When James Bond shows off his Omega: does product placement

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When James Bond shows off his
Omega: does product placement
affect its media host?
Andre Marchand and Thorsten Hennig-Thurau
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University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany, and
Received 4 September 2013
Revised 6 September 2014
1 April 2015
Accepted 11 April 2015
Sabine Best
Bauhaus-University Weimar, Weimar, Germany
Purpose – This paper aims to contribute to the marketing literature and practice by examining the
effect of product placements on the host brand. The declining effectiveness of traditional advertising
has prompted increasing interest in strategies for placing products in media programming. Most
existing research adopt the perspective of the brands embedded in media products, with limited
attention to the impact that product placement has on the media product that serves as a host brand for
the embedded brands. The authors investigate this effect in the context of motion pictures and develop
a theory-driven conceptual model.
Design/methodology/approach – The authors test their hypotheses with two experiments in which
randomly assigned participants view one of seven versions of a custom-made, seven-minute short film
that differ in their level of placement prominence.
Findings – The results from a mediation analysis indicate that, after controlling for audiences’
general attitudes toward the embedded brand, greater placement prominence heightens
consumers’ reactance to persuasion attempts and negatively affects their evaluations of the host
brand. A post hoc experiment confirms that even very low levels of placement prominence can
worsen host brand evaluations.
Originality/value – This research is among the first to investigate the effects of product placement
from a host brand perspective. It issues a warning to producers of entertainment content: a product
placement strategy may generate additional earnings, but it also can lower audiences’ evaluations of the
focal entertainment product.
Keywords Advertising, Product placement, Reactance, Persuasion knowledge model
Paper type Research paper
Casino Royale is, arguably, the best Bond movie since 1969 […]. Shame, then, that the
moviemakers had to go and spoil it all by sticking a gratuitously clunky bit of product
placement in the middle of the proceedings: a line of “dialogue”, which is so screamingly
obvious […] that it a) insults the audience’s intelligence and b) ruins the scene. Apologies if
your eyes start bleeding as you read on – but it goes like this:
Vesper: MI6 looks for maladjusted young men who give little thought to sacrificing others
in order to protect Queen and country. You know: former SAS types with easy smiles and
expensive watches. Rolex?
European Journal of Marketing
Vol. 49 No. 9/10, 2015
pp. 1666-1685
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/EJM-09-2013-0474
The authors thank the Frauenförderfonds at Bauhaus-University Weimar; the cast and the crew
of the movie team in Weimar; and Anja Kalch, Dorothee C. Meier, Björn Bohnenkamp, Mark B.
Houston, Jutta Emes and Paul Marx for their various supports for this project.
Bond: “Omega.”
Vesper: “Beautiful.”
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[There is] a “special place in Hell” for this bit of Casino Royale (Greenway, 2011).
When James Bond shows off his Omega watch or new BMW car, Spider-Man aims at a
can of Dr Pepper in his first attempts to spin a web or Marty McFly is stunned by
lace-free Nike shoes when visiting the future, audience members may recognize they are
confronting product placements. Product placement (also known as brand placement,
brand integration or in-program sponsoring) refers to the inclusion of branded products
(Russell, 2002) or identifiers (Karrh, 1998) in media programming, in return for money
(Gupta and Gould, 1997). Media programming encompasses a growing variety of
entertainment products, such as movies, television shows, webisodes, Broadway
musicals, professional sports, radio programs, music videos, novels, magazines, comic
strips and computer and video games, as well as non-entertainment products, such as
news, blogs, non-fiction books, mobile apps and general online content (Williams et al.,
2011). Product placements aim to influence media audiences (Balasubramanian, 1994),
but without an explicit promotion (D’Astous and Chartier, 2000), such that they are
presented as an inescapable part of the dramatic entertainment (Hackley and Tiwsakul,
This strategy continues to attract interest among marketers and marketing scholars.
The market for paid product placements grew to $3.6 billion in 2009 and is projected to
rise to $6.1 billion by 2014 (PQ Media, 2010). Brand managers value product placement
as a cost-effective and precise method to target specific, presegmented audiences
unobtrusively (Karrh et al., 2003; McKechnie and Zhou, 2003), particularly in the face of
growing consumer resistance to traditional advertising (Keller, 2001) and audiences’
limited ability to avoid exposure to product placements (De Gregorio and Sung, 2010).
Most scholars focus on the effects of product placement for the embedded product,
noting the potential positive effects (Wiles and Danielova, 2009) and the importance of
contingency factors (Cowley and Barron, 2008).
For members of the growing (often media-related) industry that hosts product
placements, findings that focus on the embedded brand often are not relevant; their
interest instead is in how customers evaluate and consume their host brand. Few
researchers have addressed the impact of product placements on the host brand though
(i.e. the program in which the product is placed). Considering the multibillion dollar
revenues generated by movies and other entertainment products that embrace product
placement (MPAA, 2013; The Economist, 2011), as well as their individual production
costs of up to $300 million (The Numbers, 2012), we seek to address this relevant
research gap.
