The Birth of a Star:

Product Placement Creating the Consumer


"Because people need goods to articulate meaning in their cultural world, should that cultural world for any reason enlarge, then so would the number of matter demanding new symbols and more goods."

The phenomenon of which Douglas and Isherwood refer to in their book The World of Goods: Toward an Anthropology of Consumption is that of the development of a society filled with individuals identifying themselves and the people around them through the consumption of goods. The development of mass culture as America moved into the modernist age was made possible by industrialization’s transformation of American’s relationship with what they owned and consumed. As more and more goods became mass-produced, the replicability of goods allowed for these goods and their ownership to take on new meanings in society. The increasing propensity for one to be known by what they owned, and not by what they produced, motivated the increasingly enlarging capitalist society to find new sources to fulfill changing cultural values. While cause and effect can be argued, industrialization and the development of a mass culture created new, more quickly attainable values, that replaced the deeper, more formal sources of guidance like political and religious ideologies. Both Protestantism and Democracy were unified under a generic sense of patriotism commodified, resulting in a vague patriotism that involved spending money and celebrating Americans’ freedom to spend as they choose.

The casual and trivial nature of the communities created allowed for the increasing scope and decreasing depth to the connections people made. Prior to the creation of a consumer culture, your immediate community knew you by what you did or produced or believed in. As society became increasingly complex the relationships that tie individuals together became increasingly flexible. Boorstin wrote of the emerging America:

"The modern America, then, was tied, if only by the thinnest of threads and by the most volatile, switchable loyalties, to thousands of other Americans in nearly everything he ate or drank or drove or read or used. Old fashioned political and religious communities have become only two among many new once unimagined fellowships. Americans were increasingly held to others not by a few iron bonds, but by countless gossamer webs knitting together the trivia of their lives".

As technology created new means of spreading information over time and space, society increasingly became a visual society united by what could be seen. Images replaced text as the great connector of the American mind. The further development of portrait photography, photos in newspapers and magazines, and then ultimately the creation of film all added up to a new stress on the physical appearance of society. As people were better able to see their physical appearance through these medias, surfaces become the most prominent identifiers of one’s social standing.

The result- a society fixated on their ability to set themselves apart while connecting themselves with a certain class of other similarly minded consumers. By continuously accumulating goods, consumers keep capitalism in business. In advertising and pop culture, writes, “Goods, then, lie at the core of human existence because they make meanings palpable and provide a means for people to situate themselves with in the larger culture”(28). What goods are the goods to buy? And who decides the symbols and assumptions behind these commodities? It is here where companies turned to advertising, more and more with images, to garner necessary consumer loyalty.

John Galbraith wrote that "advertising’s central function is to create desires- to bring into wants that previously did not exist"(149). Advertising serves as both the producer and user of cultural symbols. It serves to give emotional value to objects in order to differentiate goods. As more and more goods are being produced with little actual differences companies looked to build an identity to their product. Through slogans, jingles, and packaging, a product is able to connect itself with particular values that are deemed favorable by the targeted consumer group.

Advertising has evolved and become smarter with the increased saviness of their target audience. With new companies joining the ongoing competition for consumers’ money, companies struggle to set their product apart from the rest. Searching for new markets for product exposure, as well as new ways to attach cultural meaning to the product, advertising turns to media, namely television and film, to broaden product exposure through product placement.

Product placement is a marketing strategy in which corporations pay money or donate needed product to television and film productions in exchange for exposure. While product placement is widespread in many different forms of media, I will focus primarily on the use of it in film, and the increased proximity between corporate America and Hollywood studios. This site attempts to first explain the ins and outs of product placement, and the benefits to both studios and companies. From there, I am interested in how the particular placement of products in movies continuously reminds us to consume, and then secondly encourages the internalization of cultural values through their own commodification. Product placement is effective in establishing and confirming cultural ties with consumerism first by it’s ubiquitious nature (the fact that we can not escape these messages in film). Second, it creates cultural meaning through consumer’s identification with characters.

Finally, product placement deteriorates the fictive nature of film on some levels, creating a confusion in deciphering between what is reality and what is fiction. Criticism of product placement hasn’t slowed down the increasing demand of companies to intrude Americans conscious through every possible media. From bumper stickers to the 6 o’clock news, the propensity of brands and brandnames has evolved into something so large and taken for granted, that in the years to come it might be difficult to decipher what is real in anything, and what is merely an ad.



Product Placement: Doing the Deal | The Blob Factor: Ubiquity in Product Placement | Product as Character | Recooperation and Credibility: The Use of Irony|