Product Placement in Music Videos: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This is the second article of a two-part series analysing music videos as an important part of the media world. You can check out the first part on the history of music videos here

Phones, cars, dating apps, hair straighteners and jewellery – you can squeeze almost anything into a music video if you try hard enough. Product placement in music videos has recently faced similar controversy to that of Instagram and YouTube stars doing paid promotions unannounced. In the US, product placement in music videos is considered “embedded advertising”. By law it needs to be clear and conspicuous thus why it is often obvious and cheesy. Sometimes this is done really well, in cases where the brand matches the artist perfectly, other times it’s done poorly and it is clear that the artist is just doing it for the pay cheque. Sometimes it is done terribly and we all have to go through the trauma of seeing 10938 Sony phones and televisions in less than 5 minutes.

It’s questionable as to whether most artists genuinely respect the brands or whether it’s just a quick and easy pay cheque. From an ethical stand point, you would hope that the morals and values of these artists are at least somewhat aligned with the brands that they’re endorsing, but at the same time the music industry is in dire times (I mean – it kind of always is?) so this sort of stuff it what keeps Ellie Goulding going.

The Good

Once considered “non-traditional” brand partnerships have now become a norm and popular way for brands to effectively get their product awareness to an accurately targeted and easily accessible audience. Little Mix and hair straighteners, Ellie Goulding and Nike. Brands tend to choose artists in which their fans align with the consumers they’re trying to market towards. Little Mix and GHD is possibly one of the best examples of this. Most Little Mix fans are young girls between the ages of 12 and 16 or 20 somethings (like myself) who hate to admit their love and obsession with what can only be described as the greatest, most empowering female group of this decade. Their music video for “Hair” was heavily filled with GHD products – but it’s a music video about hair so GHD is of course the perfect partnership! The girls are featured straitening each other’s hair at a sleepover. The hair straighters don’t appear out of place, but the name GHD is forced into your brain. It’s an obvious but effective product placement.



Lady Gaga is another example of brands effectively aligning themselves with artists through product placements and endorsements. The products she aligns herself with make sense to her as an artist. As discussed by Amber L Davison “they represent the creativity and charitable values that she has”.  Telephone features heaps of products chosen by Gaga, many of which she wasn’t paid to endorse.


The Bad
There is as a whole lot of  positives in merging the world of music with the world of advertising – but there’s also a lot of shit. Sometimes the brands being represented can overshadow the storyline and creativity of a music video and then there’s those artists who have built themselves on brand partnerships rather than their musical abilities.

Let’s dig into some theory here, according to Stephen and Cootes “Brands in Action: The Role of Brand Placements in Building Consumer-Brand Identification.” product placement in popular mass media provides exposure to a potential consumers and shows products being used in their natural setting. Now those last two works are important (I hope you’re reading this Britney Spears) NATURAL SETTING. This is where artists and music video directors tend to get it wrong. It’s hard to make the product placement clear and conspicuous -to abide US laws, while simultaneously making the product fit in to the story line or aesthetic of the music video.

A great example of this being done poorly is Coldplay’s Adventure of a Lifetime music video. An ape finds a Beats speaker in the middle of the jungle which leads to him having a wild dance with all of his mates? Was it really worth it Chris Martin?


The Ugly

As mature consumers, surrounded by more advertising than ever, we’re usually pretty good at picking out product placements when we see it. However can we please take a moment to..



Two words. Absolut Vodka. Swedish House Mafia’s Greyhound clip is just one big ad for the liquid. Brand usage behaviour theory tells us how and when to use a product. Swedish House Mafia could not care less about brand usage behaviour because they’ve gone and turned their whole damn music video in an ad for vodka with literally no context at all.



I leave you with some food for thought and a gem of a clip in the fusion of advertising and music – as consumers we expect that the work of recording artists is a direct reflection of their actual selves so where is the distinction between truth and fiction? What brands are being used genuinely by an artist and what brands have nothing more than fictional associations with the performance.






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