This week, we explore how product placement can be most effective.

A product of its time

How product placement has become self-aware, and why audiences are loving it.

Ed Bostock



3 minute read

You might be surprised to find that product placement didn’t peak in 80s movies. In fact, it’s seeing astronomical growth in the 2022 advertising market – accounting for $26.2 billion1 in revenue just this year. It’s making money. And lots of it. But why all the investment now?

In short
  • Brands are spending huge amounts on product placement in 2022.
  • It has followed modern viewers to where they’re most engaged: streamed content.
  • The Netflix show Stranger Things shows how product placement has become a storytelling device as well as an advertising technique.
Perfect conditions for product placement

When 90% of viewers hit the ‘skip’ button on pre-roll ads2, you need a kind of advertising that isn’t easily ignored. Embedded product placement has become necessary for brands, and found even greater opportunity in the rise of on-demand video, streaming services, and YouTube clips themselves. But when comparing the product placements of today, it’s clear that a new breed has evolved.

A classic example

The character of James Bond is almost synonymous with brands; perhaps most famously, Aston Martin. Products with his stamp of approval are made all the more valuable for being associated with his personal brand of discerning sophistication – and viewers happily invite their obvious sell. Even the setting of recent films like No Time to Die have become a form of product placement, with countries like Norway and Italy vying for the privilege of becoming locations in the movie3.

The success of Bond films, as well as the character himself, play a huge part in the value of these placements, making this a perfect example of when and how more traditional product placement works. It’s certainly an effective technique, but this convention has recently been reinterpreted by a popular Netflix show to as much, if not more, success.

“When 90% of viewers hit the ‘skip’ button on pre-roll ads, you need a kind of advertising that isn’t easily ignored.”

A new spin from Stranger Things

Stranger Things, the most viewed Netflix series in 2022, totals no less than 140 product placements4 in the latest season alone. While the episodes may seem jam-packed with products, Stranger Things uses them as an exercise in world-building.

Brands like Sharp Electronics, Sony, Casio and Coca Cola still integrate into the story and contribute to the atmosphere of the show, but the difference is that Stranger Things plays into the 80s aesthetic of product placement itself, using it in a self-aware way. Products aren’t being obviously sold, but slot into the story where necessary – something that seems to amplify the pleasure of their inclusion, as well as viewers’ desire to purchase them.

And the value generated from these spots is well worth the brands’ budgets. In 2019, impressions generated by the show created $1.2 billion in media value for Coca Cola within 60 days5, proving that the combination of highly-attentive viewers and seamless integration creates the perfect mix for effective product placement.

The continuing value of product placement

Stranger Things provides us with a great example of what it looks like when product placement is used in a more multi-dimensional way (pun intended) – and even proves it can be elevated to play a vital role in a production while generating sales.

While the viewer is fully immersed in such blockbusters, there’s no chance of hitting the skip button or zoning out when ‘ads’ come on. Plus, these brands now have their advertising secured for the lifetime of a show, providing a potentially endless stream of revenue.

on bringing ad breaks to streaming
The days of ad-free streaming might be ending soon with American service Hulu already introducing ads when more than three episodes are streamed consecutively, as well as whenever viewers pause a show. Forbes also reported that Netflix plans to introduce ads, but they’d only appear on a new cheaper subscription plan option.

Written by Ed Bostock, editing by Abby Clark, 52 Words by Adelaide Anderson, key visual by Alice Guo, page built by Patrick Brennan & Laura Murphy.
  1. Ashley Regan, Product placement spend heading for 14.3% growth in 2022 (12 August 2022) AdNews.
  2. Frank Maguire, Reaching Consumers With Video: The Interruptibility Myth (21 June 2018) AdAge.
  3. Catherine Shoard, Selling James Bond: why No Time to Die is a product placement dream (7 December 2019)
  4. Ashley Regan, Stranger Things latest to double product placement advertising (2 June 2022) AdNews.
  5. Megan Cerullo, The real stars of "Stranger Things"? All those brand names (19 July 2019) CBS News.
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