How can consumers defend themselves against product placement?
Based on an interview with Tina Tessitore, IÉSEG School of Management, about her paper with co-author Maggie Geuens, Ghent University, “Arming consumers against product placement: A comparison of factual and evaluative educational interventions” (Journal of Business Research 95 (2019) 38–48).
Product placement only recently burst onto the European continent. With many people still uninformed about its existence, there is a pressing need to educate consumers. IÉSEG’s Tina Tessitore and Ghent University’s Maggie Geuens studied how this can be done most effectively.
In the 2012 movie Skyfall, James Bond switched from his classic shaken, not stirred, cocktail to the beer Heineken. No, this wasn’t a millennial-themed plot device, it was part of a reported multi-million dollar product placement deal with the brewer. Before 2011, product placement on television was forbidden across the EU. The Economist notes that in Paris, sixty full-time officials of France’s audio-visual authority, the CSA, would examine 50,000 hours of TV programming per year for product-placement advertising, amongst other things. The CSA once fined a broadcaster €150,000 for promoting Club Med holiday resorts in the reality show “Loft Story”. Though such fines were rare, they held back product placement in European programming, compared to content produced in the United States, where it has long been big business, contributing to Hollywood’s blockbuster budgets.
The advent of product placement in the EU
Hollywood’s monopoly on product placement evaporated following the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which effectively legalised product placement in the EU in 2011. This was under the condition that warning logos would be shown (for example the “P” logo below that appears before programming containing product placement in the UK).
Are existing warnings effective? The answer to that question is a resounding “no” for all of those members of the public who have never been informed of what product placement warnings refer to. A 2013 study in Belgium by Tina Tessitore and Maggie Geuens at Ghent University found that most consumers fail to notice or comprehend the symbol.
Now, Tessitore and Geuens have examined how best to arm consumers against this form of marketing. The study compared fact-based interventions with evaluative interventions, i.e. interventions that consisted only of a subjective opinion regarding the appropriateness of product placement as a marketing tactic. This stemmed from research on educational interventions about violent television on children. “I thought maybe we could also use these educational interventions and apply it to adults,” Tessitore explained. Earlier research has shown that evaluative interventions are effective with children in general, and especially younger children, but is this true with adults and product placement?
Earlier research has ignored the issue of how consumers feel about product placement disclosures. Psychological research has shown that when individuals believe they come up with inferences themselves, they hold those inferences with greater confidence. Does this also apply to product placement warnings?
When warnings backfire
Tessitore and Geuens’ latest research shows that when it comes to adults viewing product placement warnings, evaluative interventions lead to more reactance than factual interventions. When viewing evaluative interventions “people feel their freedom to form their own opinion is restricted”, Tessitore explains. This could be because giving persuasive information without facts can come across as patronising.
Next, Tessitore and Geuens tested whether the different interventions led people to think they were being manipulated by the product placement through a phenomenon known as persuasion knowledge activation. Tessitore explains, “This is the knowledge used to cope with persuasion attempts. For example, if you are in a store and you are trying on clothes in a fitting room and you have doubts, and the salesperson says ‘wow you look really good’, what you will think is actually – ‘this person is trying to convince me to buy’. The fact that you make this consideration means you are activating your persuasion knowledge.”
Both interventions (evaluative & factual) led to more persuasion knowledge activation for the product placement than no intervention. However, the article* containing facts actually made people more likely to activate their persuasion knowledge than the article consisting of only subjective opinion. This may have been because the factual article led them to generate their own inferences about product placement appropriateness and self-generated inferences were held with greater confidence, and therefore activated more persuasion knowledge.
Knowing your audience
Tessitore and Geuens also investigated a phenomenon known as self-monitoring. “Self-monitoring is the level to which people rely on their own attitudes rather than on others… depending on the group they are in or the social approval they will get,” says Tessitore. The study found that for higher self-monitors (who adjust their behaviour to other people’s opinions), the evaluative intervention worked better, but for lower self-monitors (who regulate themselves according to their own beliefs) the factual intervention was more effective. In other words, people who rely more on their own opinions were more likely to be persuaded by facts.
Tessitore and Geuens’ research suggests that, for younger consumers, an evaluative intervention involving subjective opinions could be more effective due to the fact that self-monitoring is related to age. However, for older consumers, a factual intervention could do more good.
Watch the video with Professor Tessitore here:
Tina Tessitore and Maggie Geuens’ study provides valuable guidance for policy-makers on how a one-size-fits-all approach to educating the public about product placement might be ineffective. Just as advertisers and filmmakers must know their audience, policy-makers must also take their intended audience into consideration.
Tessitore and Geuens showed students either factual or evaluative information. The factual information involved mocked-up magazine clippings containing facts. For example, barely three months after a movie was released, a brand of candy sales rose by 65%, a rise believed to be due to their appearance in the film. An evaluative intervention involved a message from fellow students urging their companions not to be unconsciously misled by product placement. The effectiveness of product placement was examined by showing undergraduate students clips containing product placement.
Nathanson, A. I. (2004). Factual and evaluative approaches to modifying children’s responses to violent television. Journal of Communication, 54(2), 321–336.
Tessitore, T., & Geuens, M. (2013). PP for ‘product placement’ or ‘puzzled public’? The effectiveness of symbols as warnings of product placement and the moderating role of brand recall. International Journal of Advertising, 32(3), 419–442.
Tessitore, T., & Geuens, M. (2019). Arming consumers against product placement: A comparison of factual and evaluative educational interventions. Journal of Business Research, 95, 38–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2018.09.016
Tormala, Z. L., Clarkson, J. J., & Petty, R. E. (2006). Resisting persuasion by the skin of one’s teeth: The hidden success of resisted persuasive messages. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(3), 423-435.