The Power of Product Placement in Music Videos: “Pass the Courvoisier”

This is an article by Francesca Larkin.
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Product placement and its effect on the work we do as PRs is something that can often be overlooked as it is usually associated with marketing and advertising.

Music and advertising have been crossing paths for a long time, starting with driving his Chevy from Don McLean in “American Pie” to the song “Pass the Courvoisier” from Busta Rhymes. One of the reasons for this is that music performers depend on advertising money to support their career.

Quite often, the money artists receive from product placement will pay for the music video itself. The deal with advertising can help to reduce the ever-increasing cost of music video productions (usually more than 25% of the production costs can be paid with product placement deals). The most expensive music video ever made was Scream by Michael Jackson, which cost $7million; so you can see why they might need the extra cash.

But what does this mean for the PR industry?

Placing products in music videos have been increasing steadily. It was found that from 1979 to 1997 rap music with brand name mentions increased from 46% to 71%. This shows the phenomenon of placements in music videos is not new, however the effectiveness of the placement is still not clear. If musicians decide to include your product you can have very little control over its usage and this could have a positive or negative effect.

Essentially PR always comes down to achieving the same result but for very little money, usually by free gifts to influencers – i.e. Apple know they can easily gain coverage by offering Stephen Fry the latest gadget. In terms of music videos, brands could supply production companies with their products. For example, if you know Nelly is a fan of Nike (thinking of his Air Force One song) then Nike could use him as an “influencer” and send him free Nike branded products.

This could be very useful to PRs because it has been stated that the pairing of brands with characters may facilitate the transfer of evaluative meaning from artistes to embedded brands. Through music videos the artist is also subtly selling a lifestyle, not just the music.

In Jay-Z’s book, Decoded, he talks about how brands are quite dismissive of the fact that they have a connection with the hip-hop world. In one part he tells the story of a Cristal executive who, when asked by The Economist what he thought about Cristal Champagne’s relationship with hip-hop, said, “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.”

Jay-Z fights back in the book and says: “That was like a slap in the face … Why not just say thank you and keep it moving? You would think the person who runs the company would be most interested in selling his product, not in criticizing — or accepting criticisms of — the people buying it.” At the time, the hip-hop artist issued a statement saying that he would in no way support or promote Cristal ever again.

While this may not have had a detrimental effect on Cristal, as the majority of its consumers would probably not be reading Jay-Z’s book, Cristal needn’t have said what they did and could have avoided this negative reaction by just being pleased people are drinking their champagne at all.

This also reminds me of the association Burberry has had with the “chav culture” in the UK. The brands signature check being worn by footballers and chav’s has tarnished it’s reputation. They have since discontinued many lines including baseball caps. Elliot Moss, managing director of Leagas Delaney, which has several luxury brands on its client list, says: “The brand has been devalued dramatically recently because of the chav element. I would even go so far as to say Burberry is dead in the domestic luxury market.”

This poses some interesting questions for brands, such as what if brands like Cristal don’t want to be ‘dangerous?’, but also who should have control over a brand’s image anyway?

A bit gaga…

Music Videos are now cram packed with product placements. A recent example is Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s track ‘Telephone’. In this video alone there are nine separate plugs:

1:34: Heartbeats earphones.
2:06: Virgin Mobile.
2:17: Diet Coke.
4:15: Virgin Mobile (again).
4:24: HP Envy ‘Beats Limited Editon’ laptop from Monster.
4:28: Plenty Of Fish dating site.
4:44: Chevrolet.
5:37: Polaroid.
6:24: Wonderbread.
6:36: Miracle Whip.
8:31: Polaroid (again).

So when does product placement get “too much”? When does it cross the line and become “unethical”? Or, should it just continue to increase more and more?

Steven Sheiner, the Chief Revenue Officer of Vivendi-Universal, said at the 2002 Digital Media Summit that “Product placement is the ideal revenue model for digital media. Soon we’ll see the band in a music video wearing T-shirts adapted to each individual viewer, coded to audience wants, and linked to the ability to click and buy the CD, the video, and even the T-shirt… in a nutshell, what digitalisation means for product placement is that content producers can place anything, anywhere, all the time.”

But will it ever actually come to this? The reality is probably yes…

Recently, Doritos started an international campaign called Doritos Late Night which featured 3D “augmented reality” music by Professor Green and Rihanna. The “exclusive late night music” ties in to Doritos’ Late Night product range that offers “authentic late night flavours”. We can control the performance and move it around. However, it get on to this you have to buy a pack of Doritos for the code. It is so exclusive that the music videos do not even feature on YouTube, instead only short videos about how they made them with a few interviews from the artists and Doritos marketing managers.

It is interesting to note that Rihanna signed up for this as she has always been quoted in the press as stating that she hates product placements and will only do it for ‘political’ reasons. When the Director for Marketing of Doritos, Michael Fox, was asked why Rihanna was doing it he stated: “Who could we partner with that would make it absolutely huge? And what are the ways we can make it bigger, we just all got really excited about Rihanna. We couldn’t think of a better artist to do this one.”

In doing this, we cannot view Rihanna’s new video without buying a pack of Doritos first, do you think this is taking product placement too far? Or should all music videos be like this? Has it crossed that line? But I guess, none of these questions actually matter as what it all comes down to is – would you go buy a packet of Doritos to watch this video?


  1. Funny how I never “see” these product placements in videos until someone mentions them. Like in this article. Now I have to go back and watch Telephone to see what you’re talking about.

    If you don’t see it, then is it really doing any good? Or is it subliminal?

    Maybe the only good is in being able to talk about it later.

  2. I think it is inevitable that product placement will keep getting more and more extreme. However as PR practitioners to maintain transparency it is crucial for all brand to notify its audiences that it is product placement not the artists choice to feature these products.

    I tend to notice some product placements but i must admit some could be considered subliminal. There is definitely good in product placement, for example i bought my mac book air laptop because for years i had admired it through seeing it in almost 100% of films and music videos i watched.

    Think about it from now on how many times will you see Mac products or any for that matter in everyday television. Product placement is going to take over marketing and possibly advertising within the next 20 years.

  3. Dj Secret says:

    i need a propsal of a product placement because i want to do a music video of my song


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