Product Placement: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Part 1)

Product placement—it’s everywhere! We’re bombarded with it on a near-daily basis, and the older we get, the more aware of it we become. It goes without saying that certain instances are more blatant than others, but there’s something seriously wrong when the product being referenced directs your attention away from the film or television show you’re watching.

This blog is a testament not to the shamelessness of product placement (that’s a given), but to the obviousness of it.

There’s no getting around it: product placement is just something that we’ll have to coexist with. As with anything film- or television-related though, there are good and bad examples to be found.

The Good

Here’s a case where the offending instance of product placement really isn’t all that offending:

Making your audience aware that you’re contractually obligated to reference your auxiliary sources of income is generally a bad thing, unless you’re comedic genius Tina Fey, in which case it makes for a hilarious moment. With their “devil may care” attitude, Fey and company break the fourth wall in all the right ways. If you have to go out of your way to promote a brand, this is how to do it.

The Bad

Less well done, however, is the following instance, where the reference isn’t meant to be blatant, but is:

I’d better snatch up as many Converse All-Stars as I possibly can and auction them off at Sotheby’s forty years from now, as they’ll obviously fetch a pretty penny. Truthfully, this isn’t the worst instance of product placement I’ve ever seen, but it could have been handled better. In any case, nice shoes, Will.

The Ugly

This pretty much speaks for itself:

Hold on just a second! Do you mean to tell me that this product will not only keep my skin clean but give me a burst of energy as well? I’m sold!

In essence, I just plain don’t like product placement. I understand how it works and why it’s more common now than ever, but quite simply, it’s tough for me to tolerate. This is partly because I’m a snob who can’t stand to see the film and television industries sell themselves out to highest bidder, but more importantly because product placement brings my suspension of disbelieve to a screaming halt. That, to me, is unacceptable.

Stay tuned for future installments of Product Placement: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Trust me, there’s plenty of it out there!

How do you feel about the above examples of product placement? What are your thoughts on the practice in general?

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    If you have to do product placement, always try to do it like Tina Fey. The way they joke about their product placement is hilarious without fail. I love the episode when Liz Lemon wears a Slanket the entire time and actually has the line “It’s not product placement, I just like it!”

    Not that I ever watch ABC Family… *cough* …but their product placement has gotten ridiculous. That girl could’ve just cleaned her face with it the next day or something.

    Product placement should be integrated subtly, like Back to the Future. You can bet that after watching that movie I crave Mountain Dew or Pepsi — and I don’t even drink pop.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      That’s maybe my favorite thing about 30 Rock. It’s funny overall, but the self-referential humor in that show sets the bar a little higher for TV comedies — in my opinion.

    • Jill Tooley

      Marty: “Give me a Tab.”
      Soda Fountain Guy: “I can’t give you a tab unless you order something.”
      Marty: “Okay then, I’ll have a Pepsi Free.”
      Soda Fountain Guy: “Nothing’s free around here, buddy. If you want a Pepsi then you’ve gotta pay for it!”

      🙂 I LOVE Back to the Future! And I agree that 30 Rock/Tina Fey incorporates product placement in a witty way. I just watched the live episode they did, which had a few snippets of placement in it. They were talking about cutting a segment to make room for something else, and someone mentioned cutting the Capital One product placement. Jack (Alec Baldwin’s character) turns to the camera and says something like: “No, we can’t do that! Capital One has the best interest rates and perks…” and then grins obviously. Then, they cut to Frank, who’s wearing a Capital One hat and t-shirt. It was obvious, but much more palatable because they made it part of the joke.

  2. Jenna

    Great post, Joe! I totally agree with all of your choices — although I would watch Will Smith promote manure if I had to. But that product placement was pretty obvious/distracting from the movie. The product placement from Secret Life was absolutely horrible, but that show is horrible in general, so I wouldn’t expect anything less.

    Another show that drives me bonkers with product placement is Project Runway. I think reality shows in general take product placement to a whole new level.

    • Jill Tooley

      I would also watch Will Smith promote anything under the sun, including manure. Even though I hate manure! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist slipping another BTTF reference in there).

      Seriously though, the Secret Life example on here was terrible. Cringe-inducing, even.

      • JPorretto

        Jill, your BTTF quotes are pure win today!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks! Yeah, Will Smith could sell the sh*t out of manure if they paid him enough. 😉

      I haven’t had the pleasure of watching Project Runway, but I’m sure you’re right about it. Reality TV leaves a lot to be desired, so the bad product placement doesn’t really surprise me.

      • Amanda

        Agreed! I think Will Smith looks great in those Converse. No problem in my book there. I had those same black high tops in 3rd grade too. =)

  3. Erik

    There are countless examples of the good, the bad and the ugly, so you’ll have a lot to do 🙂

    Some ideas for the good ones: the majority of placements in Mad Men, Manolo & Apple in Sex and the City, Wilson in Cast Away, Ray-Ban in Risky Business, Top Gun, … Apple in every movie 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      All excellent examples, Erik. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      Sex and the City used to be fairly obvious with their placement — I’ll have to see what clips are available online. And yes, the images of Apple products tend to be everywhere on film and television these days. Shouldn’t be too tough to find examples out there.

