Updated: Oct 28, 2020
By: Nicolas Rontanini
With the airing of the Super Bowl last month, we saw a lot of advertisements, from the “Black Widow” show trailer to the death of Mr. Peanut. However, one that caught the eye of many was a “Rick and Morty” commercial that seemed to mock the state of advertising in the current entertainment landscape. The commercial itself involved two of the show’s characters getting stuck in a Pringles commercial with no way out. This symbolizes how these product placements are seemingly everywhere we turn. More than just regular ads you see through commercials or magazines, we now see ads through the shows and films that we watch, and they affect us, even if we do not pay attention.
This is known as effective conditioning, where a person makes a decision based on a good feeling they may have. In advertising, this involves surrounding the product with objects that give the viewer a good feeling, such as a detergent commercial having a sunlit field, or a rainbow. But it seems that more often than not, products are being advertised by associating with things that most people would consider good. A study published by Melanie Dempsey and Andrew Mitchell in 2010 explains this with an example involving two different pens. One group was given a pen that has superior properties on its own and another that is associated with positive things. Many seemed to choose the second pen almost subconsciously, showing that we might be making purchasing decisions without really knowing.
Now, let’s compare this to the film industry. Movies today have countless advertisements woven into the fabric of the film, many of which are subliminal. When you see a scene with two characters sitting down with a bottle of Pepsi, it is an advertisement for Pepsi, regardless of the plot.
One example can be seen in the 2015 movie “Ant-Man,” where character Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is seen working at a Baskin Robbins. Though disguised by the story and jokes about what they serve, it is still an advertisement for Baskin Robbins. Another example can be found in “When Harry Met Sally,” during the famed “I’ll have what she’s having” scene, when the characters are eating in Katz Delicatessen. More can be found in films like James Bond, where instead of ordering his drink “shaken, not stirred,” he now orders a Heineken.
Films today are riddled with these advertisements, and according to the Dempsey and Mitchell study, even though we may not pay attention to them, they still have the ability to influence our consumer buying patterns. Even if we choose to ignore the ads, they still make us think about the product enough to consider buying it. That being said, there is nothing wrong with these advertisements. These ads can help stimulate the economy by prompting the purchase of these products. The profits these companies receive can help them create more jobs. Even though the ads are numerous, they do not interfere with the viewing experience. Can they be annoying, seeing that there are so many of them? Yes, they can be. Not everyone wants to see these subliminal advertisements for Baskin Robbins or Heineken when the audience came to see a movie. Even though it can be slightly irritating, no one is getting hurt from these ads.
These companies are doing what they can to get ahead of the competition, which in of itself, of the nature of business. Of course, these advertisements are not completely flawless. The products displayed could not have the same efficiency as the film it appears in. A product from Sony, for example, could not work as well as it does the movie it is shown in, or a Coca-Cola could not taste as well as it may in television or movies. But even then, we are not forced to buy the product, we are just encouraged to think about it. Should movies include less of these ads? Maybe, but the ads are not doing any harm. They may influence our buying pattern to an extent, but the products are everyday things. These ads will certainly continue in entertainment for years to come, but while there can be problems with this, they are small ones, to say the least.