What Is Product Placement? - Definition, History & Examples

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

If you've ever watched a movie or seen a television show, you have almost certainly been exposed to product placement. In this lesson, you'll learn what product placement is, explore a little bit of its history and be provided some historical examples.


Product placement is a form of advertising where a business will pay to have its product prominently displayed in a piece of art. Product placement is most prevalent today in movies or television shows. It is a rather indirect form of advertising because the product isn't being expressly pitched for sale. A simple example of product placement is an actor taking a satisfying drink of a soda with the label clearly readable.


The history of product placement is a very long one. The idea of intermingling commercial matters into public art can be traced back to the Roman Empire. Archaeologists have found crude outlines of warriors among texts about gladiatorial fighting. In 18th-century Japan, Santo Kyoden, a famous comic novelette author, would insert information about his tobacco shop and his other comics. Before the Civil War, an entertainer by the name of Dan Rice would go around singing with the inclusion of the names of some local hotels and restaurants. Even Charles Dickens' novel The Pickwick Papers can be considered an example of product placement since Pickwick was a carriage line at the time.

Of course, the golden age of product placement arrived with the advent of cinema. While not the first filmmaker to capitalize upon product placement, one person who really turned it into a business was none other than Thomas Edison. He used product placement both as a means of reducing the cost of his filming and a means to promote services for customers of his industrial businesses. By the 1950s and 1960s, product placement had become cemented into the film industry.

Perhaps one of the most famous product placements in the history of film is the candy Reese's Pieces and the film E.T. One famous scene involves the cute little alien following a trail of Reese's Pieces. This product placement allegedly tripled sales of Reese's Pieces for a while.

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