By Jill Weinberger and Joseph O' Dell, CNBC.com
Major Shows, Major Placement
When a company pays for its product to be featured in a movie or a television show to increase brand awareness, it's called product placement. This form of advertising has been around almost as long as movies and television shows themselves, and has long been a secondary source of income for networks and content producers. When factoring in commercial-skipping technology such as DVR and on-demand programming, product placement becomes even more attractive for advertisers.
However, this type of brand marketing is a double-edged sword. While companies can weave their products into shows, they are in danger of alienating consumers with overzealous product-placement campaigns. The effectiveness of product placement is also a key question, and strategies can range from featuring a brand briefly on screen to having it play a key role in the plot.
In the past year, reality TV shows have been the leaders for integrating brands through product placement, with products tied into the themes and storylines of the show. While scripted television has received fewer instances, a recent report released by Nielsen shows that these spots are more memorable for the audience.
Nielsen has compiled the top programs with product placement, and the following is a list, ranked by number of product placement occurrences in 2011, including sponsors and memorable instances of brand integration.
So, which prime time shows had the most product placement in the past year?
See the full list: 10 Primetime Shows With the Most Product Placement
American Idol1. "American Idol"
Product placement occurrences: 577
Episodes in 2011: 39
This year, a whopping 577 occurrences were found on the reality talent show "American Idol," making it No. 1 for product placement. "Idol" is also consistently one of the most watched shows on television.
It's hard to miss the product placement. The judges will sip from large cups emblazoned with Coca-Cola logos, contestants will wait in the "Coca-Cola" lounge, viewers are encouraged to text/call from their AT&T wireless phones, and Ford showcases weekly "music videos" that feature contestants driving their vehicles.
According to Variety magazine, product placement in the show has become more expensive over the years. The official sponsors, Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Ford, currently pay up to $50 million to $60 million a year, compared with $25 million to $35 million that was spent in the show's earlier years.
The Biggest Loser2. "The Biggest Loser"
Product placement occurrences: 533
Episodes in 2011: 34
"The Biggest Loser," the competitive weight-loss reality show, finds multiple ways to integrate products into the show, whether it's where the contestants work out, which food they use in cooking, or "trainer tips" that mention specific brands.
The official sponsor of the show is Subway, which is mentioned throughout the show. Contestants are shown taking "field trips," eating Subway sandwiches and learning about the sandwich's nutritional content. Subway is even incorporated into the challenges; in one episode, contestants are given the task of coming up with their own Subway sandwich.
Other products that have been featured in the challenges and tips include 24 Hour Fitness Gyms, Ziploc, Progresso, and Extra sugar-free gum.
Celebrity Apprentice3. "Celebrity Apprentice"
Product placement occurrences: 391
Episodes in 2011: 12
The show, hosted by Donald Trump, brings celebrities together to compete in business-driven challenges that can range from developing a new product, producing a commercial, selling merchandise, or running a company. With so many options, the format makes it easy to integrate a company or product.
Some of the challenges in the 2011 season included staging a camping experience using supplies from Camping World, creating an environment inside a 10-by-10-foot box that embodies Australian Gold's brand, and producing 30-second spots for ACN's new videophone.
In this year's finale, the contestants were asked to come up with a promotional campaign for 7-UP Retro, which included designing the packaging and in-store display, producing a commercial, and launching a star-studded event that promoted the brand.
Dancing With the Stars4. "Dancing With the Stars"
Product placement occurrences: 390
Episodes in 2011: 29
"Dancing With the Stars" pairs professional dancers with celebrities in a dance competition, complete with a full panel of judges and viewer participation.
In the show, examples of product placement feature other shows and movies, most of which are owned by ABC and its parent company, Walt Disney. This past year, as part of the promotion for an upcoming movie, The Muppets competed against the other celebrities and dancers. In the past, "Dancing with the Stars" has also featured acts from Cirque do Soleil, Michael Jackson's Immortal World Tour, and the Broadway show "The Lion King." Guest artists also make appearances, where they perform songs from upcoming albums.
The X Factor5. "The X Factor"
Product placement occurrences: 312
Episodes in 2011: 26
"The X Factor" is a singing competition series, similar to many other TV talent contests, where judges select which contestants progress through the show's many rounds. The show's main sponsor is Pepsi, which is mentioned and featured throughout the show.
The most notable instances of product placement are the prominently placed Pepsi cups appearing in front of the judges. There is also the constant reminder in every episode that the winner will be featured in a Pepsi commercial during the Super Bowl. One of the musical guests, Outasight, performed the song "Tonight's the Night" during the show, which is featured in Pepsi commercials.
Many interactive elements in the show are Pepsi-related, including a segment called the "Pepsi Choice Performance," which allows viewers to select details of a special ensemble performance.
In addition to Pepsi, there are two other major sponsors, General Motors' Chevrolet, which features SUVs transporting the judges, and Sony Music, which provides a $5 million recording contract to the winner.
See the Slideshow: 10 Primetime Shows With the Most Product Placement
More from CNBC:
Celebrity Insured Body Parts
10 Big Successes in Product Placement
World's Most 'Liked' Brands
By Jill Weinberger and Joseph O' Dell, CNBC.com