In particular, whereas extant research stresses placement as an important source of
financing that also can enhance a film’s realism (DeLorme and Reid, 1999), we argue that
it may have negative effects on the host brands, due to placement reactance. Negative
audience responses (Karniouchina et al., 2011; Wei et al., 2008) constitute a financial risk,
which entertainment managers must balance against the potential economic
advantages of allowing product placements. To the best of our knowledge, this study is
Does product
affect its
media host
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the first to provide a rigorous empirical examination of the potential effects of
placements on reactance to and evaluations of the host brand.
Drawing from reactance theory (Brehm, 1966) and the persuasion knowledge model
(Friestad and Wright, 1994), we develop a conceptual model and derive a set of
hypotheses regarding the effects of product placements, as persuasive attempts, on
consumers’ evaluations of host brands. To identify the persuasive attempts and clarify
consumers’ responses, we investigate consumer reactance against product placements
in media programs, then empirically test for its consequences on evaluations of the host
brand, using an experimental design that involves multiple versions of a seven-minute,
professional short film created exclusively for this research. With a mediation analysis
(Preacher and Hayes, 2004, 2008), we find that placement prominence negatively affects
consumers’ assessments of the host brand (i.e. the short film), through placement
reactance. We specify this effect with a second experiment and find that even minimal
placement conditions can lower host brand evaluations. We accordingly discuss these
results and their implications for producers of entertainment products.
Embedded and host brand perspectives
The embedded brand perspective
Many product placement scholars adopt the perspective of the embedded brand and
investigate the effects its placement has on this brand. Wiles and Danielova (2009)
suggest that placements in successful media products relate positively to brand equity
and enhance the firm’s market value through consumer attitude changes. Other scholars
note some contingency factors though, stressing the degree of formal integration
elements, such as modality (e.g. visual and auditory; Gupta and Lord, 1998),
manifestness (D’Astous and Chartier, 2000) and the degree of plot connection (Russell,
2002). Although consumers generally prefer product placements to commercial
advertising (Nebenzahl and Secunda, 1993), audience reactions are not always positive.
Specifically, brands presented excessively (DeLorme and Reid, 1999), prominently
(Cowley and Barron, 2008; Van Reijmersdal, 2009), or incongruently (Russell, 2002)
prompt less positive (and sometimes even negative) effects, because audiences recognize
the promotional intent behind the placements (D’Astous and Séguin, 1999; DeLorme and
Reid, 1999). Other studies examine the influence of various placement and audience
characteristics on awareness and evaluations of the embedded brand (Bressoud et al.,
2010; Romaniuk, 2009). For comprehensive overviews of studies that take the embedded
brand perspective, see Karniouchina et al. (2011), Van Reijmersdal et al. (2009), and
Williams et al. (2011).
The host brand perspective
The host brand perspective on product placements has received far less attention from
scholars. Producers of entertainment content have embraced product placement, for the
obvious financial benefits it offers; product placements represent an important source of
financing, in the form of monetary payments, barter arrangements and promotional
tie-ins (Russell and Belch, 2005). Some moviemakers also have aesthetic motives for
integrating real products into films. Embedded brand props can enhance the realistic
story by creating authentic settings and perhaps increase viewers’ evaluations of the
host media’s quality, according to DeLorme and Reid’s (1999) focus group and depth
interview findings[1].
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However, product placement can also exert negative effects on the host brand. In a
study mainly addressing embedded, brand-related effects, Wei et al. (2008) suggest that
product placement has the potential to lower evaluations of the host brand. Their
specific setting prevents generalization though, in that these authors study a college
radio station, unassociated with commercial interests and they activate consumers’
persuasion knowledge by priming them, prior to their consumption, with the
information that a brand had paid to be included in a radio show. Homer (2009) focuses
on attitudes toward embedded brands in a study of an existing, well-known television
series, from which verbal mentions of a brand were deleted, and posits that a high level
of repetition might negatively affect attitudes toward the host brand, compared with a
medium level of repetition. Balasubramanian et al. (2006, p. 116) criticize this approach
though because “the use of preexisting stimuli diminishes experimental control by
introducing noise,” and they instead recommend Russell’s (2002) theater methodology,
which “uses full-length stimuli that are amenable to experimental manipulation and
natural experimental settings”. In addition, Homer’s study does not account for possible
control and mediation effects, does not remove brand information completely, creates
artificial pauses through the editing process and provides only limited information
value by comparing mean values without simple slope analyses.
In their study of embedded brand effects, Karniouchina et al. (2011) thus stress the
need for more detailed research into the impact of product placements on movies that
serve as hosts, after reflecting on findings that too much advertising can have a negative
impact on newspaper circulation (Ha and Litman, 1997). That is, even though scholars
have identified the importance of this issue, we know little about the potential negative
effects of product placements on host brands.
