Ask any adult today about an iconic instance of product placement, and chances are they’ll point to the Reese’s Pieces scenes in the 1982 sci-fi classic E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Or, perhaps they’ll recall the tongue-in-cheek scene in Wayne’s World in which Wayne and Garth decry the practice of product placement as selling out, all the while egregiously promoting about 15 different brands.
But product placement is not what it used to be—so what does it mean for it to be successful in 2018? Is it most effective if it’s folded in so seamlessly that it operates only in your subconscious? Or, should it be conspicuous enough to trigger Twitter orations and media thought pieces, but without being so clumsy as to drive viewers away?
Whether we like it or not, the various streaming services and platforms at our disposal today, as well as emerging, unique partnerships, have ushered in a new era of product placement.
We polled television devotees about product placement from the last few years, and these were a few of the examples they deemed most notable for being, well, not notable:
1. Apple iPhones on 9-1-1
Fox’s 9-1-1 is a procedural drama about first responders and the bizarre and dicey situations they encounter every day on the job. If you happened to be from outer space, and your introduction to Earth was the show 9-1-1, you would probably believe people falling out of rollercoasters, getting impaled by a rebar and flushing babies down the toilet are normal, everyday occurrences in Los Angeles.
You would also believe that iPhones are the only earthly means of communication (which may, actually, not be far off). 9-1-1 is, above all, a show about the importance of communication and staying connected, and the characters’ iPhones are the glue that keeps things running as smoothly as possible in an otherwise chaotic hellscape. If you watch 9-1-1 long enough, it will likely seep into your unconscious that iPhones are indeed the most reliable way to stay connected … and perhaps alive.
(*In my research, Apple clocked the most recurring, notable product appearances across shows and platforms.)
2. AB InBev Beers on House of Cards
House of Cards is a good example of what happens when a streaming service is ad-free (Netflix) and relies instead on product placement for its original series. The show is replete with brand appearances, which, to be fair, have been repeatedly called out as distracting.
Perhaps one of the least obnoxious examples though—at least according to the consensus of a handful of people on the internet—is the placement of branded beer on the show. Anheuser-Busch InBev allegedly signed a deal to be the show’s sole beer marketer but not exatly through traditional means.
A-B InBev’s Director of entertainment marketing Jim Holleran said the company reached out early on when it got the scripts from Season One and, rather than paying for the exclusive appearances of Stella Artois, Budweiser and Shock Top, the beverage brand just provides stock for props in exchange for the exposure.
The nail-biting political drama—and uncanny relevance to our modern climate—will probably have you craving a cold Stella too.
3. Lavazza on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
In earlier seasons of Jerry Seinfeld’s series about vintage cars, comedians and coffee, the brand of coffee consumed was more of an afterthought than anything else. The focus tended to be on matching the comedian to the car and—in true Seinfeld style—on being a show about nothing. But when the series moved to Netflix for the most recent season, called Freshly Brewed, one brand was added to the cast.
While a lot of focus is indeed given to the eponymous cars, by the third or fourth episode featuring Ellen DeGeneres and Tracy Morgan respectively, the not-insignificant amount of B-roll footage of cascading espresso makes a steaming mug of Lavazza start to look and sound pretty good. And you may just need it to stay awake, even just for those 15 minutes.