– John Reinan, Senior Director, Media Relations, Fast Horse

Steve Baird recently wrote about the use of real brand names on fictional products in entertainment. Branching off from that thought, I began wondering about the future of product placement in TV, movies and online entertainment (also known as embedded marketing).

Product placement has been around since the growth of mass media more than 100 years ago. I became aware of it when, as a youthful car buff, I wondered why every car in a particular TV show seemed to be a Ford (or a Chrysler, or a Chevy). Watching the credits roll, I’d spy a small-print acknowledgement along the lines of, “Promotional consideration furnished by the Ford Motor Co.”

But product placement really gained steam in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Moviemakers, in particular, discovered that their rising production budgets could be offset to some extent by placing branded products into scenes, or even writing plotlines around them.

I’ve been suspecting that product placement will begin to drop off as advertisers increasingly produce their own branded content, rather than paying to be featured in content produced by others. That could make things easier (though possibly less lucrative) for trademark lawyers, as the brands themselves would be in charge and quarrels about rights or use would diminish.

I was wrong. U.S. product placement revenue jumped 10.2 percent in 2011 to nearly $4.3 billion, according to a recent report by PQ Media, a firm that tracks non-traditional advertising spends. TV, movies and mobile/web all showed healthy increases.

Branded entertainment – content that’s fully owned by the brand — is only going to grow. I wrote about this four years ago on our Fast Horse agency blog, the Idea Peepshow. We’re going to see more programming reminiscent of the Golden Age of Radio and the early days of TV, when shows had names like “The Lucky Strike Program” and “The Pepsodent Show” (starring Jack Benny and Bob Hope, respectively).

But it looks like good old pay-for-play is thriving and will also be with us for some time to come.