Does product
affect its
media host
Model and hypotheses
Figure 1 illustrates our conceptual model. We argue that the prominence of brand
placements in a movie (i.e. placement prominence) negatively affects consumers’
assessments of the host brand. This relationship also should be mediated by placement
reactance, which is a motivational state the consumer enters to combat perceived
persuasion attempts. In line with Brehm’s (1966) reactance theory, we predict that high
placement prominence leads to reactance, which then produces negative assessments of
Figure 1.
Conceptual model
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the host brand. The consumer’s general attitude toward the embedded brand is included
as a control variable for the placement reactance and for the host brand evaluation.
Placement– host brand link
The persuasion knowledge model by Friestad and Wright (1994) can explain how
consumers interpret and respond to product placements because it suggests that
consumers continually develop and refine their knowledge about marketers’ goals, the
purposes of marketing tactics, and the persuasion process itself. After being subjected to
and consciously perceiving marketing efforts for an extended period of time, people
learn “to recognize, analyze, interpret, evaluate and remember persuasion attempts”
(Friestad and Wright, 1994, p. 3). Thus, whether consumers recognize a persuasion
attempt, in the form of a product placement, depends on their knowledge about that
placement. Consumers do not necessarily expect persuasive communication in their
entertainment media (Balasubramanian, 1994), so knowledge of marketers’ tactics
gained through media socialization should help them identify product placements as
persuasion attempts (Matthes et al., 2007). In addition, consumers’ awareness of
persuasion attempts depends on the placement and its characteristics (Cowley and
Barron, 2008).
An important and frequently researched characteristic of product placements is
prominence. However, placement prominence often appears mixed with placement
modality (i.e. the senses activated by the stimulus), and no consistent definition exists
for placement prominence (Chan, 2012; Dens et al., 2013). Gupta and Lord (1998, p. 48)
define placement prominence generally as “the extent to which the product placement
possesses characteristics designed to make it a central focus of audience attention”.
They distinguish between prominent and subtle placements and explain that prominent
placements are “highly visible by virtue of size and/or position on the screen or its
centrality to the action in the scene” (Gupta and Lord, 1998, p. 49). Law and Braun (2000)
add the product’s centrality to the plot; La Ferle and Edwards (2006) suggest including
its central location on the screen and the number of visible same-branded products.
Other researchers instead operationalize placement prominence as the duration of a
placement on the screen (Cowley and Barron, 2008; D’Astous and Chartier, 2000;
Matthes et al., 2007).
Russell (1998) categorizes placements, and thereby their prominence factors, into
three dimensions: visual (appearance of the brand on screen), auditory (verbal mention
of the brand) and plot connection (integration of the brand into the story). Studies that
adopt this categorization cite higher prominence if the brand is simultaneously shown
and mentioned (Avery and Ferraro, 2000; Homer, 2009). Similarly, Brennan et al. (1999)
differentiate between more prominently “on-set” placements that are consumed or
mentioned by a leading actor and less prominently “creative” placements that appear in
the background of a scene. Many researchers use a count of the number of visual
appearances and/or mentions to measure placement prominence (Cowley and Barron,
2008; D’Astous and Chartier, 2000; Lehu and Bressoud, 2009; Van Reijmersdal, 2009).
Across these various operationalizations, the frequency of visual appearances and
mentions of the embedded brand in a movie constitute central determinants of
prominence; more appearances and mentions imply higher prominence (Cowley and
Barron, 2008; D’Astous and Chartier, 2000; Dens et al., 2013; Lehu and Bressoud, 2009;
Van Reijmersdal, 2009). For the embedded brand, placement prominence leads to higher
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recognition (Law and Braun, 2000) and recall (Gupta and Lord, 1998; Lehu and
Bressoud, 2009), which likely influence attitudes toward this embedded brand (Dens
et al., 2013; Homer, 2009; Matthes et al., 2007). For the host brand, we argue that
placement prominence also strongly influences consumers’ perceptions and reactions,
such that they perceive product placements more readily as persuasion attempts and
activate their persuasion knowledge when the placements are more prominent. Highly
prominent brands should stimulate cognitive processes that let consumers recognize the
agent’s action as strategic. The resulting change of meaning (Friestad and Wright, 1994)
likely induces a perception of the placement as intrusive (Balasubramanian et al., 2006).
Consumers consider the placement an unwelcome distraction from the entertainment
program they intend to consume and in which they have invested time and usually
monetary resources (e.g. ticket price, rental fee, purchase price). Thus, they may seek to
escape ongoing interactions with the placement, which is difficult without abandoning
the hedonic experience. Because the placement has the potential to impair consumers’
level of pleasure (i.e. the standard motive for hedonic consumption; Alba and Williams,
2013), it can result in a less positive evaluation of the host product (movie). We expect
that placement prominence reduces the attractiveness of a movie that contains the
placement and hypothesize:
H1. Higher product placement prominence decreases consumers’ host brand
Yet the activation of persuasion knowledge does not always produce negative
consequences for the host brand. As Kirmani and Campbell (2004) suggest, consumers
may respond positively to marketers if doing so helps them attain their own
marketplace goals. However, most research notes detrimental effects of the activation of
persuasion knowledge because consumers are more aware of the agent trying to
influence them (Brown and Krishna, 2004; Campbell and Kirmani, 2000). When
consumers perceive strong influence attempts that also would narrow their choice
alternatives, they may exhibit reactance, which in turn could mediate the placement–
host brand evaluation link.
