New Frontiers for Product Placement

You may, perhaps, remember the scene from Air Force One where George Clooney, or Ronald Regan, or Fred Astaire, or whoever it was, finds himself in the cargo hold of the airplane with a not-very-subtle display of Coca-Cola®. (If you happen to have forgotten or had the good fortune not to have seen the movie, don’t worry about it—your time is better spent reading The Flying News.) In any case, the blatant and disgusting promotion of commercial products in that best-forgotten movie is only a fairly mild example of a phenomenon known as product placement or embedded marketing, a phenomenon which, we regret to say, has only become more insidious as the years have gone by.

It has recently come to our (collective) attention that product placement has found a new venue: the university. According to our sources, George Tamara, Associate Professor of Marketing at Northern South Dakota University, began the semester of MKTG 201: Principles of Marketing with a Coke® can in his hand. This might have seemed mere happenstance, an innocent mistake, except that, as the semester progressed, the Coca-Cola® motif became more and more pervasive. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the mid-term exam:

1. John wants to market Coke® to the 12 to 18 age group. What type of market segmentation would this be called?

a. Geographic
b. Demographic
c. Psychographic
d. Logographic
e. National Geographic®

2. Joe is a successful director of marketing for a large corporation. Jim is an unsuccessful director of marketing for a failing corporation. Explain how drinking Coke® partly accounts for Jim’s success.

3. Bill was among the very first to purchase a high-tech widget. He is very highly educated, extremely intelligent, handsome, popular, and makes purchase decisions based on information from Internet reviews, newspapers, and technical journals. He always drinks Coke®. Stan was among the first 50% of the population to buy the high-tech widget. He made his decision based on casual conversation, since he is not by any means a leader in any sort of social setting. Stan never drinks Coke®. Bill could best be described as an __________, while Stan is a ___________.

a. early adopter; majority
b. early innovator; late innovator
c. innovator; early majority
d. early majority; early adopter
e. intelligent consumer; loser [This was the correct answer!]

Towards the end of the semester, professor Tamara hosted a class session made memorable by the scantily clad women who strutted around the classroom handing out various Coke® products.1 Some students—no doubt Pepsi® drinkers—seemed to dislike the prominent place of Coca-Cola® in the course and complained to the administration. Tamara reportedly defended his actions by asserting that:

My actions in this course, particularly my special guests, have served to give my students a taste of advertising in the real world. The fact that I may possibly have a financial connection to the Coca-Cola® company is immaterial.

The administration released a public statement stating—as statements tend to do—that “Professor Tamara’s choice of examples and instructional methods are an exercise of academic freedom, and reflect his commitment to new and innovative teaching models.”

  1. These included Coca-Cola®, Diet® Coca-Cola®, Light® Coca-Cola®, Diet-Light® Coca-Cola®, Light-Diet® Coca-Cola®, Caffeine-Free® Coca-Cola®, Light-Diet-Caffeine-Free® Coca-Cola®, and Coca-Cola-Flavored® Doughnuts®.

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