      • Jenna

        When Erik mentioned the Apple placements, I couldn’t help thinking about iCarly — even though all of their electronic devices have a pear on the back instead of an apple, it’s pretty obvious who they’re referencing!

        • Joseph Giorgi

          That image is hilarious!

        • Erik


          I remember that Apple laptops had their logo turned upside down, but I’m not sure if it was on purpose or if they were built that way.

          Apparently Apple doesn’t pay for product placement or at least doesn’t want to provide any comments regarding their placements. Although that’s highly unlikely – the number of Apple’s placements is simply too big to achieve without some heavy investment.

  4. amy

    Wow. You’re totally right Joe, the Converse and Clean & Clear product placements are just awkward. I personally am a huge fan of ’30 Rock’ and the way they poke fun at NBC just astounds me that they’re still on air 🙂

    I agree with Mandy that “product placement should be integrated subtly” instead of thrown into conversation or the backdrop at weird times. The more natural it seems to the show the more it makes sense to me as a viewer. When ‘Friends’ was on NBC in the late 90’s I remember that they always had Dr. Pepper in Monica and Rachel’s apartment and I thought they were so cool that when I drank soda I wanted it to be Dr. Pepper. Product placement success!!

    I see this a part 1 blog, I can’t wait to see what else you find!!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      There is nothing awkward about Converse. Ever. 🙁

      • amy

        I like Converse too, its just that this product placement seemed a bit forced for my liking. I’m not hating on your converses, I swear!! 😉

        • JPorretto

          This example didn’t bother me at all. It gave Will Smith’s character…umm… character. If they made a movie about me (fingers crossed) they’d have to feature Air Jordans. Hey, the guy just likes his shoes…

          • Mandy Kilinskis

            I’m with you, Jeff. It didn’t bother me. If someone made a movie about me, they would have to have a monologue about Chuck Taylors at least twice.

            • Amanda

              I agree with both of you! It does give him more character! =) Yay for Converse and Air Jordans.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      It’s fantastic how the 30 Rock writers are able to use subversive humor on the show to make fun of the real life goings-on at NBC. I’d imagine that NBC is very much “in” on the jokes though. They probably appreciate that Fey and company put such a humorous spin on their business practices. It shows that they at least have a sense of humor about how corporate the entertainment industry is becoming.

  5. Cybernetic SAM

    Well this would make a lot more sense if I could see the video references, but I am sure you are spot on, so nice work (I guess). 🙂

  6. Amanda

    My feelings toward these products placement seem to be kind of backward compared to everyone else. Maybe because I’ve never seen 30 Rock. But I think that the 30 Rock product placement is the most annoying actually. I think their humor about it makes it more awkward. But like I’ve been told–it would be funnier and less weird if I watched the show, which is probably right. I don’t think the Converse placement is weird at all. To me it seems natural, and something I’d see in real life, like someone complementing someone else’s shoes–so it doesn’t bother me. The 3rd one does seem strange and too obvious, so I could see how that would bug me if I was into the show. Sounds like ABC Family does a ton of product placement, that has to get annoying!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      As far as 30 Rock — you’re definitely missing out by not watching. Just rent the first disc through Netflix and see what you think. You’re almost guaranteed to get hooked on it! 🙂

      The Converse placement was fairly well done, but still a little obvious in my opinion. Then again, since I’m basically just hypersensitive to product placement in general, maybe I can let that one slide.

  7. Jen

    Nice post Joe! I don’t ever really notice subtle product placement, but I hate when t.v. and movies shove it down your throat. It’s so annoying!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I agree 163%.

  8. Rachel

    Great examples, Joe! The ABC Family one just makes me cringe, wow. While product placement is often annoying, it’s interesting to look at how different shows decide to weave it into their shows, subtly or not. I remember in the first season of Heroes on NBC, one of the main characters saw in a drawing of his future that he would get a Nissan Versa rental car when he went to Vegas. It sounds really stupid reading that sentence back, but I swear it actually made some sense in the show! I found the product placement more amusing than anything else–and hey, I still remember the model of the car after all these years. 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I remember that episode! My girlfriend used to quote Hero Nakamura all the time. As far as product placement goes, I guess that the Nissan Versa placement was a success — seeing as how we still remember it and all. 🙂

      • Amanda

        Blue Nissan Versa. 😉

  9. Product Placement

    I wanted to eat Reese’s Pieces because I saw them in E.T. but they didn’t sell them in my country when I was a kid. There’d be other examples of wanting something I’d seen in movies when I was a kid but can’t think of them right now.

    I still want those Nikes from “Back to the future part two”?

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