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Journal Review: Cross-Cultural Challenge in Product Placement

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Fundamentally, product placement roots in the USA, which is commonly considered to be an American phenomenon, and used primarily as a movie-based tactic. To define, product placement is the deliberate placement of branded products or services within media content. For example the scene where Will Smith drink Coca-Cola in film.

As a result of global flow, and access to media content and technology, the practice of product placement has become media-neutral and spread across other cultures. Due to this circumstances, there is a need to develop an expanded understanding of how non-US consumers perceive such placements.

Product placement like traditional forms of advertising, transmit and reflect the important symbolic meanings and values within a culture. To add in, consumer attitudes toward product placement may also vary depending on the fundamental cultural orientations and values of a particular society.

In general, there are abundant cross-cultural comparisons of advertising and promotion but little is known regarding how consumers from different cultures perceive and process product placement in their mind. Other than that, there has also been very limited knowledge on how and to what extent the medium of placement affects perceptions of the tactic.

The main purpose of this research is to examine:

i. US and Korean college student consumers’ attitudes towards product placements in three different media (films, TV shows, and songs).

ii. product placement acceptability based on media genre and product type.

Based on the above purpose, researchers have developed five research questions involve in this study. There are:

i. What similarities and differences exist in the influence/attention of product placement between the USA and Korea across media?

ii. What similarities and differences exist in the realism enhancement of product placement between the USA and Korea across media?

iii. What similarities and differences exist in the ethical/regulatory concerns of product placement between the USA and Korea across media?

iv. Which media genres considered appropriate (vs inappropriate) for product placement purposes? Are there any cross-cultural differences and similarities between the USA and Korea?

v. Which product/service categories considered acceptable (vs unacceptable) for product placement purposes? Are there any cross-cultural differences between the USA and Korea?



Total of 471 college student consumers from America and Korea participated in the online self-administered survey design for this study. They were selected as sample because this group is considered to be high value segment that consume brands, media, and entertainment with greater discretionary incomes and materialistic values, besides having the influence in generating new popular culture and market trends. Both American and Korean who participate in this study were given extra course credit as token of appreciation.

American sample was taken from three universities in which one is located in the southwest while the other two is located in the southeastern USA. The original number of sample which supposed to comprise of 277 students were then finalized to 249 due to respondents who showed extreme response sets and those who failed to complete the questionnaires given.

Meanwhile, Korean sample comprised of college students from three different universities located in Seoul. The number of respondents also being cut from 268 to 222 as the result for showing consistently high or low patterns and incomplete questionnaires.

Survey Instrument

The survey was divided into four sections, which are attitude toward product placement across media, genre appropriateness for the practice, product or service type acceptability for the practice and demographic information. Five-point Likert-type scale was used to measure the response for all section but the demographic information.

In addition, translation and back translation steps was done to make sure that the survey was conceptually equivalent in meaning and would be clearly understood by respondents in both USA and Korea. It was prepared by five graduate Korean students who are fluent in English and Korean besides having the knowledge on local conventions and cultural contexts of the two countries being used as a proxy for this study. Hereby, the researchers play important role in carefully forming and supervise this group of translators to guide the way in which the questionnaire set will be presented towards respondents.

Overall, the findings for this research had answered all the research questions proposed in accordance with purpose of the study.

RQ 1: What similarities and differences exist in the influence/attention of product placement between the USA and Korea across media?

Based on Table II, Korean respondents are more likely to be influenced by and pay attention to product placement in TV and film compared to the American who showed higher scores in terms of product placement influence or attention through music. However, both difference was found to be non significant and therefore the results considers as an inconsistent findings across media.

RQ 2: What similarities and differences exist in the realism enhancement of product placement between the USA and Korea across media?

Table II shows that American respondents come to an agreement that realism of media content was enhanced by product placement compared to the Koreans. They trust that product placement increases realism setting across media. This results in their preference to see real brands rather than fake or fictitious brand being portray throughout film, TV and music in contrast with the Koreans.

RQ3: What similarities and differences exist in the ethical/regulatory concerns of product placement between the USA and Korea across media?

Korean respondents put greater emphasize on ethical concerns of product placement and support government regulations across each of the three media rather than the American who strongly disagreed that the government should regulate the placement of brands in TV. Despite of this, the difference was found to be statistically significant only for product placement in TV as shown through Table II.

RQ 4: Which media genres considered appropriate (vs inappropriate) for product placement purposes? Are there any cross-cultural differences and similarities between the USA and Korea?

Table III shows that American respondents are more welcome of product placement in most film genres compared to the Koreans and specify that comedy, action, and drama, are particularly appropriate movie genres for product placement. Korean respondents conversely agree that drama is the most appropriate genre, followed by romance, and action. Despite of this difference, both of them agree in which historical films is considered to be the least appropriate film genre for product placement followed by animated, and political films.

