Finding a Place for “Product Placement”*

June 22, 2008

 If film experts are to be believed, Hollywood’s relationship with product -placement goes back to the 1930s. This marketing device, whereby a company pays for its products to appear in films and television programs is almost non-existent in the Arab media, while if a certain brand makes it to an Arab film or a TV program, the execution is usually poor.

With audiences increasingly becoming scattered and advertising budgets shrinking, marketers are gradually moving away from classical models and instead using alternative “new tactics”, such as “engagement” and “product placement”. These methods provide a more efficient and cost effective method of promoting a certain commercial product. Among the major industry players which decided to cut down on advertising spending are Unilever and Procter and Gamble, two of the world’s biggest spenders. Even those still in favor of the 30-second advertisement are engaged in cost-cutting; the increasing use of animation instead of real actors in television commercials is one such way.One of the best-known instances of product placements occurred in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film E.T the Extra-Terrestrial. According to the Financial Times, the infamous scene where E.T is shown enjoying Reese’s Pieces from Hershey Foods Corporation doubled the candy’s sales, which eventually reached a billion dollars a year.

 Nowadays, brands compete fiercely with each other to be associated with successful television shows or motion pictures. Aston Martin reportedly paid $35 million dollars to become James Bond’s car of choice and replace BMW. Bond films are one example of successful product placements by major brands such as Omega and Ericsson.

It is therefore no surprise to see major advertising companies choosing to “follow the money” and focusing on product placement. “Grey” and other leading agencies have even established separate departments to develop product placement tactics. Nelson media research has recently launched a new service entitled “place views” in order to monitor when, where, how many times and for how long a product is shown on the screen and by how many viewers it was seen.

Despite not being very common in the Arab world, a number of television shows have successfully used product placement. The reality TV show “Star Academy”, for example, signed an exclusive deal with Lebanon’s “Diet Center” to provide the contestants’ meals. “Diet Center” has since expanded its activities and now has several franchises in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

A more obvious example is the popular Saudi comedy series “Tash Ma Tash”, broadcast daily during primetime throughout the month of Ramadan, since the early 1990s. “Tash Ma Tash” has featured a large number of brands, including dairy products, airlines and fast food chains.

Hatim Ashour, marketing manager of “Al Tazaj”, an international Saudi chicken fast food chain, has told Asharq al Awsat in a recent interview that he tied his brand to the hit comedy to “create awareness”, given the show’s popularity in Saudi Arabia and across the Arab World. 

According to Ashour, “Al Tazaj” has signed a five-year contract with “Tash Ma Tash”, whereby it pays almost 80 thousand dollars annually in return for being featured in the show.

When comparing the added value of this deal versus classic TV adverts, one needs to only look at the considerable viewing figures Tash Ma Tash commands and the fact that many are unlikely to turn away midway through the show. Despite the fact that accurate statistics are still not very common in the Arab media, the show’s continued success makes it a magnet for advertisers. Episodes are also likely to be recorded and viewed again and re-broadcast on satellite channels.

However an element of vital importance must be taken into consideration, for “product placement” to work we must have superb TV shows and accurate statistics to prove their success. Let us imagine we have a series as popular as the American sitcom “Friends”, with a reported 24 million people tuning in to watch the last episode in the US alone (another way of looking at it is that a TV show episode had viewership equivalent to the entire population of Saudi Arabia) . Think of how well-known your brand will become if you placed it there… I think this is “exposure” redefined.


 James Bond movies have been known for extensive product-placements, particulary watches, cars and mobile phones

 * From an article I wrote for Asharq Al Awsat in 2006:


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