By Glen Mutel, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 03 June 2005 02:26PM
If you say "product placement" to some people, they instantly panic, their minds having been poisoned to the concept by US shows such as The Restaurant or Seinfeld.
Some baulk at the idea of reality show contestants launching into "unscripted" eulogies about Mitsubishi people-carriers. Others dread the day when the plot of the average UK sitcom script revolves around a famous brand of mints.
If you count yourself among this group, then cover your ears now, for Ofcom has given the clearest indication yet it plans to give ground on the issue of product placement.
Last week, the TV regulator launched its revised broadcasting codes - a simplification of the regulations it inherited from its six predecessors.
Among the new guidelines regarding sponsorship, taste and decency and impartiality was a reiteration of the existing ban on TV product placement.
However, Ofcom was at pains to show advertisers and broadcasters alike it hasn't shut the door on the idea. On the contrary, the issue will be reviewed later this year as part of the Future Funding of Programming review.
Earlier this year, while speaking at the ISBA annual conference, Ofcom's chief executive, Stephen Carter, pointed out that placements had "existed for years in films, without viewer detriment".
During that speech, Carter explained Ofcom supported product placement in entertainment programming, but opposed it in factual programmes. In practice, the blurring of these genres makes the implementation of these principles tricky. Another issue in need of addressing is where the funds generated by product placements would go: to a programme's producers or to the broadcaster.
Despite these sticking points, the noises coming from Ofcom recently would suggest it is a case of how, not whether, product placement can be introduced to broadcasting.
1Any changes to the existing restrictions on product placement would need to comply with the European Union directive Television Without Frontiers, which dates from 1989 and outlaws placements. However, it is also under review and movement is expected.
2Advertising groups have welcomed the new broadcasting codes. The ZenithOptimedia chief executive, Antony Young, a representative of the IPA's media futures group, said: "We should be flexible about finding alternative ways to fund TV and providing access for advertising. Today, it's product placement, maybe tomorrow it will be something else. But what's encouraging for us is the openness of Ofcom's approach."
3The new codes also have implications for sponsorship. Until recently, the law stated TV sponsorship idents could last no more than five seconds.
Following objections from ITV, Channel 4 and five, this rule has been dropped.
4Ofcom has maintained its ruling that sponsorship credits must be distinct and separate from programming content. However, under the new codes, sponsorship idents can run in sequence with a programme's end credits, provided the two are separated.
5The ban on the use of calls to action and overt advertising messages within sponsorship idents has been maintained. However, Ofcom will now allow contact details, such as website addresses and helpline numbers, as well as mandatory pricing information, such as phone-line charge rates.
6Restrictions on sponsorship of news and current affairs programmes remain. However, betting and gaming companies are for the first time permitted to sponsor race coverage, sports results round-ups and gameshows that resemble gambling.
7In addition to its rulings on sponsorship and placement, Ofcom has announced it is minded to lift restrictions barring the sponsoring of entire channels. However, this will not apply to news and current affairs channels.
8The new codes call for greater transparency concerning the relationship between a programme and its sponsor. As such, the ban on the phrase "brought to you by ..." has gone - good news, Chris Harrison, Spring London's managing director, says. "When we did a programme called Dinner Doctors, we could only say it was made 'in association with Heinz'," he explains. "If it were made now, we could say, 'Dinner Doctors, made by Heinz', a more accurate reflection of the relationship."
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- If product placement is eventually sanctioned, it will give advertisers a new marketing tool. Multinational companies that have already employed the technique overseas will have a clear advantage over their competitors.
Ian Twinn, the director of public affairs at ISBA, welcomed the response.
However, he said: "It would be quite a big change, which will involve quite difficult balances. There needs to be transparency so the viewers knows what they are seeing. And from the advertisers' point of view, there needs to be some sort of exclusivity to it."
- The recent spate of agencies offering branded-content solutions suggests that if placement were sanctioned, it would bring forth a new breed of advertising start-up.
- The codes have relaxed some of the stringent rules that governed sponsorship idents. This may help improve the effectiveness and creativity of what has been an inconsistent medium.
- Any movement on the issue of product placement will come as welcome news to broadcasters, which face a slump in advertising revenue over the summer months.
- But even if the European Union and Ofcom both decide in favour of product placement, broadcasters will be aware that the money they would receive from this new revenue stream will fail to fully compensate them for the shortfall from dwindling TV spot revenues.
- The codes promise to give broadcasters access to new revenue streams in a way that is more transparent and less regulated. This will make them more attractive to potential overseas buyers, particular those from the sparsely regulated US market.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk