How Product Placement Works

By: Katherine Neer

Realistic Product Placement

A worldwide trend in advertising, product placement is a vehicle for everything from foodstuffs to electronics to automobiles. So, how does it work, exactly? It's actually pretty simple. Basically, there are three ways product placement can occur:

  • It simply happens.
  • It's arranged, and a certain amount of the product serves as compensation.
  • It's arranged, and there is financial compensation.

If the Shoe, Shirt, Car or Soda Fits...

Sometimes product placement just happens. A set dresser, producer, director, or even an actor might come across something he thinks will enhance the project. Usually this has to do with boosting the level of credibility or realism of the story being told. One example can be found in the surprising use of a can of RAID -- an ant killer made by the SC Johnson company -- in an episode of the popular HBO series "The Sopranos." The poisonous prop was used in a particularly violent fight scene in the show. According to an article in USA Today, Therese Van Ryne, a spokeswoman for SC Johnson, said the company was not approached about the use of their product and they would not have given it a thumbs-up.


For illustrative purposes throughout the rest of this article, we can create a less controversial scenario. Let's say the main character in a program or movie is an unmarried, successful, well-travelled architect in his thirties. From this description, it's easy to start thinking up things to enhance the feel of this character. Maybe he'd drive an SUV -- the four-wheel drive would come in handy when visiting building sites. He'd read particular magazines, drink certain wines, eat certain foods... In making the character's life seem real, products necessarily come into play.