Whether today’s top charting pop artists actively seek out endorsements and sponsorships, or whether it’s something negotiated in board rooms beyond their contractual control, the truth is that there’s a lot of money changing hands between record labels and corporate entities these days.
We see it in movies and TV shows all the time; the camera lingering on the BMW logo as the suave guy gets into his car, the beautiful female lead sipping a bottle of Coca Cola. But more and more, we’re seeing placements pop up in the music videos of some of the industry’s hottest artists. As viewers, we may not always notice the logos and products being advertised in music videos, as they often flash quickly, cut sharply, and sit patiently in the background just beyond the central focus of the star performer — or perhaps we just want to believe so badly that the music industry is above all that — but they’re there.
It isn’t that the product placements are there that makes them shameful. Shoots will always feature wardrobes, locations, and props — it’s hard to avoid logos even if you aren’t getting paid. Sometimes artists even have fun with it! It’s when brands and logos are displayed so front and center that the video a commercial, rather than a visual expression of the song, that it starts to get shameful.
And worse, so often these placements don’t even make sense! The dating website, Plenty of Fish, makes an appearance in multiple of the following videos. Am I the only one who can’t suspend disbelief long enough to think Lady Gaga or Britney Spears is joining PoF?
So, if you can stomach it, here are some of the industry’s most hilariously obvious product placements in music videos. And hey… don’t try this at home.
Avril Lavigne — “Rock N Roll”
This is one of those “so bad it’s funny” kind of scenarios, where within the first 7 seconds we see Avril Lavigne casually mention: “Oh, my new Sony phone is ringing,” as she pulls it out of a glass of water (which ok, yeah, is kind of impressive). Next, we see a close-up on the logo: the Sony Xperia, before she answers the phone and says “I don’t know how I can make it any more obvious.” It is playfully worked into the narrative as she addresses the story behind her song, “Sk8er Boi” to the caller on the other end, but let’s be honest, we all know what she’s really talking about.
Ariana Grande — “Focus”
Ariana Grande’s video for “Focus” is as much a branded piece of content for the Samsung Galaxy Note as it is a video for Grande herself. Not only is the phone ever-present throughout the video, but the entire theme of the song is, you guessed it, a galaxy. Just in case the stars on the outfits didn’t tip us off to what we’re being sold clearly enough.
The Saturdays — “Missing You”
The more I looked into product placement in videos, the more I found myself noticing the same brands popping up over and over again. One of those brands is Ice Watches. The first time we see one here, it makes an uncomfortably long appearance in the first 30 seconds. See if you can count how many more times the watches appear.
Miley Cyrus — “We Can’t Stop”
Where to start with this one? It’s a purposeful freak show, meant to shock and awe, but amidst all the wild and weird party imagery being thrown at you, Miley still makes time for some product placement.
In the opening five seconds, we get a lingering shot of a Beats Bluetooth speaker, which lasts way too long, followed by a close-up of EOS chapstick. Because I guess when you party as hard as Miley, your lips are going to need moisture? Then we get to watch some guy eat a sandwich of $100 bills, which makes sense — when brands are throwing this much cash at you, what else is there to do with it?
Coldplay — “Adventure of a Lifetime”
This video is truly all kinds of weird. CGI animated apes are sort of the protagonists of the video. They sing, dance, and play instruments because… why not. And they also love the smooth jungle sounds of their portable bluetooth speakers! Between the Beats logos, strange animation, and the fact that the band is being portrayed by monkeys, this video has something to give anyone secondhand embarrassment!
Britney Spears — “Hold It Against Me”
Being that Britney Spears is signed to Sony Music, it comes as no surprise that they’ve crammed more than one Sony product into this video, including Sony TVs and monitors, and just the occasional corporate logo. But there are also close-ups on Make Up Forever, Spears’ own fragrance, Radiance, and like, too many shots of Britney surfing Plenty of Fish for a date.
Lady Gaga — “Telephone” ft. Beyoncé
This bizarre video provides an opportunity for a game of “Where’s Waldo” but with product placements. There are no less than nine separate products in this video, including: Heartbeat earphones, Virgin Mobile, Diet Coke, HP’s Envy “Beats Limited Edition” laptop, Plenty of Fish, Chevrolet, Polaroid, Wonder Bread, and Miracle Whip. It’s a Mecca of product placement.
The Chainsmokers — “Don’t Let Me Down” ft. Daya
For the purposes of this article, let’s try to look past the white middle class cultural appropriation of lowrider culture here, historically proudly Mexican American. It’s pretty hard not to notice the guy wearing Samsung wireless headphones IN THE CAR (who wears headphones in the car?!), especially when they cut to the brand name for what feels like an eternity. And in case you missed it, Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone appears pretty brazenly at 0:11 as well.
Ariana Grande — “Side to Side”
We return to the queen of product placement, Ms. Grande. The song actually opens on a shot of Grande’s well-placed bright pink water bottle by Guess. They cut back to the same shot a few more times because well, the work out girls and the sauna are just trying to make you thirsty enough to reach for your own water bottle. Guess also outfits everybody in the video, and towards the end, it seems they get increasingly lax about foregrounding the brand name as it appears on the garments.
They even made up the guys to look like mannequins… Perhaps because they want you to feel like you’re already in the store shopping for Guess workout clothes?
DJ Khaled — “I’m the One” ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne
I wanted to throw this last one into the mix with basically all of what’s left of my soul. Normally in videos, brands at least attempt to show their products tastefully briefly, in passing, and in the background — well, all that gets chucked out the window in this one, folks!
At 34 seconds in, we get the first product shot, an in-focus close-up of the Beats headphones that Khaled never shies away from repping publicly. Then for some reason, the brand on Chance the Rapper’s sweatshirt is blurred out, but Bieber’s Supreme jersey is clear as day, and appears in like 70% of the shots. From there, it really starts going off the rails. At 2:45, Khaled comes over and shows us his delicately boxed bottle of Cîroc Gold Life. Throughout the rest of the video, we watch models puffing up on Kandypens vaporizers, but then at 3:13 we get the full page display advertisement of all the Kandypens swag.
And somehow, it doesn’t stop there. Once the sun starts going down, the bottles come out and we’re treated to an in-focus smorgasbord of Bumbu Rum, Belaire Luxe, and more Cîroc. It gets so bad at one point, Lil Wayne tries to take a phone call on a bottle — label out, of course.
Well that concludes our list. For the record, we’re not against artists working with brands. In fact, for independent artists, attracting sponsorship and endorsement deals with instrument manufacturers and software brands, for example, is a great way to fund one’s creative practice. Similarly, winning sync placements in commercials, films and television shows, is another excellent way to bring in some extra royalty money, without having to worry about damaging one’s reputation.
It’s increasingly difficult to know where to draw the line. But I’d suggest a good start for an artist would be to work with brands you actually support, who takes your partnership seriously and with respect, and avoid situations where the brand retains all of the power and control. Certainly in situations where labels are making decisions on behalf of the artist, it can often lead to exploitation. I’m curious to read your thoughts in the comments, below!
As independent creatives, it’s important to keep all this in mind. Understanding partnerships, endorsements, and placements can be confusing. If you want to learn more about how sync licensing, streaming, and sales royalties work and how to get all of the money you deserve, check out our free course, How to Get All the Royalties You Never Knew Existed, instructed by DIY music business expert, Ari Herstand.