Know everything about Product Placement: Definition and Best Practices

product placement

When you see the “eleven” character in the “Stranger Things” series, smash a soda can, it is no coincidence the soda brand is Coca-Cola, it is a marketing strategy known as Product Placement. Using product placement in stranger things is just one of the many examples of how brands use non-advertising media like movies to promote their brands.

Product placement definition:

Product placement is a marketing method that involves strategically and deliberately placing products or services in movies, television shows, and other types of non-advertising media. It can be categorized under “native advertisements”. The goal of this advertisement is to showcase the product or brand in a positive light, by integrating it seamlessly into the content and creating a subliminal connection with the audience.

You can read more about other marketing tools on the “e-commerce nation” website.

Nowadays, product placement has become one of the major actors in the advertising industry. In 2022, the worldwide market is estimated to have expanded by over 14%, reaching 26.2 billion US dollars. While global advertising expenditures surpassed 781 billion dollars that year. It means more than 3% of the advertising market belongs to this sector. Though television continued to receive the most significant share of this industry in 2021, films and digital media emerged as strong contenders in the second and third places, respectively.

To have a better understanding of the newest trends in marketing and refine your marketing strategies and methods, we strongly suggest reading the  “biggest trends in digital marketing in 2023” article.

Types of Product Placement

There are three types of placement, read on to figure out each one of them.

Visual product placement

This form of product placement typically involves showcasing a product or brand in a way that is visually appealing and noticeable to the audience, such as having a character interact with the product or featuring it prominently in the background of a scene. The goal of visual type is to increase brand recognition and create positive associations between the product and the viewer.

Verbal product placement

This form typically involves a character in the scene directly referencing or talking about a product or brand positively. The goal of verbal product placement is to increase brand awareness and promote the product or service to the audience through dialogue, rather than just visually.

It can be used in conjunction with visual to reinforce the message and create a more impactful impression on the viewer. One of the most famous examples of Verbal product placement is in the “Friends” TV show, where the character Joey Tribbiani was a spokesperson for various products such as Toyota, Burger King, and Coca-Cola.

Virtual product placement

Virtual product placement (VPP) enables brands to incorporate their products into movies or shows during the post-processing phase. This form allows brands to be added seamlessly into existing content, without requiring reshoots or physical placements during production. It can also be used to update content to feature new products or brands, or to replace outdated or controversial ones.

Amazon has been utilizing this new technology in its TV shows, including popular series like Leverage: Redemption, the Bosch franchise, and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. The product, which is currently in its beta phase, is also used by NBCUniversal’s platform Peacock, as well as Prime Video and FreeVee, which rely on advertising for revenue. These ads are inserted into the content after the production process. For example, in one episode of Bosch, a bowl placed on a table was digitally edited to include M&M’s as a way of highlighting the new and unique product.

“Product placement is a useful advertising tool that can increase brand awareness and drive sales. With careful planning and execution, businesses can use it to their advantage and create a win-win situation for both the brand and the content creators.”

Types of Product Placement Strategies

There are three major types of placement strategy, direct, Indirect, and Surprise placement.

Direct product placement

Direct placement is the most common type of placement, involving a brand or product being featured directly in a movie. This type of strategy generally involves having the product used by characters on-screen, appearing in scenes that are relevant to its use and purpose.

showing The One with the Apothecary Table episode of Friends series as an example of Direct product placement

If you watched the Friends series, you probably remember “The One with the Apothecary Table” episode in which the “pottery barn” was the main focus of the whole episode. Although we did not see the brand, we heard the brand name so many times and see some products, and heard some really positive comments. As you can see in the picture above, Ross in one scene implies that: She hates pottery barn? He says it like it is a bad thing to not like the Pottery Barn. It is a great example of direct product placement.

With this strategy, brands will pay productions to feature their products prominently throughout the film, so they can be easily seen by viewers. In one scene of the “Skyfall” movie, James Bond is seen drinking a Coca-Cola Zero while in a casino, with the logo clearly visible. This placement was paid for by Coca-Cola, and the product was used in a way that was relevant to its purpose and to the scene.

Indirect product placement

Indirect placement is when a company’s logo or branding appears within a scene without actually featuring its products or services. For example, if an actor wears clothing with a certain company’s logo, then this would be considered indirect placement as it simply showcases the brand without specifically promoting any particular item.

This form of product placement can still have positive impacts for companies because it helps create familiarity and recognition amongst viewers who may become interested in what that specific brand offers later down the line. For example, In the TV series “Stranger Things,” one of the main characters, Dustin, is seen wearing a hoodie with the logo of the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Dustin is wearing a hoodie with the logo of the Science Museum of Minnesota. This is an example of indirect product placement.

