February 15, 2011

Product Placement in Amazon Reviews for Related Products

This is either a real thing, or it’s all in my head. If it’s a real thing, consider this post an exposé that’s blowing the lid off of this new form of subversive advertising. If it’s all in my head, consider this post an innovative idea that creates a new form of effective advertising that has the unfortunate side effect of ruining the product review system.

Companies have already been caught placing fake reviews on Amazon. Sometimes the fake review is just one degree from the product — that is to say, the reviewer works for the company being reviewed. Sometimes a fake review is two degrees away, which makes it harder to spot; for example, Belkin was caught hiring people on Mechanical Turk to write the fake reviews, so the reviews don’t come from people who work for the company. Other companies have offered gifts in exchange for positive reviews.

But what if they could remove themselves by one more degree? What if there were a way to make it almost impossible to even notice that it’s a fake review? What if even a negative review would work as well as a positive one? Nobody would suspect a fake negative review! It would be almost untraceable! It’s the perfect crime.

I have a home theater system that needs speaker mounts. So, naturally, I turned to Amazon and looked at several options. As far as I could tell, no particular speaker mount is that much better than any other. But I did notice something strange, as I read the reviews: an astonishing number of people who review speaker mounts happened to mention that they bought the mounts for their Onkyo HT-6100 speakers.

This is a versatile sturdy product. It works well and I recommend it for a lower cost mount. I mounted the Onkyo HT-6100 speakers on this and it worked great. The extentions that come with the mount really came in handy for my speakers. -David B
I used these with an Onkyo HT6100 HTIB system, and everything worked out fine. I was a little worried at first because the mounts are plastic, but they were plenty strong enough to handle the Onkyo speakers which are about 12 inches tall. Good mounts at a good price! -Nick
Excellent product. I brought this product from Amazon after reading several positive review comments. Product arrived on time. I have brought Onkyo HT-S7300 home theater from Amazon and excellent product to mount the satellite speakers on the celling. My wife loved it. I hired a contractor to install the satellite speakers even he was surprised the excellent flexible positioning of the speakers with this product. This product comes with all types of screws you need to mount the satellite speakers. -Uday

It doesn’t even matter if the speaker-mount review is positive or negative, because that’s not a reflection on the Onkyo speakers. The important thing is just to mention Onkyo speakers. Here’s an example of a negative review that still shows Onkyo in a positive light:

Not good for medium-large size speakers, not fully compatible with Onkyo speakers. I would suggest investing more and get better mounts. -M. Al Rawi

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that so many people mention their Onkyo speakers make and model in their review. Maybe it’s helpful information to give. And maybe Onkyo is more popular than I realized. It certainly isn’t the only brand I saw mentioned in the reviews. It’s just the one I noticed the most. So maybe there’s nothing subversive going on at all. That’s probably the case.

But I can tell you this: Onkyo was never on my radar before. Now I have the impression that a lot of people seem happy with their Onkyo HT-6100. So either this new form of subversive advertising is incredibly effective, or this non-form of non-subversive non-advertising (I think they call it “word of mouth”) happens to actually work.

Now that this idea is out there, how long before we see fake book reviews that happen to mention the eReader the reviewer read it on? Or fake large-screen TV reviews that happen to mention how good that new movie that just came out on DVD was? Or fake bicycle reviews that mention how easily it fits in the roomy trunk of a particular new car?

Previously: Advertising on the Overhead Bin


User reviews are in my opinion such a huge reflection of the product that it’s no wonder companies would hire out people to write good reviews for their product, bad reviews for other products, or this type of cross-reviewing. Money talks, and I wouldn’t doubt if this type of thing was going on. I wonder what kind of work is being done to assure that user reviews come from real reviewers.

Shopping cart systems could only allow reviews from people who have actually purchased that item from their website. Once the item has been purchased, then allow a user to post a review. (Also, after a reasonable amount of time. So many people get something and immediately make claims on it without putting it through some tests or real usage.)

Interesting post though, hadn’t thought of this before.

They don’t even need to be fake reviews. Burn Notice isn’t a fake TV show but they sure try to get me to think drinking Miller 64 (shudder) is cool.

Great post. Not sure if you are on to something but companies are sure paying for product placement so why not. Amazingly, I have to send my Onkyo S9100 in for repair. LOL Sorry, couldn’t resist!

It’s called a “meme”. The reviewers are planting and perpetuating a mind virus to get you to think Oinkyo next time you think of speakers.

Read Richard Brodie’s book “Virus of the Mind” (available at Amazon) for a look at how frighteningly effective this process can be, and to learn how to use mind viruses to improve your life.

But what about product placement on on blog posts about product placement, shall I say meta product placements

This just blew my mind a little. I never thought about reviews like that!

Whether you intended to or not, your post about subversive marketing has now firmly cemented Onkyo HT-6100s in my mind, too.

I bought a pretty good bookshelf off Amazon yesterday. I’m using it to store my eleven copies of Richard Brodie’s book “Virus of the Mind”

This is really interesting - and I don’t think it is all in your mind.

Also, I just downloaded the sample chapter of “Virus of the Mind”, so I’m guessing it works. Must be time to upgrade to some of those Onkyo speakers everyone is raving about now, I guess.

So how much did Onkyo pay you to advertise for them on your blog, you sellout?


I’ve noticed that myself. Definitely appears intentional to me. The only people that naturally mention the exact model of related products are photography gear snobs.

In “Opinion Spam and Analysis” (WSDM’08, February 11-12, 2008), Nitin Jindal and Bing Liu call it “Type 2 Opinion Spam”. Quite an interesting article (yours and theirs).

I don’t think you’re wrong. I’ve been shopping for an iPhone case, and I’ve found more than one review like this one (though this is by far the most blatant):


Not only does it make you think about Onkyo speakers, it probably brings Onkyo speaker products onto the page, doesn’t it?

As in “People who bought this also bought..”

Clever, actually, but it sort of makes one even more warier of believing things read on the web. I used to read hotel review on TripAdvisor before it was revealed that most of the great and excellent reviews were all written by staff of the hotels being reviewed, and they also wrote bad reviews of their competitors. Sigh…

Cayce, the main character in Pattern Recognition (William Gibson, published in 2003, and I like Gibson, I’m not “product-placing”) is a high-level coolhunter paid to advise a company about what’s ahead in a reasonably-distant future so they can position that and benefit financially. Gibson himself is a great “product-placer” as his characters are always using/wearing/involved with some named collectible object from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Key word here being “collectible.”

I’m going to close this page in my browser now, and I’m going to go home and never think about Richard Brodie’s “Virus of the Mind” again.

Lol, Jeanne B. Love the irony of your comment. Note: I did not, however, immediately go look up Brodie’s book. ;-)


I couldn’t agree more, a friend of mine had exactly the same experience when searching for an amp. I however, didn’t need to search because I was more than happy with my Onkyo HT6100.


The thing is, of course that by writing that much about the Onkyo + reviews you might even make this page rank high on google search terms for that. The Adwords link on this page also displaying an Onkyo ad. Darnit, this marketing virus is spreading even further!