Reactance theory postulates that people react to attempts to influence them because
they experience those attempts as threats to their personal freedom (Brehm, 1966).
Persuasion, regulations and restrictions all have the potential to be perceived as threats,
such that consumers experience an uncomfortable state of psychological reactance,
which motivates them to reassert their threatened freedom. According to Brehm (1966),
reactance varies with the perceived strength of threats and the importance the person
places on freedom of choice. It does not arise if the person perceives the persuasion
attempt as fair or warranted.
Several marketing measures tend to trigger reactance, such as product unavailability
(Fitzsimons, 2000), unsolicited recommendations (Fitzsimons and Lehmann, 2004),
loyalty programs (Wendlandt and Schrader, 2007) and promotional activities (Kivetz,
2005). Because of their limited ability to avoid exposure to persuasion attempts during
an entertainment experience, audiences might regard product placements as a threat to
their freedom as well. Their amount of reactance likely varies with placement
prominence; consumers might “forgive” the host brand for a low level of placement
prominence, but a high level increases the threat of restrictions on their choices.
Reactance experienced as a result of high placement prominence then should motivate
Does product
affect its
media host
the audience “to move in the direction opposite from the influence effort” (Clee and
Wicklund, 1980, p. 390). Specifically, in striving to reassert their freedom, consumers
likely change their attitudes toward the source (Algesheimer et al., 2005). If they hold the
producer of the host product responsible for its artistic presentation and thus for the
threat to their perceived freedom (Clee and Wicklund, 1980), their attribution process
should lead to negative evaluations of the host brand. We predict that consumer
reactance mediates the effect of placement prominence on consumers’ evaluations of the
host brand and hypothesize:
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H2. The influence of product placement prominence on consumers’ host brand
evaluations is mediated by consumer reactance to the placement.
Experimental hypotheses tests (Study 1)
Research design and short film
We conducted an experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to watch
one of three versions of a fictional, short film. In line with theater methodology (Russell,
2002), the film was created specifically for this study. With a runtime of seven minutes,
the film told the story of a young woman who woke up one morning, wondering about
love, her life and her career, and finally found a man who encouraged her to start making
decisions about her future. The film was produced in a medium-sized city in Germany.
It was a scene-by-scene remake of an existing short film that had been successfully
shown at festivals but not aired on television or released on BD/DVD or in theaters, so it
was unknown to the participants. The film’s tone was amusing and ironic. The 2 main
characters, 12 supporting actors, 2 writers, 1 cinematographer, 2 post-production
specialists and 2 technical assistants produced the professional film; the third author of
this manuscript directed the film.
We edited three versions of the short film with an identical cast and story; the
versions differed only in their product placement prominence. We operationalized
placement prominence as the number of audiovisual product placements during the
film, which constitutes a main determinant of prominence in prior research. The other
possible dimensions of placement prominence – such as plot connection, placement
centrality, placement duration and placement size – remained constant. Because the film
was exclusively created for this research, we could completely vary the brand
placements. The first version contained no brand placements (no placement
prominence), whereas two other versions integrated the soft drink brand Lift, which is
made by Coca-Cola and is very popular in Germany. In line with past research (Brennan
and Babin, 2004; Tsai et al., 2007), we expect participants to exhibit high recognition
levels because of the strong brand familiarity of the placed product.
In both these versions, the actors mentioned the brand, which also was visually
displayed with each mention. The verbal component was embedded logically as an
everyday object in the movie’s dialogue but with minimal contribution to the narrative
structure (no placement version: “Can I have a sip of your apple juice, please?”;
placement versions: “Can I have a sip of your [brand], please?”). The second version
contained 6 visual and verbal appearances of the brand (medium placement
prominence), and the third version contained 12 visual and verbal appearances (high
placement prominence). Figure 2 shows three still pictures from two film scenes and the
inserted placements for each condition.
Does product
affect its
media host
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Figure 2.
Stills from short
films used as
experimental stimuli
Before watching the film, we told the participants a cover story, namely, that they were
participating in a screening of a short film, which the producers were planning to submit
to a local film festival. Each participant watched the movie alone on a personal
computer. No indications of the research focus on product placements were provided.
