Whilst many pundits suggest that the UK consumer is, at best, unimpressed (and at worst, openly hostile) to the idea of product placement, I believe that the timing is actually just right for consumer adoption to take hold.
Much can be said about the historical bias of UK viewers against advertising. Having been reared on a staple of advertising-free BBC programming for decades, many believe that consumers (particularly those of a more respectable age) will rile against the idea of introducing more ‘American-style consumerism’ into the UK culture. OFCOM’s historic position on product placement likely has not helped, nor have past comments by politicians (Andy Burnham famously argued that product placement would ‘contaminate’ British television when he was Culture Secretary).
I would respectfully disagree. In fact, I would argue that many UK consumers are now primed for the coming evolution. Let’s look at the facts.
First and foremost is the reality that UK consumers have been subjected to product placement for years, if not decades, with little perceivable backlash. On the Big Screen, product placement has been infusing some of the UK’s best known assets. Indeed, the James Bond series has likely done more to promote product placement than almost any other franchise in history.
And since the introduction of OFCOM’s new rules, UK viewers have already witnessed subtle product placement in many of the most popular shows. The introduction of the Nationwide ATM in Coronation Street, the appearance of a Nescafé coffee machine on the kitchen set of This Morning, the use of Karcher Pressure Washers by the team on Tommy’s Fix It Yourself and the constant use of TREsemme’s hair products in Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model are just some of the examples of product placement that have been blended in to UK shows without any notable loss of viewership.
UK viewers have also been regaled by – shock and horror – US product placement for years as UK channels (particularly Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky 1) run an increasing amount of US programming.
In fact, according to The Nielson Company, US programming led to 541 brands and 2,029 ‘unique product integrations’ being broadcast on just those three channels alone between 2010 and 2011.
As for consumers, recent surveys by Brand Republic show that most consumers don’t really give a fig about the issue: fully 50 percent of respondents said they had neither a positive nor a negative perception of the use of product placement, while a further 13 per cent said they ‘didn’t know’ how they felt. Only seven per cent indicated they would have a ‘very negative’ perception.
What’s more, OFCOM has gone through great pains to ensure that product placement does not start to leach into those programmes that rely on a high level of impartiality and independence.
Placements cannot be run in children’s programming, news and current event shows, nor religious and consumer advice programmes. Also banned from the practice are products that are widely seen as unhealthy (the grouping often referred to as ‘beer, coke and crisps’).
Placement nay-sayers also advance the belief that UK programming will soon parody the movie The Truman Show where brands are shamelessly plugged out of context and story lines contrived to suit a particular advertiser’s whims. However, OFCOM has also made it clear that this practice will not be tolerated and that undue prominence and editorial justification would be carefully restricted.
In fact, product placement may actually go some way in helping programmes become more realistic and relatable to the British public. I often chuckle when products are positioned to face away from the camera even though the packaging is more than recognisable to anyone that has ever stepped foot into a Tesco (oh, and please note that I did not receive any funding from Tesco – or any other brand mentioned in this paper – for plugging their name).
In my opinion, the use of actual products and brands on television shows will instantly turn fictional characters into ‘real’ people who – just like you and me – use ‘real’ products and brands.