow you to use stills from the film in your marketing slicks? What about quotes, or simply an ‘as featured in’ tagline.

“It’s your responsibility to create your own buzz surrounding product placement as well. Promote the production on social media. Encourage your audience to watch it. Create some engagement with the producers and other people involved in the process”, emphasizes Amanda Smith, content manager at OnlineWritersRating.

Remember that product placement does not just create awareness. It can also foster trust. When people see your product being featured in a movie or somewhere else, you can gain a bit of credibility.


When done well, product placement can be a huge plus for any brand. There’s a reason that companies that are extraordinarily popular still use this marketing vehicle. There are also plenty of good reasons for smaller companies to seek out these opportunities as well.

If you find an opportunity to place your products in a movie or other vehicle, just be sure you don’t make any of the mistakes listed here. The last thing you want is to have a marketing opportunity turn into a PR nightmare.

Author Bio: James Scott, an independent blogger, and professional marketer. He has more than 5 years of marketing experience and is passionate about professional and agile team management. Even the smallest member of the team can change everything, so a wise manager should do their best to deliver the best working experience for everyone.

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