The rampant product placement in House of Cards (2013) has led many viewers to vent their disgust on Twitter. Think: presidential staffers sipping Fiji water, reporters using Apple computers, and characters texting on Windows mobile devices. Most of the product placement on the show is nothing more than the garden variety “buy me, buy me, buy me” advertising, as in the case of the ever-present Windows phones and fancy Samsung televisions. These instances of blatant product promotions fail to further the narrative and often distract the viewer. But the alternative -- to avoid showing real-life products by using fake or altered brands -- could be even more distracting. Nothing takes the viewer out of the story faster than hearing a character take down a phone number that starts with “KL5." Thus, in a show like House of Cards, product placement proves to be a mixed bag (insert designer logo here).
At times, product placement is utilized to show character development, as when Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) discusses the virtues of the PS Vita in Season One with Peter Russo:
The quick discussion over the video game console reminds us that Frank is more than conniving politician; indeed, it humanizes him, albeit slightly, even as it serves as a manipulative ploy to help Frank gain Peter Russo’s favor. Without the bonding episode over this video game, Peter Russo may have never fallen down the Frank Underwood path and might still be alive, likely failing the members of his district.
Season Three uses another video game, Monument Valley, to advance the plot. In this case, House of Cards reached out to the video game producers and asked to feature the game in a critical point in the season. In the story, Frank is at an impasse in his attempt to sell the America Works jobs program to the public at large. After fruitless discussion with his aids Remy and Seth, Frank takes a break and decides to play an indie video game, inspired by a glowing and well-written review by Tom Yates. While playing, Frank realizes that the only reason he is enjoying this particular game is due to the review. This realization leads to Frank's hiring of Tom Yates to write his presidential biography for the purpose of selling America Works to the public. In this instance, the product placement does advance the plot, while helping the video game get exposure. A win-win situation, perhaps.