In February of this year, British television programme makers became the next cohort of willing participants in the product placement field. The relaxing of advertising rules allowing product placement in television, was criticised for its ‘invasion’ and ‘contamination’ of an experience designed to draw you away from reality for a moment. But with the introduction of technology such as Virgin Media and Sky+ allowing consumers to bypass traditional television commercials, advertisers needed to secure a way of reaching their audiences – integration of products into the television shows are a subtle, yet effective way of achieving this. But how successful has this been, how much has product placement occupied and taken over our beloved shows, and what will be the next stage in this debate?
Product placement is generally argued to be a positive feature in films allowing a more authentic and realistic setting for scenes. Unbranded or obviously false brand names can create an improbable backdrop for films supposedly set in our real world. If Coca-Cola is sold in every corner shop in the UK, why should it not appear in a British film or television show in the same setting? The move from films to television for product placement was suggested to continue this realism, while allowing television programme makers a share of the large revenues from elaborate deals with brands.
The first product placement on British television was part of a £100,000 three-month deal between This Morning and Nescafé, makers of the Dolce Gusto coffee machine. Despite the machine only being featured as a background prop in the show and not mentioned by the presenters, Nescafé reported a 22% rise in sales of the product since its use on the 28th February. Similarly, after an episode of Coronation Street featured Tracy Barlow being rescued by a branded AA van, the breakdown company noted a large increase in applications for membership.
Despite this success, there have been a much lower amount of companies utilizing this new media, than expected. In August, The Guardian reported that since February, only an estimated six deals have been concluded and the predicted inundation of deals has yet to materialise. This lack of enthusiasm from advertisers had been suggested to be due to confusion over rules and compliance from Ofcom. These rules ensure that news, religious, consumer advice and childrens programmes are free from product placement, but additionally, several specific types of product are not allowed to be integrated including tobacco products, alcohol and certain food types.
The future of product placement in British television looks uncertain, with several companies objecting to the principle of the intrusion and the possibility of cheapening the image of their long-standing brands. Product placement has also featured in other media in recent years including video games, Marvel and DC Comics, and a variety of products being featured in music videos, and this trend is predicted to progress into other areas of entertainment. With advertising and marketing agencies continually trying to find methods of reaching elusive audiences, product and brand placement is likely to become commonplace in more niche television shows and other media. As yet, it remains to be seen if the estimated £150-170 million of revenue that television programmers were predicted to make, will ever be realized although broadcasters are hoping that in the future, product placement will fund original programming.
Personally, I think that consumers are intelligent enough to distinguish between the ‘brain-washing’ that comes from product placement and are able to define a distinction between reality and advertising or marketing. Product placement serves to add authenticity as long as it is appropriate to a scene, which Ofcom also have regulations for. No amount of varying media techniques will create a ‘duped’ audience, convinced to purchase products they do not require, merely through the integration of a product in their favourite television show.