Thirsty, Simon? or Are You Trying to Sell Us Something? How Product Placement Is about to Transform British TV

Daily Mail (London), January 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

Thirsty, Simon? or Are You Trying to Sell Us Something? How Product Placement Is about to Transform British TV


Byline: from Tom Leonard in new york

Don't be surprised if you soon see a few changes on Coronation Street and the X Factor. By March, it could be Bacardi Breezers all round in the Rovers -- with Ken Barlow thrilling the rest of the cast with the wonders of his new iPhone.

Meanwhile, Simon Cowell could be getting contestants to warble I'd Like to Buy the World A Coke. Product placement will be allowed on British television programmes for the first time from the end of next month and some fear our viewing will never be the same.

the controversial marketing practice, also known as embedded advertising, allows advertisers to pay for their products and services to be featured on programmes rather than simply in the ad breaks. It is rife in the United States, where -- ironically -- there is growing pressure to curtail what has become a multi-billion-dollar and almost unregulated industry. But in a remarkable U-turn, our outgoing Labour government gave in to pressure from commercial broadcasters and abandoned its stance that it was 'blurring the boundaries' between advertising and editorial.

In the U.S. there is plenty of evidence that those boundaries are being blurred more and more.

In 1949, nBC launched America's first daily tV news programme, the Camel news Caravan, featuring a newscaster who was always smoking a Camel cigarette and a policy that banned footage of 'no smoking' signs and anyone puffing cigars, including Sir Winston Churchill.

no commercial tie-in is quite so brazen nowadays -- or at least you assume it isn't. But the problem with product placement, or 'stealth advertising' as critics have dubbed it, is that you can never be sure what is an advert and what isn't.

Product placement has been in American films and tV for decades, but the advent of digital recording, which allows viewers to skip commercials, has forced advertisers to find other ways of getting noticed.

Around [pounds sterling]2.3billion was spent on U.S. product placement in 2009. the Biggest Loser, in which obese people compete to lose weight, racked up 6,250 product placements in one year.

Computer giant Apple even has a secretive department, Apple Seeding, devoted entirely to getting its products used on tV and in films.

But while conventional ad men are happy to flag up their commercials, product placement is shrouded in secrecy. Barbara Maultsby, vice president of UPP, one of America's biggest product placement companies, refused to identify any of the brands it has helped insert into shows.

She insists real products 'enhance creative integrity', saying: 'When you see a fake brand, it takes you out of the reality of that situation.' not everyone sees it that way. the Writers Guild of America, the union representing tV scriptwriters, has complained that members are forced to write advertising copy disguised as storylines and that 'tens of millions of viewers are sometimes being sold products without their knowledge, in opaque, subliminal ways'.

CoMMeRCIAL Alert, which campaigns against the commercialisation of American life, calls product placement 'an affront to basic honesty'.

'Done subtly, holding a bottle of branded beer is hardly noticeable,' says Professor Jay newell, an advertising expert at Iowa State University. …

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