Surprise product placements

Surprise placements involve placing unexpected products into films in order to surprise and delight audiences, which helps create positive associations between those items and potential customers who weren’t expecting them during normal viewing experiences.

In Disney Pixar’s Cars movie franchise, Mercedes-Benz cars appeared unexpectedly, which helped to create a strong association between the brand and what was considered “cool” by younger audiences at the time. This was because the cars were featured throughout each film in the series, which made them more memorable.

As another example, in the James Bond film franchise, Aston Martin has been a longstanding partner, often featuring prominently as Bond’s vehicle of choice. However, in the movie “Skyfall,” there was an unexpected surprise placement of a classic British beer brand, Heineken. During a scene, James Bond, traditionally known for his preference for shaken martinis, is seen enjoying a Heineken beer.

Daniel Craig As James Bond enjoying a Heineken Beer. This is an example of surprise product placement.

Product placement performance measurement

Like any other method of marketing, it is crucial to measure the performance of your product placement campaigns. The success of our marketing campaign can be measured by a variety of KPIs like Return On Investment (ROI) and Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). Read what is the KPI article to find out more about it.

Many brand managers have concerns that Product Placement as a marketing tactic is too difficult to value. However, using simple KPIs like ROI can help them to figure out whether the campaign was successful or not. You can simply divide the increase in sales since the start of the campaign by the total amount you paid. 

Product placement examples

Product placement can be found in all forms of media content, from video games to TV shows to music videos. Here are some of the most famous examples:

Product placement in movies

One of the most common forms of product placement is in movies. From James Bond’s Omega watch to Marty McFly’s Nike sneakers in Back to the Future, movies have been using this method for decades. In many cases, product placement in movies is so subtle that the audience may not even realize it’s there. Some popular examples in movies include Apple products in the Iron Man franchise, Red Bull drinks in The Hangover, and Heineken beer in Skyfall.

Omega product placement in james bond movie as an example of product placement in movies.

Product placement in TV shows

Product placement in TV shows has become increasingly popular in recent years. This is because TV shows have a more extended lifespan than movies, and viewers tend to watch multiple episodes, leading to more significant exposure for the product or brand. For example, in the TV show Modern Family, the character Phil Dunphy was often seen using Apple products, which helped boost the company’s sales.

Product placement in stranger things

The Stranger Things Netflix series is one of the most successful and well-known series for using product placement as an extra source of revenue. Coca-Cola, Sony, Reebok, and Lacoste are some of the most famous brands that place their products and brands in this series.

After the first season of Stranger Things aired, it became clear that there was potential for brand integrations within the show. This was particularly evident in the portrayal of Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, who had a preference for Eggo waffles as her snack of choice, and in scenes where she demonstrated her psychokinetic abilities by crushing Coke cans.

“After Season One, every phone call I got was, ‘I want to be in Stranger Things!’”

Erin Schmidt chief of product placement at BEN
Eleven character tries to smash a can of Coca-Cola in the “stranger things” series, as an example of product placement.

Product placement rules and regulations

It is common for people to ask if product placement is legal. The short answer is yes, it is legal. However, it is important to understand what are the boundaries and limits of this method of advertisement. For instance, in the EU member states programs that include product placement must comply with the following three formal conditions: 

  1. The media service provider must maintain their responsibility and editorial independence with regard to the content and organization within a schedule (for TV broadcasting) or a catalog (for on-demand audiovisual media services), without any external influence.
  2. Specific promotional references to goods or services, that directly encourage their audience to buy, are not allowed.
  3. The product in question must not receive excessive attention and importance. 

In the UK, there are some more strict regulations. TV programs made for UK audiences can contain product placement if they comply with Ofcom’s rules. It is allowed in:

  • films (including dramas and documentaries)
  • TV series (including soaps)
  • entertainment shows
  • sports programs

But It is prohibited to place products in news or children’s programs, as well as in programs that are created for UK audiences and fall under the categories of religious, current affairs, and consumer advice.

There are also some limitations in terms of the kinds of products that can be placed on allowed media. It is not allowed to produce cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as prescription-only medicines, in any programs. As well as alcoholic drinks, gambling products, all other types of medicines, food and drink that is high in fat, salt, or sugar, baby milk, and products that are not allowed to be advertised, such as guns and other weapons.