We conducted two pretests with 21 persons in total. The qualitative pretest involved ten
consumers from this group and served to assess the adequacy of the study design and
the experimental manipulations. The pretest participants watched one of three early
versions of the film and discussed the following requirements with our research team:
the genre should not be polarizing (e.g. erotic, horror), the film character should seem
neutral and the film should not be evaluated poorly. Furthermore, we ensured that the
embedded brand was ethically inoffensive, well known and clearly identifiable. We
found no indications that the participants assigned the integrated brand an important
role in terms of its relevance to the story, and nor was it incongruently included, though
perceptions of the placement prominence differed across the three groups. With this
pretest, we assured that the placements had not been perceived as unrealistic or
inappropriate. Following Russell (2002), we also confirmed that the brand was naturally
integrated into the plot. This qualitative pretest also revealed that the three film versions
differed in the perceived value of placement prominence but not on other dimensions,
such as continuity, excitement or entertainment value. Differences in the perceptions of
the brand’s role and relevance to the story across the three films also could not be
verified. During this first pretest, we further optimized the films. Then we conducted a
quantitative pretest with a standardized questionnaire involving all 21 consumers. An
initial manipulation check tested whether the participants recognized the placed brand
in the films with medium and high placement prominence. None of the 5 participants
from the control group recognized the placed brand, but all 16 participants from the two
other groups recognized it unaided, without exception. After the second pretest, we did
not modify the films any further.
We recruited participants though announcements posted on Web sites and social
networks, e-mails, and personal communication with snowball sampling to obtain a
broad, random selection of participants. These communications avoided indicating any
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information about the real intention of the study, so participants should believe that they
were evaluating a film festival candidate. To increase the authenticity of the
experimental context, we created a movie poster to show to participants at the beginning
of the experiment. As an incentive, participants could win one of several current movies
on DVD. All participants watched one of the three film versions in its entirety. After
eliminating incomplete surveys, we obtained 203 responses: 41 (20 per cent) from the no,
78 (38 per cent) from the medium and 84 (41 per cent) from the high placement
prominence conditions[2]. Among the participants, 104 (51 per cent) were women; 112
(55 per cent) had earned a college degree and 75 (37 per cent) had high school degrees.
Their ages ranged from 16 to 63 years, with an average of 27 years.
Questionnaire and measures
All participants filled out a questionnaire after watching one of the three film versions,
to which they had been randomly assigned. The very first question measured their
perceptions of movie quality (host brand evaluation), using a single, ten-point item (0 ⫽
“very bad” to 10 ⫽ “excellent”), in line with a common measure of consumer-perceived
movie quality on popular movie Web sites such as the Internet Movie Database
(IMDb.com), as well as in prior academic research (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2012). Because
we placed the dependent variable first, it could not be influenced by any subsequent
questions, so it represents respondents’ unbiased host brand evaluations. On three
subsequent pages of the questionnaire, we asked the participants questions about the
film, to maintain the illusion that we wanted them to evaluate the film for a film festival
(e.g. performance of the actors, title, story, picture composition, genre and improvement
suggestions). To measure unaided recall, the question on the next page asked whether
they noticed any branded products during the movie. On the following page, we
measured aided recall by displaying a list of twelve brands and asking participants to
mark which ones they had noticed during the movie. Next, we measured consumer
reactance using five items (1-7 agreement scale, higher values indicate higher
agreement; Hong and Faedda, 1996), followed by a question about how often the specific
soft drink brand was mentioned during the film. On the penultimate page, we captured
the general attitude toward the embedded placement with two items from Sengupta and
Johar (2002), again on a seven-point agreement scale. Finally, we gathered demographic
information. Respondents could not turn back to previous pages while completing the
questionnaire. All items were translated into German, using a back-translation
approach to ensure conceptual equivalence. We report the items in Table I.
Preliminary analyses
We conducted three manipulation checks (labeled as A, B and C). First, we asked
participants a binary question: “Did you notice any branded products during the
movie?” In the no placement group, 39 per cent of respondents answered yes, whereas in
the medium and high placement groups, 100 per cent of the respondents affirmed that
they had. A chi-square test revealed a significant difference in the distribution of
answers (␹2(A) ⫽ 112.65, p ⬍ 0.01). Second, on a separate page of the questionnaire, we
asked whether participants had noticed the specific soft drink brand in the movie (again
using binary response categories). The differences again were significant across groups
(␹2(B) ⫽ 175.37, p ⬍ 0.01): 0 per cent responded that they had in the no, 97.43 per cent in
the medium and 96.43 per cent in the high placement group. Third, we asked how often
I consider the allusion to [brand] in the movie to
be an intrusion
I resist the attempts of the movie to influence me
It makes me angry that the people in the movie
are presented as if you should drink as much of
[brand] as they do
Because the movie presents [brand]
permanently, I feel like doing the opposite by
ignoring it in future
I nearly stopped watching the movie because of
[brand’s] permanent mention and presentation
My opinion of [brand] is very favorable
I refuse [brand] generally
Please rate the movie you have seen from 1
(“very bad”) to 10 (“excellent”)
Did you notice any branded products during the
You see a list of twelve brands. Which one have
you noticed during the movie?
How often was the soft drink brand Lift
mentioned during the movie?
