David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, and Freddie Prinze Jr. on "Friends"
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6 iconic product placements in TV shows

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August 23, 2022
Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions

6 iconic product placements in TV shows

Since the advent of television, brands have used TV shows as a platform to advertise their products. Some of the earliest shows were sponsored by—and even named after—the products and brands they endorsed. Over time, product placement has evolved and is now used on TV shows ranging from sitcoms to reality TV. Brands are often still promoted through overt placements, but they are also incorporated more subtly into scenes and woven into dialogue.

According to a report by Sortlist in 2022, Nike and Apple are the most-featured brands for product placement in TV and movies. The American sitcom "The Office," which ran from 2005 to 2013, featured the most product placement of any TV show. To look at the creative ways brands partnered with TV shows, Giving Assistant curated a list of six iconic examples of product placement on the small screen from a variety of sources.

Not all products featured in the media are listed here. It is not always clear if a company has paid for their product to be promoted on a show, or if the product was used for realism, so paid sponsorship was not a requirement for inclusion on this list.

Read on for six memorable instances of product placement in TV history, in order of the initial U.S. release date of the shows.

KITT, the artificially intelligent supercar featured in the American TV show 'Knight Rider'
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Silver Screen Collection // Getty Images

Pontiac Trans Am in 'Knight Rider'

The '70s and '80s were full of TV shows featuring cars as product placement. One of the most memorable was 1982's "Knight Rider," an action-packed show about a man fighting crime with the assistance of KITT, an artificial intelligence embedded in a sleek black Pontiac Trans Am that could talk and drive itself.

Pontiac originally declined the show's request to feature the Trans Am, thinking "Knight Rider" was not a good fit for their brand. The automotive company changed its mind, though, and the original three Trans Ams used for filming were delivered in truly dramatic Hollywood fashion. An anonymous call was made informing Pontiac's West Coast public relations agency staff that the cars were ready, providing a time and location for pick up. Upon the public relations rep's arrival at the agreed-upon place, the vehicles were simply rolled out of the assembly plant and left with the keys in the ignition, without anyone ever saying a word.

Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow sitting in front of the apothecary table in Friends
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Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions

Pottery Barn in 'Friends'

Sometimes product placement becomes the actual plot of a show, as seen in "Friends," the classic sitcom about a group of young men and women living in New York City. In a 2000 episode titled "The One with the Apothecary Table," Rachel buys an apothecary table from Pottery Barn but lies to Phoebe, telling her it came from a flea market.

Of the entire series, Entertainment Weekly ranked this episode as the top instance of product placement; yet it remains unclear if this was a paid sponsorship or not. Warner Bros. reported a deal was made with the furniture company to feature their product. Pottery Barn, however, stated the table was donated, but they were thankful it was used on the show.

Sarah Jessica Parker filming in a pair of Louboutins on location for "Sex And The City"
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James Devaney // Getty Images

Designer shoes in 'Sex and the City'

HBO's hit series "Sex and the City" ran from 1998-2004, bringing to TV a glimpse of life in the Big Apple through the eyes of four successful women. The show—and subsequent films—also had its fair share of fashion-related product placement.

Anyone who has watched "Sex and the City" knows Carrie Bradshaw has one true love in life: designer shoes. Carrie may not always be able to pay her rent, but her closet is full of unforgettable brands like Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin.

The show helped turn these brands into household names for women across the globe. Over a decade after "Sex and the City" ended, this love of fabulous footwear remains so popular that Vogue ranked Carrie's top 10 shoes in 2021.

A staples location
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Mahmoud Suhail // Shutterstock

Staples office supply store in 'The Office'

"The Office," a comedy based on the BBC series about employees of a small office supply company, debuted in the U.S. in 2005. With a lovable cast of characters, including often inappropriate but well-meaning boss Michael Scott, the show quickly became a success.

Staples office supply store is a rival of fictional company Dunder Mifflin on the show and also one of its biggest product placement deals. Staples is often mentioned throughout "The Office" and Staples products can be spotted in various episodes.

In an interesting reversal of roles, a subsidiary of Staples licensed the Dunder Mifflin name in 2011 to sell products based on the TV series—an agreement that also financially benefited the show's network, NBC.

Travis Schuldt (Subway) and Jim Rash at the Subway in Community
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Krasnoff Foster Productions

Subway in 'Community'

Product placement is so influential it can save a show from being canceled. When "Community," a comedy about a lawyer attending community college, was at risk of being cut in 2012, Subway stepped in and saved the day.

The show's creator initially turned down a traditional product placement deal, but Subway came back with a unique idea: They would provide funding and allow writers the creative freedom to incorporate Subway into the TV show however they wanted.

No attempts were made to hide this brand influence, as the show decided to add a Subway shop on the fictional community college's campus. Taking it a step further, they even named a character Subway.

Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) surrounded by Eggo waffle boxes in Stranger Things
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21 Laps Entertainment

Eggos and Jif in 'Stranger Things'

Since its debut on Netflix in 2016, "Stranger Things," a TV show set in the '80s about a fictional small Indiana town battling evil supernatural forces, has been wildly popular. Streaming services like Netflix do not have traditional advertisements, so product placement often fills this gap.

Eggo waffles are featured in season one as a favorite food of the show's character Eleven. The impact on Eggo sales was clear: Upon the season two debut of "Stranger Things" in October 2017, Eggo's fourth-quarter sales increased 14%.

Jif peanut butter is a significant plot point in season four as a food that represents American values. Within a month of the season premiere, Jif's brand value increased significantly, coming in at over $879,000.

This story originally appeared on Giving Assistant and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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