2 product placement guidelines

Although product placement is becoming more popular every day, brands should always consider their marketing strategy before deciding on how they are going to use it. To have a successful product placement, you can use these guidelines:

Be subtle, not forceful

If you want to successfully affect your targeted audience with product placement, you should keep it subtle. If you “overdo” it, the audience will notice that you are doing it for commercial purposes, and they may feel disturbed or even angry. Watch out for the backfire! For example, if you want to show your product in a movie, you don’t need a close shot of your product that your brand is showing in an obvious way, sometimes just a brief moment of showing your product in the right context, can be much more effective.

comparing Pizza Hut product placement in the Wayne's World vs FedEx product placement on Castaway.

Pizza Hut’s product placement in “Wayne’s World” is very direct and vivid. The movie successfully mixed product placement and humor, therefore the audience will not feel bad about this bold advertisement. Although, if the humor factor was not implemented successfully it could result in negative feedback from the audience both towards the movie and Pizza Hut.
On the other hand, FedEx’s product placement in “Castaway” integrates organically into the story, emphasizing the brand’s values. This is more subtle and contextual. The story revolves around a FedEx employee stranded on a deserted island, allowing the brand to play a significant role in the narrative.

Integrate with the content and the context

If you are an economy brand, showing your products on a luxury character doesn’t feel normal for the viewers. Respect your audience, they notice any incoherence. Remember, the product placement is a kind of “native” advertisement. Thus, try to be as relevant as you can to the media that you chose.


product placement is a valuable tool for businesses looking to increase their brand awareness and boost sales. Whether it’s through movies, TV shows, or other media content, it has the potential to reach a vast audience and create a lasting impression. By understanding the different types of product placement and the impact it can have on the audience, businesses can use this advertising method to their advantage.

However, it’s essential to use product placement effectively, and not overuse it to the point where it becomes distracting or takes away from the content’s integrity. The product or brand should be integrated naturally into the content, and not feel like a forced advertisement. As with any advertising method, it’s essential to consider the target audience and ensure that the product or brand aligns with their interests and values.

The product placement concept can be merged with other marketing methods. There is no limit to creativity. As an example, you can use the same concept in influencer marketing.

Imagine you follows an influencer and see that every day she uses the same brand of skin care products. The influencer won’t talk about the products and the brand. She just casually uses the product and exposes it to you. How convinced are you that this product is a high-quality one and produces good results? It is highly probable, I guess.

The convergence of these two strategies has created new opportunities for brands to reach audiences in a more authentic and engaging way. Give it a try. Learn more about how to Launch an Influencer Marketing Campaign.

Key takeaways

  • Product placement is a marketing method involving strategically placing products or services in non-advertising media.
  • It aims to showcase the product or brand positively by integrating it seamlessly into the content and creating a subliminal connection with the audience.
  • The global market for product placement is estimated to have expanded by over 14%, reaching 26.2 billion US dollars in 2022.
  • There are three types of product placement: visual, verbal, and virtual.
  • Direct, indirect, and surprise placements are the types of product placement strategies.
  • Measuring product placement performance involves tracking brand mentions, viewer engagement, and sales data.

Frequently Asked Questions about Product Placement

What do you mean by product placement?

Product placement refers to integrating products or services into non-advertising media, such as movies or TV shows so that they can be displayed to audiences. When used properly, it can create a subliminal connection with viewers.

What is the main purpose of product placement?

The main purpose of Product placement is to connect the target market with a product or brand without acting promotional. When used properly, it can result in a positive brand positioning for the company in a desirable context.

What is product vs brand placement?

If we want to avoid very minor details we can say product placement and brand placement are similar but have slight differences.
Product placement specifically focuses on showcasing a tangible product within the media content, whereas brand placement involves featuring the brand itself, which may include a range of products or services.
Both strategies aim to increase brand visibility and create a positive association with the audience.

What is an example of a placement strategy?

One example of a placement strategy is the Indirect product placement. When a brand appears indirectly within a scene without the products or services actually appearing, it is called indirect placement.
You can read more about placement strategies in the “Types of Product Placement Strategies part of this article.

Is product placement good or bad?

Is using a knife good or bad? Well, it depends!
When done appropriately, product placement can be a valuable advertising tool, increasing brand awareness and potentially driving sales. However, if it is too overt or disrupts the content’s integrity, it can have a negative impact on the audience’s perception.
Balancing subtlety and integration is crucial to ensure product placement remains effective and well-received by viewers.

Image credit: Gayane Sargsyan


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Seyed Morteza Mortazavi
Hi! I am Seyed Morteza, the content expert of the ECN company. I love to share my knowledge and expertise in the E-commerce field with curious businesses or individuals. Visit my LinkedIn profile to get in touch.