Furthermore, American respondents also inclined to higher acceptance of product placement in most TV genres rather than the Korean. They specify that both situational comedy and comedy/skit are the most appropriate TV genre of all. Alternatively, Korean respondents had chosen soap operas and situational comedy/skit to be the most appropriate TV genres for product placement. The similarities for both countries were achieved by the agreement in which cartoons were considered the least appropriate TV genre for product placement.

In addition, both American and Korean respondents point that hip-hop/R&B/rap and pop genres are particularly appropriate for product placement regards of music genres. Both countries also point that inappropriate music genres for product placement are Christian/gospel and classic/opera.

RQ 5: Which product/service categories considered acceptable (vs unacceptable) for product placement purposes? Are there any cross-cultural differences between the USA and Korea?

Based on Table IV, as for films, American respondents have rated healthy consumer products and clothing/fashion products as the most acceptable for product placement purposes followed by new media/entertainment and automobiles. The least acceptable product categories inclined by American respondents are cigarettes and guns. Likewise, Korean respondents rated that the clothing/shoes/fashion product category to be the most acceptable product type which followed by automobiles, electronics, and sports equipment. Guns on the other hand are the least acceptable product type in Korean films. The findings also revealed that cross- cultural differences led American respondents to consider healthy consumer products, candy/snacks, soft drinks, fatty food, and fast food to be more acceptable product categories for product placement than what the Korean consider. Conversely, Korean respondents showed higher acceptability mean scores for cigarettes placements compared to American respondents.

Moreover, in regards to TV show, healthy consumer products are the most acceptable in USA followed by clothing/shoes/fashion, new media/entertainment, cameras, and electronics. Guns followed by cigarettes, and gambling on the other hand was the least acceptable product type in TV shows within USA. Meanwhile, Korean respondents considered clothing/shoes/fashion products as the most acceptable for product placement purposes followed by automobiles and electronics. The least acceptable products are likely the same to those of US sample which are guns and followed by cigarettes, gambling, and condoms.

Additionally, American respondents indicated that healthy consumer products as the most acceptable for product placement in music followed by automobiles and electronics. Korean respondents in contrast showed uncertainty/ lack of consensus towards most products and services categories. However, they considered guns, condoms, fatty foods, and gambling as less acceptable for the use of branded products through music. American respondents in comparison expressed stronger acceptances for electronics, cameras, fashion, and candy/snacks for product placement categories in music rather than the Korean.


This research had come out with following findings for discussion:

i. College students in the USA and Korea shows similarly neutral reports of paying attention to and being influenced by placement across all three media.

As stated in the findings, results for influence or attention component across media was found to be inconsistent. This is due to the non-significant difference in which both USA and Korea score for the component is nearly the same and therefore became insignificant as the p-value for film and TV for example is more than 0.05. Hereby, we reach to a point whereby individual cultural orientations appear to be overridden. Personal and situational factors may be the reason toward product placement that makes other values more accessible. Both American and Korean respondents show similarly neutral reports of paying attention to and being influenced by placement across all three media may cause by the operating of third-person effect. What it mean here is that respondents do not want to admit that they being influenced or paying attention to any kind of marketing tactic which is strong enough to alleviate differences in cultural orientations.

ii. Korean college students are less likely to believe that the practice of product placement can transfer the function or meaning of the placed brand on the basis of their everyday experiences and interpretations

As what had been discussed earlier, the Korean fall under high-context culture compared to the American which fall under low-context culture. Consumers from high-context culture tend to prefer indirect cues or unspoken words for communications. In addition, communicators rely more on implicit messages and contextual cues. This in return leads to more emotional approaches to communication Therefore, Korean college students are less likely to believe that the practice of product placement can transfer the function or meaning of the placed brand on the basis of their everyday experiences and interpretations.

iii. Korean college students’ consumers tend to have moral ethical concerns regarding product placement, and are more supportive of governmental restrictions on the practice, but only for TV shows.