Placement reactance
Notes: n.a. ⫽ not applicable; AVE ⫽ average variance extracted
Manipulation check C
Manipulation check B
Manipulation check A
Embedded brand
Host brand evaluation
Scale items
For each brand: 0 (“not
noticed”) or 1 (“noticed”)
Open-end numeral field
0 (“no”) or 1 (“yes”)
1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7
(“strongly agree”)
1 (“very bad”) to 10 (“excellent”)
1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7
(“strongly agree”)
Answer scale
0.72 (0.78)
0.89 (0.70)
Cronbach’s ␣
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Sengupta and Johar,
et al., 2012
Hong and Faedda,
Adapted from
Does product
affect its
media host
Table I.
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the specific brand was mentioned and obtained mean values of Mno ⫽ 0.00, Mmedium ⫽
9.62, and Mhigh ⫽ 14.46, with significant differences across them (␹2(B) ⫽ 237.72, p ⬍
0.01) and between each pair of placement conditions (no/medium F(1, 117) ⫽ 107.65, p ⬍
0.001, ␩2 ⫽ 0.48; no/high F(1, 123) ⫽ 123.59, p ⬍ 0.001, ␩2 ⫽ 0.50; medium/high F(1,
160) ⫽ 18.03, p ⬍ 0.001, ␩2 ⫽ 0.10). Thus, the placement manipulation was successful. In
terms of scale reliability, the Cronbach’s ␣ values were 0.89 (average variance
extracted ⫽ 0.70) for the placement reactance scale and 0.72 (0.78) for embedded brand
attitude. As Table II shows, the correlation coefficients had the expected signs.
We first compared the mean values of placement prominence and host brand evaluation
with ANOVA. As Figure 3 shows, greater placement prominence (M ⫽ 7.27, SD ⫽ 4.55)
Placement prominence
Placement reactance
Embedded brand attitude
Host brand evaluation
Table II.
Descriptive statistics
and correlations
Note: * Significant at p ⬍ 0.01 (two-sided)
Figure 3.
Effects of placement
prominence on mean
host brand
evaluation and mean
placement reactance
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occurred together with decreased host brand evaluations (M ⫽ 5.05, SD ⫽ 2.19). For host
brand evaluations, we found significant differences between no and medium placement
prominence (hostno ⫽ 5.88, hostmedium ⫽ 5.05; F(1, 117) ⫽ 3.82, p ⬍ 0.05, ␩2 ⫽ 0.03) but not
between medium and high placement prominence (hostmedium ⫽ 5.05, hosthigh ⫽ 4.65;
F(1, 160) ⫽ 1.38, p ⫽ 0.24, ␩2 ⫽ 0.01). Across all three levels, placement prominence
decreased host brand evaluations (p ⬍ 0.01, two-sided), in support of H1.
Next, we estimated a mediation model using the Preacher–Hayes procedure
“process” for SPSS (Hayes, 2014), which addresses mediating relations more adequately
than Baron and Kenny’s (1986) method (Zhao et al., 2010). Placement prominence served
as the independent variable, with host brand evaluation as the dependent variable and
placement reactance as a mediator (M ⫽ 2.86, SD ⫽ 1.71); embedded brand attitude
(M ⫽ 4.34, SD ⫽ 1.54) served as a control variable (SPSS process settings: model number 4,
covariate in model of both M and Y). We included links from embedded brand attitude
to both placement reactance and host brand evaluation. We expect that reactance
increases when a product placement, recognized as a recommendation and thus as a
persuasion attempt, contrasts with a priori attitudes (Fitzsimons and Lehmann, 2004)
and that a highly embedded brand attitude might lower reactance to the inclusion of this
brand. Furthermore, we anticipate spillover effects between the embedded and host
brands (Rao and Ruekert, 1994; Venkatesh et al., 2000).
The results of this mediation analysis appear in Table III. Prior to the inclusion of the
mediator variable, placement prominence influenced placement reactance positively
(a ⫽ 0.18, t ⫽ 8.26, p ⬍ 0.01): the more prominent the placement, the greater the reactance
against it. Placement reactance also negatively affected host brand evaluations (b ⫽
⫺0.31, t ⫽ ⫺3.00, p ⬍ 0.01), in line with our arguments. Initial attitudes toward the
embedded brand affected placement reactance negatively (d1 ⫽ ⫺0.25, t ⫽ ⫺3.79, p ⬍
0.01), and the direct effect of placement prominence on host brand evaluations was
Regression analysis
Effect Description
Placement prominence on
placement reactance
Placement reactance on
host brand evaluation
Placement prominence on
host brand evaluation
(total effect)
Placement prominence on
host brand evaluation
(direct effect)
Embedded brand attitude
on placement reactance
Embedded brand attitude
on host brand evaluation
Does product
affect its
media host
Bootstrap analysis
statistic value effect 95 % CI 99 % CI
8.26 ⬍ 0.01 a ⫻ b ⫽ ⫺0.098, ⫺0.116,
⫺0.020 ⫺0.009
⫺3.00 ⬍ 0.01
⫺2.54 ⬍ 0.05
⫺3.79 ⬍ 0.01
Notes: Bootstrap analyses are based on 20,000 resamples; the coefficients are unstandardized; SE ⫽
standard error; CI ⫽ confidence interval; n.s. ⫽ not significant
Table III.
