Chris Hackley on UK TV Product Placement

Chris Hackley, Professor of Marketing at Royal Holloway, recently asked me to feature his article on UK TV Product Placement on I’d just finished eating a delicious DOMINO’S PIZZA and a refreshing can of COCA-COLA, and had some spare time (checking on my CASIO watch) before using my iPHONE to check my EBAY to find out if I’d managed to win my bid on THE BRAND NEW, FANTASTIC RENAULT CLIO…so jokes aside, here it is, Chris!

His paper addresses the fact that the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s recent announcement to leave Ofcom’s PP ban in the UK unchanged misses an opportunity to update regulations to the benefit of UK TV companies and viewers. This means, in effect, that, UK commercial and non-commercial TV will be subsidising American TV.

He outlines the benefits of PP on TV, saying:

“Product placement is taking an increasing share of promotional budget for brand clients because of its value and persuasive power. Not only are TV shows ideal vehicles for brands because they can portray the product in use, identified with celebrities and celebrity culture.”

Take a look at this clip from ‘Spiderman’ – I can’t even count the amount of brands in there.

But in real life, we are surrounded by Brands, so why not in films or TV?

Anyway, back to Chris’ article. From a commercial perspective, he argues that:

“British TV is awash with brands in both domestic and imported programming. There is already a thriving product placement industry in the UK. It gets around the regulations by giving branded props free of charge to programme makers…The UK’s ‘free prop supply’ system, though, has a number of anomalies. Not least, it means that UK TV channels receive no revenue for the placements, which appear in syndicated American shows. When these are aired in the UK on both commercial and non-commercial TV it effectively adds value to product placement in those shows at no cost to the US TV companies or their brand clients…The Ofcom ban results in a false market rate for product placement.”

He also considers the argument from a more ethical stance, considering the consumer perspective:

“The fact that many young viewers, in particular, are indifferent to or cynical about the putative distinction between editorial and advertising in broadcast media is not a reason to abandon the principle. However, the younger viewing public are, generally, fully aware of the commercial inter-relationships which obtain in mediated entertainment. They often assume that brands in the script, scene or plot of a mediated entertainment vehicle are there partly from a promotional motive, even though most brands in TV, even in the USA, are there by coincidence, for dramatic verisimilitude, and not by contractual arrangement…If all paid for product placement were to be allowed, viewers could make this very assumption by default.”

And concludes that:

“At a time when revenues are being squeezed the fact that the UK commercial and non-commercial broadcasters air syndicated shows from the USA means that, in effect, the UK TV industry will continue to subsidize American TV producers.”

The full article is linked here.

So what do people think? In my opinion, the discussion is summarised accurately in one of Chris’ statements: “Consumers are well-aware that brands cannot be allowed to drive the plot, narrative or cinematography. Movies that feature too many, or excessively obvious, placements are subject to robust mockery by audiences.”

One doesn’t have to take as extreme a view as David Lynch on the topic (see below) – but there is certainly an argument against PP.

Remember the discussion surrounding ‘The Island’, ‘Minority Report’, ‘Spiderman’ (see video at the top of this post) and more recently and arguably blatantly in ‘I, Robot’ and ‘Casino Royale’…my personal favourite being the line in the Bond film, synonymous with PP in recent years, where Vesper Lynd asks Bond whether his watch was a Rolex as it looked expensive. When he told her it was an Omega, she replied “a beautiful watch”. Nice – but is it shameless promotion or an attempt at more modal conversation? Channel 5 drama Neighbours often references popular culture in an attempt to appear ‘cool’ or more realistic (“I love that new Maroon 5 song…what’s it called…”), seemingly without particular commercial gain. As Chris continues:

“On the other hand, brands that are integrated into the narrative development can enhance the quality of entertainment by deepening the sense of reality or visually reinforcing the symbolism of character and action.”

Viewers are not stupid, but can appreciate the use of brands to increase programme modality. Further, with in-game PP (Eg on the boards surrounding the track in a racing computer game); and the rise and ease of digital product placement (where brands and products can be superimposed onto the show post-filming – so the products needn’t actually be therre in the first palce – for a really interesting video on this see this CBS NEW VIDEO (sorry couldn’t embed it) on the up, the debate will continue – but it still comes down to firstly the degree of modality evoked in the use of PP, and the way it is contextualized within the narrative / look and feel of the TV show, film or computer game. If, as a discerning TV viewer, you notice a can of Dr Pepper on screen and immediately feel the urge to go out and buy the reportedly misunderstood beverage, there is probably something wrong with you. But that is not to say it’s OK for brands to slap you in the face whilst you’re watching a show. The question, perhaps is whether you prefer this contextualized form of branding to a 5 minute ad break.

Right, I’m off to enjoy a nice cup of delicious PG TIPS and a mouth watering OREO. Bye!


4 Responses

  1. James Dodd Comment via Facebook:

    Yo Joe mate

    Dunno where you want that article comment left as its not yours but just to say I read it its good

    He defo should of mentioned the sky plus and online era tho where by we can fast forward adverts in a large majority of cases or they don’t feature as heavily in light of this PP may potentially become the only source of TV advertising

    I dunno just something to think about


  2. Chris Hackley Comment via Gmail:

    Nice work. I’ll look into that twitter thing.

    Laughed out loud at the bottom washing sketch

    You might be interested in this link, its called clickthrough – video content viewed on mobiles or laptops/pcs can be adapted so that placements can be instantly bought by clicking on them. The technology’s been around a few years but now more people are viewing content on PC/Mobile its more commercially viable. This is a successful initiative with The Script pop videos

  3. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

  4. Thanks for sharing this with us. I recognize that this subject is expensive to several and most folks have a degree of enthusiasm around it but in the end we tend to need to take this into perspective and start to appreciate what’s very necessary in our lives.

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