Product placement: Coming to a TV show near you

As of February 28, product placement is fair game on UK TV shows. Given viewers' propensity to switch over/press the mute button/fast forward through ad breaks, is this an exciting opportunity for brands to gain greater exposure, not to mention a valuable new source of revenue for the TV channels and programme-makers, or an intrusive move that will turn viewers off?

Here's the lowdown:

  • Product placement will be permitted on commercial channels, in films, TV series, entertainment shows and sports programmes. Paid-for placements are still banned in all children's and news programmes, UK-produced current affairs, consumer affairs and religious programmes.
  • The paid-for placement of tobacco, alcohol, gambling, foods or drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, medicines and baby milk are still prohibited, as is the placement of any products and services that can't be advertised on television, "such as weapons or escort agencies", says Ofcom.
  • Broadcasters are required to make it clear if a programme contains product placement by displaying the new logo (pictured above) at the beginning of the show. The logo must also be shown after any ad breaks and at the end of the programme.
  • The watchdog has taken steps to preserve editorial integrity and prevent programmes becoming ad vehicles; all product placement must be "editorially justified" and products or services can't be "featured in an unduly prominent way".
  • Rules on TV sponsorship are being relaxed, enabling sponsors to product place in programmes they are backing, and company logos to appear as brief sponsorship credits during shows.
  • Product placement over the airwaves will also be permitted; paid-for references to products and services can be included in radio shows, but listeners must be informed when this is happening. Again, product placement is banned in news and children's programmes.

TV advertising doesn't come cheap, and it's as yet unclear how much a placement will set you back in the UK. According to Broadcast, ITV is currently working with brand analysis firm Repucom to determine the value of different product placements within its shows.

As with placements in films, where the cost is dependent on everything from the amount of exposure the project is expected to get to whether the product is featured in the foreground or background, costs are likely to vary significantly.

Laura Mashiter, founder of Refresh PR, believes the changes represent an exciting opportunity for businesses: "When it comes to product placement, PR agencies across the country are already vying for opportunities for their clients," she says.

"As commercial stations begin to prepare their product placement / sponsorship packages, agencies will be keeping a keen eye on the outcome. The big British soaps like Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale will be the ones I'm watching first - it's going to be an interesting year!"

However, David Fletcher, head of analytics and insight at media agency MEC, warns that brands need to maintain their integrity to make sure they don't destroy the relationship with the viewer.

"From our own research consumers are generally neutral about product placement but what they are sensitive to is overt communication," he says.

"If you make product placement too obvious people are more likely to remember the brand but they are less likely to respond positively because there's a breach of trust between the viewer and the broadcaster."

The changes have sparked debate across the media industry as to whether or not viewers will be able to distinguish between programming or advertising content ('the separation principle'), but Fletcher believes these concerns are misplaced.

"We're no stranger to seeing brands showcased within our entertainment choices, whether overtly in the latest blockbusters at our local cinemas, or the unsubtle taped over Coke labels on stateside reality shows such as American Idol," he explains.

"If broadcasters and advertisers respect a viewer relationship then the warning symbol for product placement - a necessary sop - should become obsolete sooner rather than later. There will be little harm and it will open a new revenue stream for brand and channels. If you get this right the opportunities are substantial."

What are your thoughts on product placement? Would you promote your brand in this way? Tell us below.

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