In theory, at least, the worlds of television and advertising should have been 'rocked' by revelations last month that companies regularly pay to promote their products covertly on BBC programmes in clear contravention of the corporation's rules on product placement. The suggestion that products appear in programming for commercial reasons is a severe blow to the credibility and integrity of the BBC.
The BBC duly registered its surprise and immediately launched an investigation. But the rest of the industry scarcely raised an eyebrow " largely because such practices in both the BBC and commercial TV are an open secret in the industry. 'It has been so widespread for so long it's hardly worth remarking on any more,' says one senior independent producer.
The current Ofcom and BBC rules on product placement are a sort of Maginot line, say many in the industry: they look very formidable in theory but in practice there are many ways round them. The easiest way to get your brand on TV, say industry insiders, is to play it straight. Ofcom regulations don't ban the use of brands and products; they simply prohibit paying for placement and what they call 'undue prominence' in their use. So it is quite legitimate to sign up with one of a number of props companies that help television and film productions to source goods for productions. The brand owner might pay the props company pounds 20,000 to represent their products, but no money changes hands between the brand owner and production company or broadcaster.
Some canny brand owners have been known to take the props game a stage further. One baker simply ensured that its products were prominent in every grocer and convenience store within a 10-mile radius of the studios where a major soap was made. Alternatively, a brand could approach a TV station's events sponsorship department, particularly if it wants to appear on the BBC. 'Whenever we investigate sponsoring a TV station event, there is invariably a side conversation in which the amount of on-air exposure and specific verbal mentions are discussed,' admits one ad agency sponsorship specialist.
If that doesn't work, there's always try PR. Daytime chat shows in particular will merrily run 'consumer' stories about research revealing new social trends sponsored by the beneficiaries of that trend.
A related approach is to supply prizes for competitions. In years past the suppliers of prizes were acknowledged only in the vaguest terms. Now it is common for them to receive praise for their generosity, not to mention detailed on-air product descriptions. Failing that you might take your …