The significance of Apple’s product placement

Thu, Oct 2, 2008

Analysis, Featured, News

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.

A macbook Pro making an appearance on "House"

A Macbook Pro making an appearance on "House"


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35 Comments For This Post

  1. Smirnov Says:

    If life starts portraying TV as apple intends does that mean I’ll hear strange background soundtrack when I make funny?

  2. Giacecco Says:

    Don’t forget the Macintosh in 1989’s Seinfeld apartment! That says it all about the commercials with Gates 20 years later…

  3. Dogfellatio Says:

    Fuck yeah I love Seinfeld

  4. Boofster Says:

    Certainly better than the old days when they blurred out brands intentionally. Makes things more believable to have an actor sip on a Coke than DrinkX.

  5. Cocheese Says:

    I was thinking that it is no coincidence that Apple and NBC bury the hatchet with NBC’s return to the iTunes store and all of a sudden Macs are showing up in all NBC’s shows. I’m sure Apple greased the wheels there.

  6. Chamitha Says:

    One thing apple does far better than others – Advertising.. All most all tv shows including Prison Break, HIMYM, etc.. and movies display MACs and they really does make a huge impact to boost the image of Apple.. May be it’s time for Mr.Bill to look in to new strategies to fight with Jobs..

  7. Scoffield Says:

    There are macs on Prison Break?

  8. Tom Says:

    Even “Chuck” has an iPhone and uses a MAC Pro

  9. krystal Says:

    they use iPods, a couple MacBook Pro’s and iPhones on One Tree Hill
    Rory from Gilmore Girls had a Mac
    so did Carrie Bradshaw on Sex & the City

    there are sooo many others as well

  10. raj Says:

    Maybe Apple products get prominent placement on TV and in movies simply because Apple puts so much work into making their products look nice. A piece of Apple equipment isn’t just a computer, music player, or phone. It’s a piece of art which is also functional. Most companies don’t put nearly as much work into making something artistic as well as functional.

  11. mdog Says:

    How about National Treasure 1 and 2, both featured the Black Macbook as a tech tool

  12. FL Says:

    Don’t forget about iPhones and Macbook Pro’s galore on One Tree Hill!

  13. Church Says:

    Apple has an easy job here, because creatives love Macs. This is partially aesthetic (as noted above, they look good both outside and in), partially historic (Macs were the earliest desktop publishing systems), and partially just inertia.

    My guess is that it is in about that order of importance. Spreading around a few goodies to the right people just keeps the pump primed.

  14. cmd Says:

    It is not necessarily product placement on Apple’s part, Film and TV companies have Macs about because thats what they use to make programmes and films, they edit video on them (along with some Linux for render farms) – that is what they are used to.

  15. web Says:

    Apple’s product placing on TV shows and movies makes it seem like it has 80%+ of the pc market, and not the ‘high as ever’ 8% it has right now. Sure Apple wishes for reality to mirror TV, so do I! That way, 80%+ of the female population would look awesome

  16. The Baldchemist Says:

    Have you noticed that Steve Jobs makes hamburgers also? Now that’s product placement!
    Big ones, nuggets, muffins Jesus he’s a genius. We even bought 2 Macbook pros recently and celebrated at Macs hambuger joint.
    Pity the software costs so much though.
    Have a great Xmas and New Year. The Baldchemist

  17. Johan Says:

    I don’t believe Apple actually paid for most if any product placement. The Office does a lot of unpaid product placement to make the show real, and Chuck is a nerd so obviously he’d have an iPhone.

    Besides, smart people just use Macs and that goes as much for characters as it does for writers and producers and other crew.

  18. James Says:

    The Office does a hell of a lot more Microsoft love than Mac. When they went on their convention trip Dwight and Michael were wearing MS Office shirts. The whole office is PC and the person in the picture above was an outsider that people didn’t like.

  19. The Man Says:

    James, what episode of the office was that?

  20. B Says:

    And dont forget the iPhone used by agent Dunham on Fringe

  21. Constable Odo Says:

    Aw, that ain’t right. I’d rather display some cheap, plasticy Acer netbook sitting on my desk. They’re the hottest tech appliance going right now. They really stand out from the crowd and show that I’m still feeling secure with a cheap product.

  22. Andrew Says:

    Actually the episode of the office featured above Michael is using the Macbook to make fun of the temporary receptionist.

  23. Kalais Says:

    What an awful, pointless article. I skim read it thinking I would learn how product placement was ‘Significant’ for Apple, or even about how apple approaches its product placement. What I was found was a 500 word Hollywood name drop – great KEYWORD placement Edible Apple.
    Suggested re-name: ‘Where you’ll see Apple product placement… Besides here.’ Bomb.

  24. Jim G Says:

    Going back a few years… Look at Jurassic Park. The whole island was controlled by Macs.

  25. Brian Says:

    I believe that MacBook Pros are featured on the TV show “Ghost Whisperer”, but the key symbol, the lighted Apple, is masked out. I guess the producers of that show don’t do anything for free.

