Replace Product Placement

by newsactivist12345 on April 21, 2017 - 11:10am

Replace Product Placement

With the advent of technological innovations such as television and the Internet, new forms of advertisement which proved to be more effective and persuasive emerged as well. One such innovation is product placement, a non-traditional advertising technique whereby a good or service is subtly promoted through exposure on a platform. This practice has become ubiquitous throughout the media industry, notably in movies and on television, but also in video games and music videos. Irrespective of its prominence, product placement is a significant ethical issue in the media realm. Although there are a plethora of examples to choose from, one instance which distinguishes itself from the rest is the product placement of Apple devices throughout the television series House of Cards (Chapter One). Product placement is unethical mainly because of its furtive nature; consumers are unlikely to realize that they are being exposed to an advertisement, so they are susceptible to being influenced without their knowledge. From a utilitarian perspective, the harm—the viewers being coerced into purchasing a product without their realization—outweighs the benefit of companies generating profit off of this activity.

Product placement is morally unjust because it undermines the consumer’s ability to rationally construe the message. Due to its integration into the medium in question, viewers have a hard time differentiating a product from the narrative. Occasionally, the product itself is used as a prop or plot device, which increases the difficultness of detecting advertisement. Apple is notorious for abusing this practice, not only on House of Cards, but on other television shows, films and music videos (Edwards 1) They rely heavily on exposure through product placement, the reason being that it is more effective than traditional advertising. (Edwards 1) Indeed, its subtleness is in part what makes it so influential. Unfortunately, efficacy is not a metric for morality in any of the ethical frameworks. The merits of product placement, according to utilitarianism, must be judged based on the quantity and quality of goodness brought to society. From an economical standpoint, it can be argued that product placement is beneficial to every parties affected: the viewers win because of unobtrusive advertising; the content creator exposing the product benefit from a greater revenue-stream; the company paying for the advertisement wins as they get their message across effectively. (La Ferle, Carrie, Edwards 84) Although this is all true, it does not take into account the exploitative nature of the operation. As mentioned previously, one of the issues regarding this form of advertising is transparency in that the viewers might not know that they are being advertised to.

Moreover, another problematic element of not only product placement, but advertising in general is that the sheer process influences not only customers’ purchase decision, but the creators of the medium used to push a product. Indeed, writers, amongst others, are under immense pressure from corporations who, due to their monetary contribution to the platform, have a considerable amount of control in the process. This can decidedly alter the quality of the finished product, and deliver an artwork that differs from the artist’s original intention. This effect is to the detriment of not only the writer or creator, but to the audience as well. Innocuous entertainment consumed by them are used to push a commercial agenda. Thus the compromisation of the creators’ agency due to sponsoring creates an altered end-product which is potentially inferior, thereby affecting the audience as well. According to utilitarianism, product placement, which is a form of advertising, therefore does not pass the moral standard.

Another significant issue related to advertising (including product placement) is “kidvertising”. The problem with this practice is that children under the age of four are unable to differentiate between advertisements and content, and children under the age of eight cannot detect the commercial intent of advertisements (Lioutas, Tzimitra-Kalogianni 1) As a result, what is presented to them is taken at face value, and they are easily manipulated by what they see. Children are then compelled to badger their parents to obtain whichever product they were exposed to. The harm from “kidvertising” through product placement therefore outweighs, once again, the monetary gain that the companies make. Hence, the process of targeting children in advertisements is indeed unethical from a utilitarian standpoint. However, the contention can be made that advertisements can be used on children for their own benefit (e.g. promoting a healthy lifestyle) the dispute against that is that it still constitutes manipulation without consent. It targets a child’s emotional capacity, not its intellectual one. In addition, advertising “trains kids to choose foods based on celebrity, not based on what’s on the package.” (Bruce 1) Ergo, this practice is morally dubious at best because it does not necessarily reinforce a healthy or virtuous behavior, it just conditions them to follow what they see on advertisements.

The question of whether or not product placement is ethically sound is crucial, especially in today’s technologically advanced world. Advertising has become omnipresent, and it is inevitable that we encounter them every day, whether it be on billboards, social media, or in our favorite television shows.  In addition, ample research has been done to corroborate statements against this form of advertising and advertising in general. Promotions aimed towards children are morally unjust in light of findings indicating that they are unable to rationally assimilate advertisements. In addition, product placement also exploits adults’ capacity to distinguish ads from the film or television show that they are watching. They linger in the background as ambient objects, but the effects that they have on the audience is profound.

Works Cited

“Chapter One.” House of Cards, written by Beau Willimon, directed by David Fincher, Netflix, 2013.


Edwards, Jim. "Apple's Biggest Marketing Secret Was Revealed In Federal

Court."Business Insider. Business Insider, 05 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.


La Ferle, Carrie and Steven M. Edwards. "Product Placement." Journal of Advertising,

vol. 35, no. 4, Winter2006, pp. 65-86. EBSCOhost,,ip,url&db=bsh&



Lioutas, E. D. and I. Tzimitra-Kalogianni. "'I Saw Santa Drinking Soda!' Advertising and Children's Food Preferences." Child: Care, Health & Development, vol. 41, no. 3, May 2015, pp. 424-433. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/cch.12189.


Watson, Bruce. "The Tricky Business of Advertising to Children." The Guardian.

Guardian News and Media, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.