When is a product placement too subtle?


I watched “Burn After Reading” the other day, and it was pretty entertaining. As the credits scrolled by, I noticed the usual list of companies who provided assistance or promotional consideration. One of these was a flooring manufacturer, which struck me as odd. But then I remembered that George Clooney’s character always mentioned people’s floors when he walked into their houses. In fact, I think he used the name of the sponsor in one of those scenes.

Fittingly, I can’t remember the name of the flooring company. Perhaps I’d be able to pick it out from a list, but only because I saw the name in the promotional credits. This is a great example of when a product placement is just too subtle to have any impact. Sure, it’s low-key and viewers are very unlikely to have any problem with it. But if nobody has any recollection of the product placement, why bother in the first place?

Striking a balance here is the key. In the case of the flooring company, maybe they could have Clooney’s character mention the company or product name twice during the story, rather than just once. Or, they could provide a visual cue shortly before or after he says the name. Maybe he could drive past a billboard on the way to the location, and that billboard could be digitally altered to feature the same product — without going overboard. There’s a fine line between a product placement that nobody notices because it’s too subtle, and one that annoys viewers by appearing in every other scene. Finding the right compromise can be tough, but it delivers significant benefits for sponsors and viewers alike.