In the first episode of The Kardashians on Hulu, Kim Kardashian asks the waiter, “Is that from the fountain? Like, the Diet Coke?” gesturing to the soda just brought to the table. “I love a good fountain soda, so.” It’s difficult to determine whether moments like this are a product placement, given there was no indication that the episode was sponsored by Coca-Cola.
Similarly, there’s no advertising disclosures to be found on Netflix’s Stranger Things, despite there being 140 brands featured in the fourth season’s first seven episodes. Netflix didn’t respond to a request for comment, but previously stated that no brands paid for product placements in season three of the show. And now, viewers may see even more products popping up in shows on streaming platforms—including products that are digitally added after filming.
While identifying select sponsorships as part of a broadcast television show is required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), U.S. streaming services aren’t yet obligated to disclose product placements in programming. Without significant obligations to disclose product placements in many circumstances, this approach can drive major visibility for brands featured in popular shows, movies, or music videos, especially among today’s advertising-adverse audiences.
At the same time, paid product placements come at a steep price, as this type of advertisement on network and streaming shows range from $150,000 to high seven figures, according to Stacy Jones, CEO of Hollywood Branded, an ad agency specializing in product placements. Plus, advertisers often have limited to no creative control over how a product ends up being featured in a show, despite paying for the screen time. (Sometimes products that are donated to the production can also wind up being part of the story even without a sponsorship, like how a main character on last season’s And Just Like That died while exercising on Peloton’s stationary bike, not an association the brand wanted.)