MT Masterclass: Product placement

What is it? What on earth, you may ask - perhaps typing your thoughts out on an iPhone or a BlackBerry or a Toshiba laptop - is product placement all about? But by now you'll have worked it out, since we're all increasingly familiar with the stealthy (and sometimes more blatant) ways of the marketing people. We know about advertising: those blunt 30-second messages or outdoor hoardings that make a direct play for our attention. Product placement is a bit sneakier, putting consumer durables in our line of sight without signalling that advertising is the main goal - or that the placement has been paid for.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Where did it come from? In the 1940s, US 'soap operas' - those melodramatic sagas filled with tragedy and romance - entertained millions, while nudging viewers in the direction of detergent made by Procter & Gamble or Unilever. Ever since, FMCG companies have sought to get their products onto your screen. The kitchen in that spacious New York apartment rented by Monica Geller in Friends seemed to have lots of familiar brands staring out from the shelves at the cameras. The cast were regularly clad in clothes from Gap or other recognisable outlets. And Sex and the City featured a fake erotic campaign for Absolut vodka.

Where is it going? The new film Somers Town, set in that dull part of London between Euston and Kings Cross, was funded by Eurostar. No new James Bond film can be created without product placement on a massive scale. The trend was satirised in the film The Truman Show (1998), where products were thrust at the camera regardless of the plot. And Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, had to fight hard to keep product placement out of last year's feature-length offering.

Fad quotient (out of 10):

Seven (sponsored by 7/11 stores).

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