The Nature of the Practice and Potential Avenues of Inquiry

As marketers continue to vie for the attention of an increasingly fragmented consumer market, they have turned to a variety of communication channels in their efforts to reach customers. One of the channels they have exploited more frequently in recent years is product placement, the placing of branded products in movies and television programs. Product placement has been defined as “a paid product message aimed at influencing movie (or television) audiences via the planned and unobtrusive entry of a branded product into a movie (or television program)”

(Balasubramanian, 1994, p. 29). It is this unobtrusive entry of a commercial message in a movie or television show that makes product placement different from most other forms of marketing communications. This embedding of commercial messages in another type of communication is a clear example of the blurring of the lines between commercial communications and entertainment, which has become more prevalent in recent years (Solomon & English, 1994).

This chapter explores the nature of product placement as a marketing communications tool, contrasting it to other communications and discussing the complex and multidimensional nature of the practice. In this chapter I briefly discuss the academic work that has been done on product placement, consider some of the issues that need to be addressed for the field to proceed with future inquires, and suggest some paths that can be taken to understand product placement more fully Generally, a product is placed in a movie or television show in return for payment of money or other promotional consideration by the marketer (Gupta & Gould, 1997).

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1 Prices can vary for placement, depending on the nature of the placement in the movie (McCarthy, 1994), and can range from nothing to several million dollars (Fournier & Dolan, 1997). The price of product placement can be a function of the type of product that is featured; some product categories are easier to place in a movie than others (McCarthy, 1994).

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The prominence of the placement in the movie can also affect the price. For example, a placement where the product name is mentioned might cost more than one in which the product logo is simply visible in the background of a scene.

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