Should Product Placement in films and other media be controlled?

Abstract:

While a mutually beneficial relationship between the advertiser and the producer is achieved via product placement, the best interests of the audience are neglected.  Another concern this phenomenon has raised is the compromising of artistic merit for commercial gain.  Conventional wisdom instructs us that high profits and elevated ethics don’t go together.  Given the impressive profits made by the public relations industry (which promotes product placement), by implication ethics have been ignored.  Although a framework of regulation exists in the United States, it has loopholes and suffers poor enforcement.  Greater control of the practice of product placement can be achieved through a concerted effort from the public and policy makers.

Main Essay:

Product placement is the combined effort from entertainment program producers and sponsors in which branded commodities are embedded in the content with the intent of influencing consumer behavior in favor of the sponsor.  In other words, it could be defined as “the purposeful incorporation of a brand into an entertainment vehicle”. (Russell & Belch, 2005, p.78)  This vehicle could take the form of television, radio, video games, music records and even the written word.

Although there is a symbiotic relationship between the advertiser and the producer, the best interests of audience is left out of the equation.  Another concern this phenomenon has raised is the compromising of artistic merit for commercial success.  This industry had grown to more than $5 billion in size as of 2010, with as many as 1,000 products being promoted through this channel (these numbers pertain to the United States alone).  Needless to say, the worldwide figures are even more staggering.  There is an ongoing debate across the world on the pros and cons of product placement.  There are also vocal calls for regulating this practice across media outlets. (Moorman, et.al., 2005, p.50).  The rest of this essay will answer in the affirmative to whether such regulation is called for.  Suitable scholarly citations are provided to support the claims.

The concept really took off in the 1980s as a result of its success in the movie E.T.  The placement in the film triggered unprecedented growth in sales of Reese’s Pieces. Prior to 1980s the industry was somewhat disorganized and industry practices were haphazard.  Since the start of the 1980s though, the product placement industry and its parent public relations industry grew to become major players in commerce, economy and politics.  The following snippet helps us understand the size of the placement-industry:

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