Sometimes Brands Are Conspicuously Absent (Part 1)

The pilot for the FX show The Americans presents a perfect case-in-point example for the primary argument in favor of product placement in film and TV.  In a scene late in the episode, the two leads, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip (Matthew Rhys), are having a secret chat in the laundry room of their typical suburban American home.  Next to the machines on a shelf we see bottles of detergent, etc. But here the labels have been removed or the bottles have been turned to hide them. To our product placement expert eyes, this seems less like an injustice to our craft and more like a wasted opportunity to reinforce the notion of Americana.

Brands, or at very least the promotional appearance of brands, create no small portion of the visual landscape that defines western living American-style. To not take advantage of that in scenes that hope to depict authentic American living seems a poor creative choice.  How could such a scenario not seem more believable with, for instance, the patriotic, iconic Tide label?

When productions are sensitive to logos, or have a policy against them, “greeked” or disguised versions of brand names are frequently utilized.  We can recall placing “Shasa” sodas instead of Shasta or “Chinese Food Panda” instead of Panda Express.  But where brands and labels are normal; their absence creates a scenario that is less believable.  Even if The Americans had used a generic “Scrubby Wash” bottle instead of blank packaging, the omission would have been less glaring.

In the next blog, we’ll examine how symbols like the Nike “swish” can represent a brand even in situations where obvious brand names are not used.