Anyone who caught the season premieres of “The Office” and “Heroes” on NBC might have noticed the conspicuous product placement of Apple products. On “The Office”, Jim and Pam video-chatted on a MacBook Pro, while on “Heroes”, Hiro Nakamura and his dad both had offices equipped with new iMacs perched on top of their desks.
Apple isn’t just focusing its product placement on a few of NBC’s biggest hit shows, but rather has a long history of prominent product placement on some of TV’s most popular shows. Apple products have shown up on “House”, “24”, “CSI NY”, and “Entourage” just to name a few.
As services like DVR become more prevalent, consumers are watching fewer and fewer commercials, and product placement is becoming increasingly more significant. It doesn’t matter how funny or creative a commercial is if people are fast forwarding through them. So how does Apple get its products onto some of todays most popular shows? The process isn’t entirely clear, but Apple has repeatedly stated that it doesn’t pay for product placement. The obvious answer is that Apple gives its products away for use in certain productions.
In addition, Apple was one of the first companies to actually hire someone in Hollywood whose job was to get as many eyeballs on Apple products as possible. The strategic placement of consumer products on TV shows and in movies is quite common now, but it’s something Apple has been working at and refining for quite some time. While most product placements typically involve seeing a product in the background, or having a character specifically mention a brand name mid-sentence, Apple products sometimes take center stage in the actual plots of certain TV shows. For example, in an episode of “The Office” where the staff exchange Christmas presents, Michael buys a Video iPod for Ryan the intern. The iPod soon becomes the sought after gift as the staff begins trading gifts with each other. On an episode of Family Guy, Stewie does his own version of a silhouetted iPod commercial, and on an episode of Entourage, one of the major plots in an episode involved Turtle and Johnny Drama hanging out at an Apple Store.
Apple is, and has been, so successful at product placement that during a 4 month period in 2006, The Hollywood Reporter noted that “Apple iPods, Macs and other products have been featured 250 times on 38 different network primetime shows, including such hits as “CSI: NY” and “The O.C.,” for a total of 26 minutes of exposure”. Make that 26 minutes of free exposure.
Apple’s product placement isn’t limited to Television as it also has an impressive resume of product placement in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters such as Independence Day, Zoolander, and Mission Impossible, though Tom Cruise using an Apple product might have a negative impact these days. But Apple isn’t alone. Product placement is essentially its own business in Hollywood these days, and one of the more popular trends in advertising. Though Apple doesn’t pay for its product placement, a lot of other companies do, and some TV shows make a significant amount of money from it. The major networks alone display hundreds of thousands of product placements a year, and take in billions of dollars as a result. Cable networks are also getting in on the action as product placement is featured prominently on cable shows such as MTV’s “Real World/ Road Rules challenge”, and Spike TV’s “The Ultimate Fighter”. The fact that Apple is able to achieve such widespread product placement free of charge is an advertisers dream come true. Apple certainly isn’t the only company who gets free product placement. But when you consider the quality and number of shows that feature Apple products, and feature them prominently, it becomes clear that Apple is playing the product placement game extremely well. Apple isn’t the only one benefitting, though. Product placement is a two way street and is often the result of a mutually beneficial agreement where a show offers to show a product in return for getting that product for free.
But are product placements even effective? Not always, but when done right, they’re extremely effective and can even become well-known pop culture references. Think back to the DeLorean in “Back to the Future”, Reese’s Pieces in “E.T.”, Subway in “Happy Gilmore”, Junior Mints on “Seinfeld”, and more recently, Sarah Jessica Parker’s ubiquitous Apple laptop on Sex and the City. When done right, product placement can have an immediate impact. The makers of Red Stripe Beer, for example, noted that their U.S sales increased by more than 50% just a few weeks after being prominently displayed in the 1993 movie “The Firm”.
So what is the key to Apple’s success? Maybe people in Hollywood tend to be more mac-centric, or maybe Apple is more intertwined with Hollywood due to its iTunes store which sells an enormous amount of Hollwood content. As a result, Apple already has numerous channels of communication open with Hollywood’s biggest companies. It also can’t hurt that Steve Jobs is on the board of directors at Walt Disney Co. – which recently had a hit with “Wall-E”, another movie rife with Apple references. The most likely explanation, however, is simply that Apple works hard at product placement, and is benefited by the fact that its products are more easily recognizable than those of other companies. As the product placement business continues to grow, expect to see Apple products to pop up in the most unexpected of places.