Literature Review


Viewing a single movie or exposure to a specific media message may be sufficient for effects on people’s beliefs, thus forming a perception (Jeffers, 1997). The idea that motion pictures are purely entertainment or art, has been debated. The more popular belief is that entertainment is not the sole purpose of motion pictures; movies do influence our attitudes on some level. Furhammar and Isaksson state that it is widely realized motion pictures also reflect society and attitudes in a society (cited in Paris, 1995).  The following is a literature review of how perceptions are formed from movies and how brand placement affects individuals' decisions or actions.  


Influences and Perceptions

Scholars researched whether motion pictures create public perceptions, which may influence the actions of individuals. Lazarsfeld states motion pictures tend to reinforce the status quo rather than influence change in the institutions of this country (cited in Jeffers, 1997). There are various camps of thought on whether movies create attitudes, which then influences individuals’ behavior. Media consumption, including motion pictures, is purposeful, motivated by individuals’ needs or desires (Austin, 1986). Media consumption is not causal or unintentional. Audiences choose motion pictures with military themes or characters. This may indicate individuals have a need to know more about the military or they simply find the military interesting. There is no known research showing exactly what that need or desire is, as it varies for individuals. The diffusion model suggests that media, including motion pictures, does influence the audience directly, but interpersonal influence is also important (Jeffers, 1997).  This model suggests that people are more influenced by media when they are in the early stages of decision-making. The interpersonal influences play a greater role at a later stage. The limited effects model is another perspective which suggests that media only reinforces what beliefs already exists. It may reinforce a stereotype, a belief, an opinion or negativity. This perspective suggests the audience is interested in messages based on their own principles of selective exposure, selective perception, and selective retention. Limited effects suggests people pay attention to messages in which they agree. If they do not agree, the impact is slight unless the audience is confused or forced to pay attention as in brainwashing. Emerging in the 1940s, the indirect effects model suggests media is one influence that includes not only other peoples' but the audiences’ existing beliefs and feelings (Jeffers, 1997).

World War II prompted researchers to look at how audiences were impacted by motion pictures specifically in terms of propaganda (Jeffers, 1997). The U.S. government did not feel the public was well informed about World War II therefore a series of movies were produced to explain the nations involvement. One of theses movies was “The Battle of Britain” the 4th film in the “Why We Fight” documentary series. The movie was modestly successful in modifying opinions and general orientations and did increase knowledge.

A subcommittee of the Interstate Commerce Commission met in the fall of 1941 to investigate charges of propaganda in motion pictures and radio. Hollywood motion picture makers responded by explaining they were making movies favoring America entering the war (Woll, 1983). They contended Hollywood was echoing the opinions of the public. In June 1942, the Office of War Information was established to disseminate war information and facilitate the understanding of policies, activities and aims of the government. This lent credence after World War II and today that movies serve as more than just an entertainment tool. 

Rosten stated at the time of World War II that,“The movies can give the public information. But they can do more than that; they can give the public understanding. They can clarify problems that are complex and confusing. They can focus attention upon the key problems, which the people must decide, the basic choices which people make. They can make clear and intelligible the enormous complexities of global geography, military tactics, economic dilemmas, political disputes, and psychological warfare. The singularly illuminating tools of the screen can be used to give the people a clear, continuous and comprehensible picture of the total pattern of total war.”  (cited in Woll, 1983, p.13).

Since World War II, researchers have studied other motion pictures to see whether or not they played a role in creating perceptions for audiences. Adams and Webber found audiences who watched “The Day After,” a television movie about a nuclear attack, were more likely to believe the possibly that nuclear war could exist (cited in Jeffers, 1997). Ellit, Kelly and Byrd found that after audiences viewed “JFK," a motion picture about the assassination of a U.S. president, their beliefs were influenced to think a conspiracy in the assassination of the president may have been present (cited in Jeffers, 1997).

As the decades have passed, the average American does not have firsthand experience in the military. Movies about the military teach its audiences about historical details, increase the public’s awareness, and in general are great educators (Wetts & Curley, 1992).


Product placement

Blumer (1933) and Custen (1980), underscored the importance of the moviegoer’s interpretive perspective on brand placement. Blumer (1933) explored the influence of movies on audience behavior. He found movies influenced a wide range of behaviors, including childhood play, imitations of adult conduct, emotional experiences, and lifestyles (cited in DeLorme & Reid, 1999). In the 1960s, Marine recruits at Camp Pendelton who were helping on the set of a movie were asked by the movie director their reasons for enlisting in the military. Approximately half of them said that they had been inspired by John Wayne movies. While this may not be a reliable or valid study, it is worthy of note. The author of the Vietnam movie “Born on the Fourth of July” states he saw the movie “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” and then started to play wargames with his boyhood friends. He stated that those experiences inspired him to enlist in the Marines (cited in Wetts & Curley, 1992).  “Movies give inspiration and form to our ideals and meaning to our experience,” (Wetts & Curley, 1992, p. 46). Blumer concluded because movies shape and influence audience interpretations of everyday social life, they are a training vehicle for the socialization process (cited in DeLorme & Reid, 1999).

In 1994, a focus group research project was conducted to understand how brand props in movies were interpreted, and how they influenced actions (DeLorme, Reid, & Zimmer, 1994). Building on their previous research, and on the grounded theory perspective of social science (Glaser 1992; Glaser & Struss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990), DeLorme and Reid conducted another study in 1999. The purpose of this study was to provide further understanding of how brand props were interpreted by moviegoers.

Building on their 1994 work, DeLorme and Reid used sample groups that included both frequent and infrequent moviegoers in two age brackets. The first group consisted of 18 to 21 years old and the second group, 35 to 48 years old (DeLorme & Reid, 1999). The difference in age groups was important because it afforded an age contrast needed for category saturation. Three main themes emerged from the 1994 and 1999 analysis; appreciating realism (props assisted in suspension of disbelief and added to movie realism); noticing familiar brands (noticed and liked familiar branded products, enhanced realism); and relating to characters (comparison of characters with own lives) (DeLorme & Reid, 1999). With regard to appreciating realism; people in both studies said brand props were significant because they added realism to the stylistic aspects of movie scenery (DeLorme & Reid, 1999).  Participants in this study could relate to brands used in motion pictures and saw them as an integral part of the scene or movie as a whole. With regard to noticing familiar brands, people in both studies were aware of the persuasive intent of brands props. The subject groups considered themselves immune to the persuasive power of brands encountered in movies; they believed the appearance of brand props in movies were neither deceptive, manipulative, nor harmful. Regardless of age or movie going frequency, moviegoers were attuned to familiar brands of products and services. (DeLorme & Reid, 1999).

It was stated that in both studies, moviegoers indicated the relationship with characters strengthened, and involvement in and enjoyment of the movie increased, if  “their brands” were being used by a movie character or even featured in a scene. This association, brand familiarity and character identification is supportive and interrelated with the third major theme that emerged from their study; relating to characters. To moviegoers in both studies, brand placement was significant in that it provided relevant information about a character, it told something about “their” character (DeLorme & Reid, 1999). The participants in the studies said that in addition to clarifying or strengthening a perception of characters in the movie, brand placement enabled moviegoers to empathize with and relate to characters and further involved themselves in the movie. Character association not only enhanced the entertainment value of movies, but also contributed to moviegoers’ own self-perception.

To the younger moviegoers (18 to 21 age group), brand props were associated with an invitation to cultural belonging and feeling of emotional security (DeLorme & Reid, 1999). They had grown up with brands in movies and were accustomed to the practice. They reported when a brand is present in a movie, they just take it for granted and “overlook it because it’s so prevalent.” In addition, the younger people had grown up with much more marketing and advertising in general. Therefore they expected to encounter brands; it was just something they accepted as a part of present day movies.

In the view of the younger group, brands in movies strengthened and fostered the sharing of experiences between moviegoers and characters, between moviegoers and other moviegoers, and between moviegoers and other elements of society (DeLorme & Reid, 1999). To them, brand props took on significance, beyond the context of a particular movie, because they provide a common bond for self and group identification. Encountered brands were not seen as symbols of change by the younger moviegoers; they were associated with belonging, comfort, and security.

The results from DeLorme and Reid’s 1994 and 1999 studies show the interpretive differences varied depending on the age group studied. To older moviegoers, brands in movies may be seen as representative of a transition or shift in the movie viewing experience from a “sacred” to a commercial event; to younger moviegoers, the distinction between “sacred” and commercial may be nonexistent.