tvSmarter – Life in a TV Nation

Safe-Sex and Product Placement

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Product Placement (

M&Ms passed up the chance to be the candy used to lure the shy little alien from his hiding place in the 1982 blockbuster E.T., thereby letting one of the most successful instances of movie product placement fall into the hands of a competitor who benefitted mightily from it.


Hershey did not pay to have Reese’s Pieces used in E.T., but it did agree to do a tie-in between the movie and the candy after the film was released. A deal was inked wherein Hershey Foods agreed to promote E.T. with $1 million of advertising; in return, Hershey could use E.T. in its own ads.  

Within two weeks of the movie’s premiere, Reese’s Pieces sales went through the roof. (Disagreement exists as to how far through the roof they went: Sales were variously   described as having tripled, experienced an 85% jump, or increased by 65%). Whatever the numbers, though, Reese’s Pieces — up until then an underdog confection only faintly known by the U.S. candy-consuming public — were suddenly being consumed in great handfuls. And all thanks to a shy little alien lured from the bushes and into America‘s hearts by a trail of peanut-butter-in-a-candy-coated-shell confections.  

Thus is the potential power of product placement. When it’s done right, it can make a product.  

Paid product placement in films has come to be one of the ordinary ways of things in Hollywood. Exxon paid $300,000 for its name to appear in Days of Thunder, Pampers paid $50,000 to be featured in Three Men and a Baby, and Cuervo Gold spent $150,000 for placement in Tequila Sunrise, according to Danny Thompson, president of Creative Entertainment Services, in a 1993 New York magazine interview. As for how effective the practice of product placement is, that same article quotes Joel Henrie, a partner at Motion Picture Placement, as saying: “Look what happened to Hermes scarves after Basic Instinct, Ray-Ban sunglasses after Risky Business, and suspenders after Michael Douglas wore them in Wall Street.”

But is turns out corporations aren’t the only ones using the power of product placementIn the third-world, Governments and non-profits are using the power of TV and radio (namely soap-operas) to encourage:

family planning in Brazil

family planning, reproductive health and the elevation of women’s status in Ethiopia

range of issues in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Tanzania, and South Africa


Surprise, surprise, these soap operas are having a real effect. As it turns out, “product Placement”, when used for positive social changed isn’t called “product placement”, instead it’s official name is “Entertainment Education”.

Info For Health explains why “Entertainment Education” is so effective.

The audience feels a sense of empathy, and characters come to seem like friends (10, 70, 95, 100). When characters face a problem that evokes emotion, audience members who identify and empathize with them may be motivated to solve similar problems in their own lives in a similar way (50).


Largely positive characters model healthy values and behavior, and they are rewarded. Largely negative characters model unhealthy behavior and antisocial values, and they suffer as a result. Transitional characters, representing the audience, are uncertain at first about which behavior to adopt. Then, gradually, they become convinced. They begin to practice the healthy behavior, and they are rewarded

The Center for Disease Control is starting to use a similar technique in the United States 

The CDC recognizes the power of popular entertainment in shaping the perceptions and practices of its viewers. Television shows, movies, and music not only command the attention of their audiences, but also reinforce existing behavior, demonstrate new behavior, and affect audience emotions. The CDC often partners with Hollywood executives and academic, public health, and advocacy organizations to share information with writers and producers about the nation’s pressing health issues. 

Keeping this in mind: “Study First to Link TV Sex To Real Teen Pregnancies“, the CDC would be smart to encourage these shows to model condom use, and other safe-sex practices. Considering the harm these shows have done, it’s the least they could do to try to avoid future heartache. 

Personally, I believe in harm reduction. TV that promotes healthy behavior is better than TV that promotes unhealthy behavior.


But, the problem with any kind of TV (whatever it’s message) is that it is very effective at grabbing the emotions, bypassing the viewers’ critical faculties and thus manipulating the viewers’ feelings, attitudes, and eventual actions.


TV discourages critical thinking, while reading and education encourage critical thinking.


It turns out that education provides all the benefits of these specially crafted soap operas, but with a huge number of added benefits.

As Joan Montgomerie so eloquently points out: 

In the countryside, many girls are unable to attend schools. Surely they need schools with books more than they need soap opera. We would not want to see resources taken from basic education, or job creation in order to provide entertainment television. Such programming is simply propaganda if the woman watching it lacks the independence that comes from reading for herself and being able to provide for her own living so that she can freely decide when to marry and how many children to bear. However, you can’t argue with success. The birth rate has declined in areas where the programs have been shown.

From the University of Connecticut


Hadden and his co-author, sociologist Bruce London of ClarkUniversity in Worcester, Mass., found that developing countries that educated girls to the same degree as they educated boys benefitted from lower birth rates, longer life expectancies, lower mortality rates and higher economic growth 25 years later.






What is striking is the breadth of benefits derived from educating girls — not only economic benefits in terms of higher wages, greater agricultural productivity, and faster economic growth, but also health benefits, HIV prevention, and women’s empowerment.

The little alien from E.T. and his ilk (as long as they are entertaining) are amazingly effective at influencing attitudes and behavior. My point isn’t that TV can be used for both good and bad, it is that TV is a powerful influence. Whoever owns the TV channels gets to decide what shows will be produced and broadcast, and thus ultimately how the viewing audience will be influenced and manipulated.


Note: Nedra Weinreich of “Spare Change” blog, has written about “Entertainment-Education” extensively:

Mass Media Campaigns Can Convince Young Adults To Adopt Safer Sex Practices, Study Shows ScienceDaily (April 2008)


“There’s a lot of research that shows that when a character in a series says, ‘I’m going to be an organ donor,’ it’s effective, more effective than giving out a pamphlet,” The New York Times (April 2009)





“Entertainment-Education and Social Change: History, Research, and Practice (Lea’s Communication Series) (Paperback)”


“Entertainment Education: A Communication Strategy for Social Change (LEA’s Communication Series) (Lea’s Communication)”

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