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Amazon Prime Video’s spy drama Citadel forges a new frontier in product placement

Cover image for Amazon Prime Video’s spy drama Citadel forges a new frontier in product placement

Photo: Chris Yang

Photo of Ben Woods
by Ben Woods

Product placement has a long history helping film and TV producers maximise the monetisation of their content. The use of products by Hollywood stars to promote brands dates backs to the 1920s when Red Crown Gasoline’s logo featured in The Garage starring comedy actors Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. Today, it’s best known for its use in the James Bond movies, featuring brands such as Omega, Range Rover, and Aston Martin. The deal has always been that brands benefit from the exposure of a blockbuster movie while studios can de-risk an expensive production by receiving more cash up front.

From smart TV to shopping basket

What has been missing is an easy way for consumers to purchase the products they see in the show. However, Amazon has figured out a way to close this circle. With the release of its new spy drama Citadel, Prime Video users are offered the opportunity when they hit the pause button to buy products associated with the series. Viewers can select the “shop the store” icon, which provides a smartphone QR code directing them to the Citadel shop on Amazon’s online retail site. Here, fans can not only buy Citadel merchandise, but “shop the look” of the cast members. The products range from make-up, jewellery, and fashion brands in Amazon’s clothing department.

For Amazon, this approach allows Prime Video to better fulfil its core purpose. The streaming TV service is a loss leader, which is offered as a perk to encourage consumers to buy more products through its online store by subscribing to next day delivery with Prime membership. If successful, it may also help indirectly cover the costs of making original Prime Video shows. By offering Citadel viewers an avenue for buying merchandise, Amazon has created a new opportunity to capture consumer spending.

Making back catalogue fandom pay

This is a strategy that could work equally well for older shows. MIDiA’s research shows that a greater focus on the back catalogue content can drive subscriber retention at a time when household budgets are under pressure from the cost-of-living crisis. Such an approach could allow Prime Video to squeeze even greater value from classic movies and TV shows by using their high fandom value to drive e-commerce sales. James Bond is the most obvious case. Amazon’s $8.5bn deal for MGM studios gives Prime Video the chance to use its “shop the store” approach to sell more Omega watches through the Bond back catalogue. It could even create an opportunity for storied brands to promote, and sell, classic products that have featured in decades-old movies and shows.

However, not all streaming TV services have equal expertise in streaming TV and online retail to make this strategy work. Still, Amazon has created a compelling reason for entertainment companies like Netflix to explore partnerships with fast fashion brands or retail giants like Walmart. Closing the circle between the smart TV screen and the online shopping basket is too good an opportunity for streaming TV to ignore when the cost of making shows keeps rising.  

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