After years of wrangling between commercial broadcasters and regulators, product placement was allowed on British television for the first time today, although most viewers probably wouldn’t have noticed. The first programme to feature a product paid by advertisers to appear in shot was ITV 1’s This Morning, where a coffee machine was displayed in the background of a cookery segment.
Despite product placement being new to British television, it’s probably something you’re already familiar with, having been around in many other countries for years. It was impossible to the later seasons of 24 without having the Cisco Systems logo thrust into your face at least once an episode, while ITV managed to blur out the Coca-Cola cups displayed in front of Simon Cowell in American Idol. I remember watching the news in Asia, with the closing credits mostly consisting of what stores you could buy the clothes the anchors were wearing. And then, of course, there are the many examples from movies – the Filmdrunk blog has put together a brilliantly thorough selection of clips, including that memorable scene from Wayne’s World.
Some quite strict rules have been imposed on British broadcasters. Product placement won’t be allowed on the news, current affairs, children’s or religious programmes. Unhealthy food, baby milk and gambling services are among a list of products not allowed to be placed, plus don’t expect more well-known names to appear on the pumps at the Rovers Return because alcohol is also not allowed.
Broadcasters also will have to display the product placement “P” logo at the start and end of programmes to let viewers know that paid-for products will appear in the programme. If you look closely, you can just about see it in the corner of This Morning’s titles, above.
In the end, when the big moment came, you’d never have guessed an important moment in British broadcasting history was happening. The rules state that the products featured cannot be promoted – you won’t have a presenter or actor fondling it like on a shopping channel or telling viewers how great it is, the product or logo can simply appear. And so, during the cooking section of the show, a Nescafé Dolce Gusto coffee machine was simply sitting on a shelf in the background. There was no close up or mention of it, and it only appeared behind chef Phil Vickery in a handful of shots, meaning it seemed like any other background prop in the set’s kitchen area, the only difference being that ITV was paid £100,000 for the item to sit there for the next three months.
A very low-key beginning to product placement in the UK, then, but with many more deals reported, including one with Thomas Cook, it seems to be something that This Morning in particular has embraced wholeheartedly. With rumoured future deals including one between a major supermarket and Come Dine With Me and another between Electronic Arts, publisher of the FIFA football games, and Sky Sports, it’ll be interesting to see how things move on from here.