Discover the stories behind the most impactful product placements in modern film and television.

Product placement — also known as brand integration or embedded marketing — is an advertising technique used by companies to subtly promote their products through appearances in film, television, or other forms of visual media. The products we see featured in film and television every day have become nearly ubiquitous; indeed, product placement is a $14 billion industry.

Now, if an image of a Coke bottle just popped into your head, there’s a reason. The iconic soft drink has made countless movie and television appearances, in large part due to the fact that Coca Cola acquired Columbia Pictures for $750 million in 1982. And while Coke had been popping up in cinematic scenes for years before the deal was sealed, the studio purchase helped usher in a major shift in how films and marketers worked together. Products soon made their way into the foreground of art, a place where they’ve remained ever since.

From Reese’s Pieces’ E.T. cameo in 1982 to the falling Coca-Cola bottle in 1984’s The Gods Must Be Crazy, brands and content creators have embraced product placement as a sort of commercial symbiosis, ushering in today’s era of native and sponsored content. Let’s take a look at some of the most unforgettable branded moments in broadcast history.

1. E.T. + Reese’s Pieces

Steven Spielberg originally wanted to use the more popular M&M’s in E.T., but when filmmakers approached the Mars company, they were famously turned down. But Hershey, the manufacturer of Reese’s Pieces, agreed — and enjoyed seeing their product appear in one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Profits reportedly rose 65% as a result.

2. Product Overload in Wayne’s World

Ok, so these product placements aren’t exactly hidden. In fact, their hysterically obvious, which is the point. The entire scene actually mocks product placement, while simultaneously promoting products from Pizza Hut, Doritos, Reebok, Nuprin, and Pepsi.

3. Risky Business + Ray-Ban

Who could forget Tom Cruise’s iconic eyewear in 1983’s Risky Business? His shades were no costume design coincidence, however. According to CNBC, Ray-Ban sales at the time were dismal, with a mere 18,000 pairs of Wayfarers sold just two years prior to the film’s release. However, in 1982, the company hired Unique, a Burbank product placement firm, getting the sunglasses placed in 60 different films and TV shows over the next five years — Risky Business included. As a result, Raybans made their way onto the faces of many of the 1980s’ major celebrities, and by 1986, 1.5 million pairs had been sold. The sale of over 360,000 pairs are attributed to Risky Business alone.

4. Top Gun + Ray-Ban

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Tom Cruise brought his magic touch to yet another pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses in 1986’s Top Gun. The film boosted sales of the brand’s aviator style by 40%.

5. Seinfeld + Junior Mint

Who can forget Kramer’s passionate speech outlining the Junior Mint’s many tasty qualities? (“Who’s gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint, it’s delicious!”) Other candy companies were originally asked for permission to place their product in this hilarious and memorable Seinfeld episode. Daunted by the prospect of seeing their product tossed into the open chest cavity of a hospital patient, M&Ms and Lifesavers both passed. The joke’s on them — Junior Mint profited immensely from this now iconic placement, without shelling out a dime.

6. Lost In Translation + Suntory Whiskey

2003’s Lost In Translation stars Bill Murray as an aging actor filming a commercial for Suntory Whisky in Tokyo. The spirit gets considerable screen time, particularly when Murray’s character is shooting his ad and tries to negotiate the language barrier in the process.

Masaki Morimoto, General Manager for Suntory’s premium-spirits marketing department, said that the placement gave the product a much higher profile than it ever got from television or print ads. “It was a great boost for us,” he said. “Our company got famous internationally.” The placement is cleverly wrapped in cultural commentary on celebrity endorsements, another advertising mainstay.

7. Sex and the City + Apple

Sex and the City is awash in product placements — from designer names to bag rental services to fashion publications, the show’s four protagonists cover a lot of branded ground. But one of the less blatant plugs takes the form of Carrie’s Apple laptop, her near constant companion and the diary into which she narrates the show itself. And while Apple hasn’t released any official data on the show’s influence, it’s safe to assume that a generation of aspiring writers tossed budgetary caution to the wind to purchase Carrie’s laptop of choice.

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Author Grace Stearns

A graduate of Pepperdine University, Grace has worked in PR and brand communications at publishing giants like Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines Digital Media, and Simon & Schuster. She writes about content marketing, social media, and technology for L&T's blog. A reluctant West Coast transplant, Grace lives in Brooklyn and spends a majority of her free time curled up with a good book.

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