Magazine article Marketing

Taking Pride of Place

Magazine article Marketing

Taking Pride of Place

Article excerpt

Placing products in TV shows is a great way to get them noticed, but it's a tactic fraught with problems.

Picture the scene. Facing financial ruin, Mark and Ruth Fowler retire to the Queen Vic to discuss their bleak future. Even though he hasn't sold any fruit for a week, because the Square found out he is HIV positive, Mark orders two bottles of 'reassuringly expensive' Stella Artois.

Mark is not alone in his taste for designer beer. A surprisingly large number of down-on-their-luck EastEnders prefer bottled premium lagers to an honest pint. And, contrary to most consumers' habits, they appear to switch brands every week.

Since the practice of product placement is strictly prohibited in BBC producer guidelines, one can only assume that the reason for this is that landlord Grant Mitchell keeps a lousy cellar.

In Bet Lynch's last episode of Coronation Street, the veteran barmaid's final scene saw her telling two kids to pick a can up from the gutter and throw it in the bin. The can was Tango and the brand shared the final moments of one of Corrie's most popular characters, watched by a record audience.

Paid-for product placement is banned by the BBC and the Independent Television Commission (ITC), so the starring roles of some brands in TV programmes is, in theory, coincidental. According to BBC producer guidelines "a product or service must never be included in sound or vision in return for payment". The ITC's code of practice on undue prominence says: "In no circumstances may the manner of appearance of a product be the subject of negotiation or agreement with the supplier."

If a producer contravenes these rules they face a hefty. fine. Granada's This Morning was fatuously fined [pounds]500,000 by the ITC for repeated breaches of its programme and sponsorship codes. A cookery competition described as being "in conjunction with" She magazine and Safeway was the final straw that made the ITC a fine. This was the eighth in a series of contraventions by This Morning of the ITC's codes.

Interestingly, Coronation Street has been found to be contravening ITC rules on undue prominence, including a scene where a can of Flora cooking oil was held in shot for 30 seconds.

Virginia Lee, spokesperson for the ITC, admits that undue prominence of products "can be hard to track and prove" and says policing the codes inevitably involves "some whistle blowing".

However, she says it is not a creeping problem in the industry, despite the fact that the ITC is running its Kanga Brew TV ad to raise awareness of the issue. "This is part of an ongoing promotion to highlight the role of the ITC and identify important issues," she says.

Despite the seemingly tough regulatory environment, there are clear opportunities for brands to take advantage of non paid-for TV appearances. The question is, how should this process be managed?

The demand for brands on TV is clearly there. The need for authenticity, coupled with tight production budgets, means that set designers are unlikely to refuse the offer of free products to use in the programme. Shop shelves need stocking, characters need to drive cars and offices need computers.

The companies that help this to happen stress that they are performing a valuable service and are not in the business of getting free advertising for their clients with a nod and a wink to the set designer. A new industry body, the Entertainment Marketing Association (EMA), has been set up in the hope of lending respectability to the product placement sector. …

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