It has always been worth our while as researchers to examine and understand the way companies utilize various mediums of mass communication. In this rapidly evolving field of communication, many traditional advertising practices such as commercial breaks or previews on movies are gradually being replaced by brand (product) placement.
According to Karrh (1998), brand placement can be defined as “the paid
inclusion of branded products or brand identifiers, through audio and/ or visual means, within mass media programming”. While there have been many studies looking at consumer perceptions toward this style of advertising, most have focused on their inclusion in fictional movies and television shows.
However, there is a gap in this vast amount research. Past studies conducted
by Ong and Meri (1994) has argued that many consumers “view brand placement as tacky, too deliberate, or not natural,” when referring to fictional television or movies. However, there is very little research available that test Ong and Meri’s findings on Reality Television. According to Deery (2004) Reality TV is more naturally occurring and viewers may view product placement as more acceptable, “Because it normalizes and to this extent ratifies the product”. Therefore, the aim of this current study is to measure consumer’s attitudes toward brand placement practices in the reality television programs in comparison to fictional television programs. The communication concepts to be examined are media literacy, selective perception, level of placement, and frequency of exposure (heavy media user or low media user). The nature of these concepts with respect to American consumers would generally determine the attitudes they may have
toward brand placement in Reality Television which leads to the proposed research question: Do U.S. consumers have a negative or positive attitude toward brand placement in Reality Television programs? Literature Review Brand placement is in no way a new marketing concept. In fact, it has been “…perceived as an effective mechanism for reaching audiences and have been employed by marketers for more than 50 years (Babin & Carder, 1996).” However, recent technological advances such as TiVO and DVR have altered the way individuals watch television. These digital recorders not only allow for viewers to record specific programs which limits channel surfing, but also gives consumers the power to “zap” or fast forward through television commercials. This poses “new opportunities and new threats to brand communications”(Ong, 2004) and has left many advertisers searching for new ways to get their product noticed. “Recognizing the fact that consumers are inundated with a vast number of TV channel choices, having a brand featured or embedded into a popular TV program would likely gain more attention or exposure than having the brand advertised between program breaks”(Ong, 2004). Another rather recent development in television culture is the rise of Reality Television. “So far, the dominant new TV genre of the 21st century, Reality TV provides a clear example of commercial culture in which mediation is primarily designed to sell” (McAllister, 2003). According to Deery (2004), “individuals, experiences, and even the medium itself are repeatedly marketed in a genre whose
absorption of direct and indirect selling is currently spearheading a conflation of advertising and entertainment.” Furthermore, brand placement in Reality TV allows for advertisers to pinpoint a very specific audience because the demographics of viewers of a certain kind of reality program are well understood. Brand placement also seem to have a longer life‐span than traditional forms of advertisement due to re‐runs or a reality show’s seasonal transition to DVD. (Nebenzhal & Secunda 1993; Brennan et al., 1999; d’Astous & Chartier, 2000) Therefore, it seems as though the Reality TV genre is redefining the traditional brand placement practice and enables advertisers to utilize the naturally occurring environment to embed certain products that may appear out of place in more fictional mediums (i.e. movies or a sitcom TV series). In a study conducted by Delorme and Reid (1999), research found that their subjects were very aware of excessive showing of brand and placements in unnatural and inappropriate settings including over‐emphasis through camera techniques in movies. Their subjects also noted that such actions cheapen the movie‐going experience and insult the audience. In fact, many studies have indicated that if a brand placement appears too obvious or out of context, the viewer’s attitude toward the practice will decline. Therefore it is imperative for future research to test if this theory would also apply to non‐fictional television show’s context (Reality TV) as well. Researchers at the head of attitudinal studies concerning brand placement are Gupta and Gould (1997), whose studies are often referred to by various researchers in the field. Their 1997 study was the first to expand the inquiry into American consumer attitudes to consider different product types. In this study,
Gupta and Gould produced and distributed a survey to “1012 American college students”. The results indicated that U.S. college students’ attitudes toward brand placement in the media are generally positive. “These studies have given us a clearer view of college–aged audience consumers’ attitudes towards the practice of brand placement in the USA.” (Karrh, Frith & Callison) Furthermore, in a more recent and rather large study conducted by Gould, Gupta and Grabner‐Krauter (2000), researchers performed a cross cultural analysis of “Austrian, French and American Consumers’ Attitudes Toward This Emerging International Promotional Medium”. This research took into account product differences, individual differences and country differences. Their results indicate that U.S., Austria and France differ in their attitudes toward brand placement and shows “U.S. consumers as being more accepting of, and more likely to purchase products shown in movies or television” However, it appeared as though the type of product featured also played a major role in whether the brand placement was viewed positively or negatively. For example, “ethically charged products like cigarettes, alcohol and guns” were viewed negatively. Also, this study appeared to show “significant gender differences, where women viewed brand placement less positively than men”(Gould, Gupta & Grabner‐ Krauter, 2000). Although this study did provide much insight into international viewpoints of brand placement, it only included “attitudes toward product placement in general, attitude toward television advertising in general, perceived realism and the attitude toward restricting product placements.” It also is important to point out that in both of these studies, the frequency in which a consumer views certain media outlets, (movies or television) greatly influences a consumer’s overall
acceptability of placement. This result runs parallel with Neijens and Smit’s (2003) research, which also concluded that “frequent viewers of programs that include brand placement exhibited more positive beliefs and more positive attitude toward brand placement.” Thus, it would be important for future research to take this variable into account when researching consumer attitudes toward brand placement on Reality TV. However, these studies, like a majority of the literature reviewed in this paper, fail to take into account various sub‐genres, such as separating Reality TV programs from generalized, all‐inclusive variables like “television”. Furthermore, it is important to mention that even with the amount of research conducted on the topic of brand placement “…it is difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of consumer attitudes toward brand placement because much of the data is proprietary” (Karrh, 1998; Yang & Roskos‐Ewoldsen, 2004). Therefore, despite the widespread use of this promotional medium, there are still various areas of the practice that need to be included in future studies. Rationale There has been much research conducted on the topic of brand placement with many focusing on the effectiveness of brand placement ads and the attitudinal measures and the resulting purchase intentions of consumers. Other relatable studies, such as the ones mentioned in the above section by Gupta and Gould (1997); Gupta, Gould and Grabner‐Krauter (2000); and Neijens and Smit (2003), fail to include consumer attitudes on non‐fictional genres of media in their research.
First, prior research suggests that the study of consumer’s perceptions of brand placement usage in Reality Television programs would be instrumental in understanding the overall effectiveness of brand placement in general (Ferle & Edwards, 2006). Although much research on this topic of brand placement has been conducted within the fictional television and movie realm, there does not appear to be many studies done on reality‐based television, which many advertisers have utilized as the newest outlet for companies to “sell as it entertains”, thus coining the phrase “Advertainment” (Deery, 2004). Also, it would be important to conduct this study using a study group a similar in demographic to Gupta and Gould’s (1997) study on the attitude of college students’ toward brand placement. Therefore, the topic of interest for this current study is to measure college‐age (18‐24) U.S. consumer’s attitudes toward brand placement practices in the reality television genre compared to fictional television programs. Given the literature reviewed in this paper, the researcher poses the following research question: RQ1: Is there a difference between reality television programs and fictional television programs with respect to consumer acceptability of brand placement.