Through this findings, it suggest that in terms of marketing tactics, personal moral philosophies and interpretations are varying across countries based on cultural orientations. As Korean falls under collectivistic culture, they emphasizes prosocial behaviour and restraints actions that are likely to harm others and to violate sanctioned norms in marketplace. The example can be seen when Korea communications standards commission (KCSC) rejected a request for full and open acceptance regarding product placements in broadcasting. According to them, the request was not approved as it will undermine entertainment and artistic considerations in the development of media content, may lead to the lowering of programming quality and run counter to governmental policies related to terrestrial broadcast advertising set by Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation. This indirectly answered why Korean college students’ consumers tend to have moral ethical concerns regarding product placement besides being supportive of governmental restrictions on practise for TV shows.

iv. American college students show higher levels of acceptance of product placement in film, TV, and music genres than Koreans

Higher levels of acceptance of product placement in film, TV, and music genres by American respondents compared to Korean respondents give hint that both of them place more values on film, drama and action, and TV situational comedy and skit comedy compared to other media genres. In short, product placements are more preferred in genres that are conducive for plot connection, narrative development, dramatic storytelling, and character empathy. Higher acceptance by American college students compared to the Korean can also be relate to cross-cultural research in which scholars found that American consumers are more likely to accept and purchase products placed in films that create higher level of acceptance for them rather than the Koreans.

v. Both American and Korean college students did not hold particularly positive or negative attitudes toward product placement in music

Looking at this finding, we can simply predict that both American and Korean college students did not hold particularly positive or negative attitudes toward product placement, as it was still a new phenomenon to use music as a medium to placed brand. However, they both give suggestion on what type of music that they felt suitable for product placement as we can see that they rated hip-hop/R&B/rap music as the most appropriate genre and classic/opera as the least one for brand placement.


Basically, this study is useful in showing Hofstede’s cultural dimension of individualistic/collectivistic culture represented by America and Korea. This framework strongly supports the persuasiveness of advertising messages that reflect dominant cultural values of a particular country. Perceptions vary not only based on culture but also of other variation sources that exist in between. Consumers from different country may have different perception on product placement depend on their cultural background. Due to this reason, it is crucial for advertisers to carefully plan their strategies for product placement based on those cultural differences.

Furthermore, advertisers need to identify which medium of placement either film, TV shows or music that will be very useful for them to attract potential buyers as well as type of product or service placed. This criteria is important because advertisers normally has little knowledge about how and to what extent the medium of placement affects perceptions of the tactic. Findings from this research can serve as a guideline for advertisers who wants to use product placement especially within America or Korea even though respondents are limited geographically to south-western regions in the USA, and to Korea’s capital, Seoul.

Moreover, advertisers need to consider which type of advertising message styles that have maximum impact for product placement within a nation by doing thorough research of their cultural background. Be it informational or transformational message styles, all must be related and relevant to the context of what the societies endure to avoid failure. For instance, people of individualistic cultures like US are more dependable of factual information for decision-making and insist to jump over the conclusion. Therefore it is appropriate to use informational message style to increase their confidence to buy the brand. In contrast, people of collectivistic culture like Korea prefer emotional rather than rational appeals. For this type of culture, it is necessary to use transformational message style like associating users brand experience to psychologically attracts the consumer to get the product.

In addition, this research provides advertisers basic understanding of how listeners know about the subject under discussion. Consumers in low-context culture like USA for example place high value on words so communicators are encouraged to be exact and unambiguous in delivering their message towards intended audience. For high-context culture like Korea on the other hand, they consider verbal communications to be the only part of overall message. Due to these criteria, communicators need to rely more heavily on implicit messages and contextual cues in approaching them for product placement purposes.

Besides, the findings of this study give hint to advertisers on product placement through music. Even though brand placements in songs are considered a new phenomenon, it still provide the opportunity for advertisers to use this medium in order to attract consumers especially young one. This is based on the statement made by Recording Industry Association of America that recognized college-aged students comprise 24-44 per cent of the buying music audience. It is big chance for advertisers to maximise the practice of product placement here with several guidelines from American and Korean respondents who agreed on hip-hop/R&B/rap music to be the most appropriate genre instead of Christian/gospel and classic/opera, which rated as the least appropriate genre for brand placement in songs.

On top, advertisers benefit again throughout this research as it reminds them to be more careful in considering product placement for Korean TV. This is because the respondents from those country expressed more ethical concerns regarding product placement and are more supportive of governmental restrictions on the practice for TV shows. Strong example can be seen when Korea communications standards commission (KCSC) rejected a request for full and open acceptance of product placement in broadcasting. Therefore, caution in the manner and extent to carry out such tactic need to be taken care of in order to avoid unwanted response from viewers.

Last but not least, the research indirectly emphasize on how important it is to do research before jumping to conclusion on what is the best strategy to implement product placement in different countries. A careful and well-coordinated research needs to be done to identify cultural difference of various countries. It is also important to discover and collect information on what the consumer need or want from advertisers globally as an insight of how marketers can promote their product and make the people buy it. Always bear in mind that we need to know what’s within a country especially in terms of culture before we can directly penetrate our market successfully in it.



Lee, D., Sung, Y., & Gregorio, F. (2011) Cross-Cultural Challenges in Product Placement. Marketing Intelligence & Planning. Retrieved October 11, 2011, from

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