Mediation analyses
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negative and significant (c ⫽ ⫺0.08, t ⫽ ⫺2.54, p ⬍ 0.05; see Figure 1 for the path labels
When we included the mediator variable, bootstrapping tests with 20,000 resamples
(Preacher and Hayes, 2004, 2008) revealed that the effect of placement prominence on
host brand evaluations was mediated by placement reactance (a ⫻ b ⫽ ⫺0.06, Sobel’s
z ⫽ ⫺2.80, p ⬍ 0.01), and the bias-corrected 99 per cent confidence interval excluded zero
(lower-level confidence interval ⫽ ⫺0.116; upper-level confidence interval ⫽ ⫺0.009), in
support of H2. In a supplementary, unreported analysis, we confirmed that the
mediation was significant without the inclusion of embedded brand attitude. The effect
of placement prominence on host brand evaluations became insignificant (c’ ⫽ ⫺0.03,
t ⫽ ⫺0.75, p ⬎ 0.05), suggesting an indirect-only mediation (Zhao et al., 2010).
Post hoc experiment (Study 2)
After finding a distinct difference in host brand evaluations between the no and medium
placement prominence conditions but a lesser difference between the medium and
high placement prominence conditions, we decided to repeat our experiment with
additional prominence levels. Thus, we could compare relatively low levels of placement
prominence with a no placement condition. The results of Study 1 led us to predict that
the variance in host brand evaluations with more placements should become smaller
with increasing placement prominence.
Thus, we created five different prominence conditions. The control condition with no
placements (0) remained the same; we added conditions with 1, 3, 5 and 7 placements.
For the conditions with 1, 3 and 5 placements, we took the no placement version of the
film and cut in scenes from the 6-placement film from Study 1. For the version with
seven placements, we took 6-placement version from Study 1 and added another
close-up of the brand. We hired a professional film cutter to ensure that the transitions in
the films were consistent and presented the clips to a group of five pretesters, who did
not notice any odd cuts in the new films. All other aspects of the research design
remained the same.
We recruited undergraduates who received course credit in return for their
participation and who lived in a city other than the one in which we recruited
participants for Study 1, which enabled us to ensure that they were very unlikely to be
familiar with the study. After eliminating incomplete questionnaires, we obtained 312
responses. In random assignments, the 0-, 1-, 3- and 7-placement conditions each
contained 62 respondents, whereas the 5-placement condition had 63. Of these
participants, 117 (38 per cent) were women, and the average age was 23 years.
Similar to our first study, the manipulation checks indicated our manipulations were
successful. Whereas only 1.61 per cent of the respondents in the 0-placement condition
affirmed that they noticed any branded products, 74.19 per cent in the 1-placement, 100
per cent in the 3-placement, 98.41 per cent in the 5-placement and 100 per cent in the
7-placement conditions did so. A chi-square test revealed significant differences in the
distribution of answers (␹2(A) ⫽ 237.35, p ⬍ 0.01). In response to the second question
about whether they had noticed the specific soft drink brand, we received positive
responses from 8.06 per cent of the respondents in the 0-placement, 77.42 per cent in the
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1-placement, 100 per cent in the 3-placement, 96.83 per cent in the 5-placement and 100
per cent in the 7-placement condition, with a significant chi-square test (␹2(A) ⫽ 214.29,
p ⬍ 0.01).
As displayed in Figure 4, the host brand evaluation and the differences in its values
between each step declined with increasing placement prominence as we went from no
(0; 4.29) to lowa (1; 4.02) to lowb (3; 3.77) to mediuma (5; 3.73) to mediumb (7; 3.71)
prominence. Thus, the harm to the host brand was strongest when it moved from no (0)
to lowa (1) product placement prominence. Thereafter, the differences grew smaller,
until they hardly varied at medium levels of placement prominence. Yet even low levels
of product placements influenced the host brand evaluation negatively[3].
Does product
affect its
media host
Conclusion and implications
This research is among the first to investigate the effects of product placement on host
brand evaluations. By controlling for ex ante attitudes toward the embedded brand, we
show that the greater prominence of product placements raises consumers’ reactance to
these persuasion attempts, which negatively affects consumers’ perceptions of the
quality of the host brand. We explain these results with Brehm’s (1966) reactance theory,
which states that consumers of a host brand conceive of embedded placements not only
as unwelcome distractions from their entertainment program but also as choice
restrictions. This perception motivates them to react against influence attempts, which
they experience as threats to their personal freedom. If they hold the producer of the host
Figure 4.
Post hoc study:
effects of placement
prominence on mean
host brand
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product responsible for these presentations and thus the threat to their perceived
freedom (Clee and Wicklund, 1980), it creates a “boomerang” effect on attitudes toward
the host brand (Wicklund and Brehm, 1968).
