Product placement in stories

Exposure to product placement in stories

I knew about product placement in movies and tv shows. A likable character on a popular show munches away on Lay’s Potato Chips. The viewers see this, and soon they’re eating Lay’s Potato Chips. This is a marketer’s wet dream. However, I didn’t know about product placement in stories. Did you?

Bill Fitzhugh1 stakes his claim as the first person to use product placement in a fictional novel in 2000. If you’re interested, the novel is called Cross Dressing. Also, if you have a chance, read his article on selling out and his self-proclaimed title as “the man who ruined literature once and for all.” It’s short and pretty damn funny.

The movement to include product placements in fiction is still new, but it’s gaining momentum.2,3 And yes, there’s research on the phenomenon.4 And yes, the research says we’re more likely to buy the brand name products mentioned in the context of a story than those that were not.

In a series of experiments, people read three short stories containing the names of several products that were either made-up brand names (unfamiliar products) or real brand names (familiar products). Here’s an excerpt of a story with an unfamiliar product, Steely Hot Sauce…

Jamie stared blankly at the television, which showed three men dragging a fourth while he kicked and yelled. She had cushioned herself in a pile of blankets on the couch, her lunch plate and a bottle of Steely Hot Sauce on the table beside her. She jumped as a voice came out of nowhere…

Note how the brand is incidental to the story. The brand is simply a detail. Then the people in the study were asked their likelihood of purchasing a brand should they need a specific product – some brands were placed in the stories, others were not.

For unfamiliar brands, people were more likely to buy those that were placed in a story than those that were not. This effect occurred whether:

  • the name of brand appeared once or multiple times in print
  • people responded to the purchasing question minutes after reading the stories or a week after reading the stories
  • people were warned about product placement or not
  • people reported having a negative opinion about product placement or not

For familiar brands, the effect of product placement was there – just not as strong as for the unfamiliar ones. Familiar brands that people were ambivalent about received the most benefit from product placement.


You’ve been warned.

Product placement in print is here.

Product placement in print works.

Especially for unfamiliar brands.

In the interest of full disclosure, Lay’s sponsored this article

I kid. I kid. (About Lay’s sponsoring anything I’ve done – including this article)



1 Fitzhugh, B. (2000, November 6). To sell out takes a lot of bottle. The Guardian. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from

2 Alter, A. (2014, November 2) E-Book Mingles Love and Product Placement. The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from

3 Rich, M. (2008, February 19). In Books for Young, Two Views on Product Placement. The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from

4 Storm, B. C., & Stollier, E. (2015). Exposure to product placement in text can influence consumer judgments. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29, 20-31.


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