In “Netflix Is Ad Free, but It Isn’t Brand Free,” Tiffany Hsu looks at Netflix’s evolving relationship to advertising, product placement and brands. After you read the article, we ask you to use media literacy skills to analyze product placement in a TV show.
Part I: Journal
How do you feel about commercials?
Do you often watch TV shows that have commercial breaks or do you tend to stream TV shows without commercials? Are you ever aware of other forms of advertisement related to the shows you watch? For example, characters talking about their favorite brands, or a product name that references characters from a TV show?
Part II: Watch
Watch this Instagram video and then answer the following media literacy questions adapted from the Center for Media Literacy:
1. Who created this message?
2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
3. How might different people understand this message differently than I do?
4. What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
5. Why is this message being promoted?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. What do you think were some of the reasons that Netflix partnered with Subway? What is Netflix’s strategy in working with brands for these kinds of partnerships?
2. The article states that Netflix did not make any money when it worked with Samsung and Aviation American Gin on a recent commercial that featured Ryan Reynolds. Yet, this kind of partnership still indirectly benefits Netflix. How? You can watch the ad to get a better idea.
3. Why is Netflix’s audience so desirable to different companies and brands? Why has that demographic been called the “unreachables”?
4. How has Netflix used social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter to boost its visibility? Do you consider that a form of advertising?
5. According to the article, how can binge-watching actually hurt Netflix? Why has the company created a new retail design coordinator position?
6. What is Netflix’s relationship with product placement compared to that of other streaming services? What are some instances of product placement mentioned in the article? Have you seen product placement in any Netflix shows or in other TV shows or movies?
Now, reflect specifically on product placement in TV shows:
Think of a time when you thought product placement helped the plot or character development in a TV show. What made the placement effective? Now, think of a time when you did not like seeing a product placement. What made you feel that way?
Netflix believes that product placement can contribute to “the authenticity of the story.” What do you think?
As an added challenge, try to keep media literacy questions in mind as you watch your favorite shows. Pay attention to all the commercial products you notice. For each product, think about:
Who created this message?
Why is the product being included in the show?
How does the product influence your experience of watching the show? Does it make the show feel more authentic, or does it feel out of place? Does it feel like an advertisement?
Does the inclusion of a commercial product in a show make that product more appealing to you? Do you think it might make the product more appealing to others? Why, or why not?