According to Brehm (1966), reactance varies with the perceived strength of threat – in
this research context, product placement prominence. Reactance does not arise if the
person perceives the persuasion attempt as fair or warranted, such that it arguably
could be less likely when placement prominence is low. However, Study 2 revealed that
even low levels of placement prominence (i.e. one mention in a seven-minute film) can
lower evaluations of the host brand. Further studies might consider longer movies (e.g.
two hours) and gradually increase very low placement conditions to identify the point at
which reactance becomes measurable.
Our findings issue a warning to producers of entertainment content: a product
placement strategy may generate additional earnings, but it also can lower audiences’
evaluations of the focal entertainment product. We thus identify a tradeoff between the
additional earnings generated through product placements and the potential loss of
earnings due to decreased host brand evaluations and negative word-of-mouth
cascades. Furthermore, our control variable findings indicate that managers must
consider consumers’ attitudes toward the embedded brand because a positive (negative)
attitude may weaken (strengthen) placement reactance, as well as the negative effects of
product placements on host brand evaluations.
Although this study sheds new light on potentially negative product placement
effects, several relevant questions remain unanswered. An interesting avenue for
further research would be to identify the factors that moderate the impact of placement
prominence. For example, media managers we interviewed noted that the fit of the
product with the placement host might have an influence. An empirical test of this effect
would be challenging, but researchers might identify key determinants of fit and explore
their variations. Another interesting factor for continued research is the familiarity of
the placed brand and its links with the persuasion knowledge model as applied to
product placements (Friestad and Wright, 1994). Brand familiarity (Brennan and Babin,
2004) or brand awareness (Tsai et al., 2007) can influence recognition and thus might
moderate the effect of brand placements on host brand evaluations. Furthermore, the
impact of related aspects, such as the false familiarity effect (Holden and Vanhuele,
1999), could be interesting topics for further research into product placement.
For this study, we followed Russell’s (2002) theater methodology and created several
versions of a seven-minute short film. To expand on the finding of lower host brand
evaluations even at very low levels of placement prominence, additional studies might
create longer movies and thereby investigate, for example, if one, well-integrated
placement lowers the host brand evaluation when it appears in a full-length film too.
Along with longer films, additional research might expand our understanding of
placement characteristics and their potential impacts by investigating different types of
placements (e.g. hedonic versus utilitarian) and host media, including other
entertainment products such as video games, television shows, Broadway musicals,
radio programs, music videos, novels, magazines or comic strips. The global revenues of
the entertainment media industry have been estimated to be USA$1.9 trillion in 2014
(PWC 2014), making it a highly relevant study context. Other studies should consider
non-entertainment products, such as news, mobile apps, non-fiction books and general
online content, as well as physical environments, such as hotel rooms, rental cars,
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airplanes and ships, that can act as host brands for embedded products (Williams et al.,
2011). These extensions also should include consumers in other countries, which differ
culturally and in their legal product placement regulations (Ginosar and Levi-Faur,
2010). We encourage studies of the ethical aspects of product placements when they
constitute stealth marketing (Rinallo et al., 2013), especially in relation to young
audiences who may not have developed their persuasion knowledge fully (Friestad and
Wright, 1994) and do not know how to deal with unobtrusive persuasion attempts. If
such consumers become so accustomed to product placements that they do not
recognize them as persuasion attempts, their reactance to such attempts likely would
disappear as well.
Finally, our measures of placement prominence used only frequency counts;
additional studies could add other dimensions, such as placement dominance (i.e. size of
the placement in the scene) or the level of integration into the plot. Our results indicate
that the link between placement prominence and host brand evaluation is nonlinear, so
it might be valuable to learn more about potential thresholds. That is, just how often can
James Bond show and mention his new Omega without causing reactance? By
considering such additional determinants, researchers also can better discern if a host
brand can benefit from a well-integrated, sparsely displayed, embedded brand that
makes the movie seem more realistic.
1. Another example from the movie industry: “Mr Blomkamp, who worked with a $115 million
budget for Elysium, personally emailed companies whose products he wanted to feature in the
sci-fi film to give it a sense of realism. ‘This film has been an oddity in the product-placement
world because I am not looking for any money from the brands we are using’, he wrote
Bugatti. ‘I really want them because I [can] make the film better’” (Chai, 2013).
2. On the basis of our pretest insights, we considered the control group the least interesting
group because we expected to observe minimal psychological effects. To ensure more
participants in the heterogeneous experimental groups, we weighted the medium and high
groups in our experimental random allocation algorithm more heavily.
3. Even in the low (1) placement condition, participants reported a low reactance, with a mean of
1.86 (scale: 1 ⫽ lowest and 7 ⫽ highest). This reactance to one product was distinctly lower
than the reactance measure for the 3-placement condition (2.92) but still greater than 1.
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Corresponding author
Andre Marchand can be contacted at: [email protected]
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Does product
affect its
media host