TV product placement ban lifted? They think it’s all over – it is now

Sep. 14, 2009 | by Arjo Ghosh


So, as reported by the BBC, the UK is going to lift the ban on product placement within British television programming. The story went something like this:

Adman1 “I’ve got an idea. As UK television revenues are plunging and consumers are now ignoring and fast forwarding through TV advert breaks let’s trick them by placing products into programming. In this way they will be unable to tune out and we will be able to force-feed our advertising messages into their spongy couch-potato brains.”

Adman2 “Brilliant, it’s foolproof, and American TV is some of the best in the world, I especially love the way they blend serious news and advertising messages seamlessly. I reckon that it’s worth a few quid too – bring-on lunch at the IVY.”

Adman1 “Ha, the Internet doesn’t know what is going to hit it, we’re back!”

Admen (together) “Cigars!”

10 Embarrassing Product Placements from AlleyInsider on Vimeo.

OK, so I’ve drastically simplified the issues but I do think that the move signifies how bankrupt some of our media practices have become. The £100m or so estimated extra revenue that the lifting of the ban will generate will help prop-up the out-dated, and unloved, ad model for a little longer. Whilst the change will bring us into line with our US and European counterparts does it help bring advertising in-line with people who actually spend time watching programmes? Did anyone ask us?

BUT, we tune out because we want to. We fast forward through the bad adverts because we want to. We like to choose the time, place and medium for absorbing advertising content.

Google has gained a monopolistic market share because 90% of the UK search market (us again) find it useful because it fulfills a need. Trying to slip ad-messages into my favourite soap will not work unless it’s useful.

In March Ben Bradshaw’s predecessor, Andy Burnham (Culture Secretary), rejected the idea of lifting the ban saying, ‘I have listened carefully to the arguments on both sides around product placement, and concluded that it should not be permitted in programmes made for this country. There is a lack of evidence of economic benefits, along with very serious concerns about blurring the boundaries between advertising and editorial.‘ [Guardian]

So why the u-turn? Does the change help diffuse some of the criticism aimed at the Beeb for its’ easy ride compared to commercial public service broadcasters during the downturn? Where have the serious concerns gone?

For me it’s the white flag to the digital media age. Rather than adapt the model to be better based on what we want the admen have done what they know best. Although this time, it’s not what we or anyone outside of the madmen bubble want.

Other background at the FT click here.

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    Comments (4)

    • Alia Markegard

      Preliminary Card (On Spike TV):Feb 10, 2010 06:13 am

    • Arjo Ghosh

      Adman1 'hey, these 'digital' guys are just are just a bunch of jumped-up children anyway'.

      The hard data that supports arguments about the nature/quantity/quality of online 'engagement' is something that is we have been working on at iCrossing for some time. We've gone as far as building a measurement framework which takes into account a range of qualitative and quantitative data to try and provide an overall understanding about the value of e.g. the impact of media in online networks (Channel4 Education).

      There is a lot of work to be done in our industry and we know that our work will just be one small part of a wider collaborative and research-based approach. Yes, taking one metric e.g. 'time spent online' and extrapolating that this proves engagement is bogus.

      We also carried out considerable qualitative research into social media behaviour, both in terms of the shape and formation of networks and the 'how' and 'why' people choose to give their attention. This research is now driving digital strategies for some, i.e. not just online. An example would be our work for the Toyota IQ launch where we 'hypermiled' the car around the UK and, by traditional measurement techniques, reached 105 million people. We didn't achieve this by pre or post-rolling anything, we just took a great product to people and let them interact with it.

      Traditional TV advertising is being dis-intermediated.

      As far as the evidence goes for people skipping adverts in pre-recorded or on-demand media I think that the real issue is the change that the internet brings in terms of media consumption expectations. We are all now getting used to free models, some are not advert supported either (twitter e.g.). If our expectations are that 'advertising' is intrusive then product 'placement' is just another clumsy method of getting attention by fair or foul means.

      From my experience building trusted (branded and non-branded) content that is genuinely useful to people has the effect of creating brand equity. To do so the content needs an independent view and to be expertly written/created/produced. People are giving their attention en masse to creative ideas and functionality that they can valuably interact with (red button TV! There's a joke).

      Finally, just because many online businesses are not making money now doesn't mean that they will not in the future. Building infrastructure and putting new products into completely new markets takes time (Amazon springs to mind).

      I reiterate. The internet changes everything. TV product placement is defunct already.Sep 21, 2009 12:47 pm

    • The Goat

      Product placement bad for TV editorial? I'll go with that. Less commercial impacts due to ad-skipping PVR's etc. Sorry, not true not in the UK - check out ANY research before you get paid for writing your opinion.

      Did any consumer want a video pre-roll?

      Has anyone on the web outside Google really monetised their offering (erm youtube, discuss)?

      The DCMS have called this out - most of the traditional ad industry doesn’t support this move - It affects the quality of content which ultimately affects the viewing which, in turn, harms advertising.

      Sorry If I'm jumping all over the shop in countering your 'article' but I thought I'd follow your style (you are mis-guided in your thoughts that £100Million would prop up the TV industry but having made the point, you ask the question of why the U-turn? - No I don't believe you were being rhetorical

      As for waving the white flag to the digital age - Really;

      1st -web is time spent – Its not ‘engagement’ it’s not even the box in the corner of the room most households spend too much time consuming (erm if I click ITV on my remote is it less engagement than clicking onto the Yahoo homepage?)

      secondly, understand the industry you operate in (I'm sorry it's not DIGITAL its the WEB we are talking - I had a digital watch in the 70's and 90% of TV is 'Digital') – Web revenues is broadly the same as TV  - look at  the penetration of both, look the ubiquity of outdoor, hear & feel the relevance of local radio….
      Thirdly, grow-up.
      Yes the internet changes everything – but (back to the top now) sell your medium on the benefits it offers rather than knock others. I thought you were new and shiny internet, but no, taking the worst of the old school and re-applying it ain’t gonna cut it maybe check out – Take that to your advertiser.
      No – wait till they come to you and ask – accountable?
      Sep 17, 2009 08:37 pm

    • richard

      There's a more shameless fedex promo than the one in the video. Tom Hanks' Castaway; Although maybe their plane crashing and packages being lost isn't what they were hoping for at pitch.Sep 16, 2009 04:07 pm

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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