  26. Brian Says:

    I believe that MacBook Pros are featured on the TV show “Ghost Whisperer”, but the key symbol, the lighted Apple, is masked out. I guess the producers of that show don’t do anything for free.

  27. Brian Says:

    Maybe the just don’t want something that already looks obsolete– like any PC on the market.

  28. redhawk Says:

    There are also iPhones which are been used on adverts like here in UK i think it was something about watching tv on your phone which was an iphone and also i think they use mac because they look good and dont leave a stupid mess like PCS do. where as an iMac is tidy and also looks good. where as a pc has cables all over the place and will look a mess.

  29. Anonymous Says:

    just as an interesting tid-bit, if any one takes the time to read Apples EULA they will find the option of free use of their product in media placement as long as the “Apple” logo is not masked in anyway. as an example for those Food TV fans, Iron Chef America (ICA) uses 2 “older” 30″ cinema displays with the logo prominently covered by the ICA logo. in more recent episodes after Apples ELUA update to include the “don’t cover our logo” clause, you can see MacBook Pros along side the 30″ displays with the white Apple logo blazingly on display while the Cinema Displays still remain covered. i find it interesting that you see this quite a bit when a Apple product is used for function, not just as a prop. i recall several shows with Apple laptops with circular stickers covering the logo, and now new episodes of the same shows now have all those Apple logos out in plain site. Now thats brilliant marketing!

  30. Steve W Says:

    There is also the historical factor. When the Mac was first introduced, Apple developed a way to synchronize an Apple monitor with a movie or television camera. This allowed an Apple or Macintosh display to be filmed without the annoying bars that appear when non-Apple computer screens are filmed.

    This made the Macintosh the first choice when a film-maker wanted to display content on the screen, and not just the computer.

    This was before Windows 3.0, when most PC users ran DOS. Macs displayed more visually interesting content than DOS in those days.

    Then there is the issue of what happens to the computer after the film-making is done. The legend of the creation of the World Wide Web is that Tim Berners-Lee was looking for a project that he could use to justify the purchase of a Next Computer system. I wouldn’t be surprised if some film-makers added Macs to their shows just so they could justify the purchase of a Mac.

  31. Ted Landry Says:

    One overlooked reason why there are so many macs on TV, Movies, etc… is the “scripts” are kept on these machines for reference for the actors.

    as for placement, Apple used to maintain a fairly strict “no payment” for placement policy, and i bet it’s still in affect. but what apple DOES do is “lend” these macs to producers of tv / movies with the agreement that they don’t have to be returned 🙂

  32. steve humann Says:

    I’ve put lots of macs as well as a lot of pcs on TV/movie sets and it’s actually a bit weirder of a process than has been explained here so far. And it’s changed drastically over the years. Television in particular had its own set of rules in the old network days. Brands were never allowed to be seen, as that was part of the deal with the network’s advertisers. I think this was in addition to deals that were made about how ads were placed up against each other. For example the networks wouldn’t run a Budweiser commercial followed immediately by a Coors commercial. For the set dressing department this led to a lot of bizarre-looking “greeked” products being made and paid for, I believe, by the brands they were designed to look like. On 3-camera sitcoms we’d have Miller-looking cans of beer that would say “Midder’s” or something. All that has changed with the advent of cable networks not having those same deals with their advertisers.

    For making movies, there have been several companies in the LA area for years who specialize in product placement. They get products from a wide range of manufacturers, loan them to set decorators and propmasters and hope for their clients logo to end up in the final cut. They frequently replace the products original logo with a larger sticker to increase the chance of it being seen. This often backfires as the director or someone will spot it and have the sticker removed or covered up. Which is the other form of greeking; simply covering up any logo not approved by the production company’s legal department. As has been mentioned by several people, this sort of product placement has a built-in pay-to-play feature where those who go shopping there understand that they can keep the beer and maybe get the laptop for half-price or free as well.

    The complexities of what goes into the shot are based not only on the production’s chain-of-command and legal department but also the brand owner’s desire to have their product shown in a positive light. Nobody wants to see their product being used by a child-molester character for example. Or you wouldn’t want somebody getting a scripted DUI with your brand of vodka. Most big movies these days have a specific “clearance” person working to make sure that everything (from logos to artwork) shown is cleared with its owners beforehand. TV shows often have a subset of their network’s legal department who do this.

  33. luvs.steve.carell Says:

    OMG! I was searching for something for a project, then I saw this link with two words that made me click the link…”The Office”. I love love love Steve Carell. I also thought that it was cool that Apple appeared on so many of these shows. This website told me a lot about what I need for my final project before school ends. Thank You!

  34. Philip Wing Says:

    Apple has on occasion paid for placement. Biggest one was the movie “Independence Day” where they did co-marketing on the “Power to Save the World”…

    In “Star Trek: Save the Whales” 🙂 (the fourth one), James Doohan uses a Mac representing ancient computers, attempting to use the mouse as a microphone… 🙂

    Weirdest placement (and part of why the blog is called Shrimp Boat) is Forrest Gump’s investment in the company.

  35. office episodes Says:

    The office convention trip episodes is a two-parter with a lot of PC love.
    In their office they focus on macs thought.

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