With more TV channels than ever, and more programmes with small
budgets, the opportunities for brand owners to get their product onto TV
have never been better. It may be that the product is stacked on a shelf
in an EastEnders’ shop, used as an ingredient in Ready Steady Cook, or
given away on Granada’s This Morning, but the effect can be
The trouble is that as more brands appear on TV, suspicion mounts that
there is underhand dealing, ensuring that certain brands appear.
In a May edition of This Morning, an item on the Disney film Simba’s
Pride ended with the presenter saying: ’Simba’s Pride is going straight
to video and is one not to miss. So rush out and rent it now!’
The Independent Television Commission said the item breached its
Programme Code, forbidding undue prominence of commercial products and
services, and issued Granada with a warning. Granada’s explanation to
the ITC was that ’the team’s enthusiasm for the film had unintentionally
created a promotional effect’.
Another eyebrow-raising example was in a June edition of Channel 4’s TFI
Friday, which is sponsored by Irn-Bru. Featuring a visit by presenter
Chris Evans to the kitchen of Paul Gascoigne, Evans opened the largely
empty fridge and drew attention to the fact that it contained a large
bottle of Irn-Bru. C4 said the clip was ’editorially justified’ - the
ITC disagreed and deemed it to be in breach of its Code of Programme
EastEnders’ producers have become sensitive to accusations that they
give undue prominence to brands. Viewers may notice that characters in
the Queen Vic are rarely seen drinking branded bottled lagers and that
there are far fewer shots of branded beer pumps on the bar.
In the past, it was common to see people in the bar choosing Stella
Artois one week and Beck’s the next. According to an unconfirmed source,
the clampdown follows a gym equipment manufacturer, whose product was
supplied for Grant Mitchell’s fitness club, requesting if it could use
the EastEnders link in promotions.
The ITC Programme Code and the BBC’s producer guidelines clearly spell
out that brand owners cannot pay for their products to be used, they
cannot exercise editorial control over how they are featured and that
producers must not give any product undue prominence in a scene.
Regulators recognise that programmes need to be realistic and require
real products. An ITC spokeswoman says: ’We are concerned with the
effect of a brand’s appearance on screen. We know you need real products
but there is a line to be drawn between reality and promotion.’
Carlsberg lager marketing manager Tom Hings has placed his brands in a
variety of programmes, including EastEnders, Coronation Street,
Emmerdale and Brookside. He explains how TV product placement can work
for the brand owner.
’Product placement provides the brand with the opportunity to be seen by
a large number of people in a real-life situation. A programme like
EastEnders is watched by millions three times a week and gives us the
opportunity to show Carlsberg as a mainstream brand in a real bar. It
provides salience and awareness and has a role in building the brand in
Hings employs Entertainment Marketing, an agency specialising in
providing branded product to TV productions. It’s a competitive business
and monitored by the client.
Hings says: ’I want my brand on the screen and not my competitor’s. If
I’m not there, then they will be.’
Entertainment Marketing - which is owned by the Carat Group - keeps a
database of all forthcoming TV productions. It sends Hings synopses of
new programmes for consideration, asking him to select the programmes
that he thinks would provide a suitable environment for Carlsberg.
Hings says: ’We look at their content and exclude anything that is aimed
at children, is violent, or linked to alcohol abuse. We want our brands
to be seen in a respectable light.’
Entertainment Marketing, which has a stock of Carlsberg products and
equipment, then sends the programmes what they might need.
Neither Carlsberg nor Entertainment Marketing has any control over what
the programme-makers do. As Hings says: ’We give our approval prior to
the product being put forward, but obviously we don’t know whether it
will be included or not.’
Nick Robertson, director of Entertainment Marketing, says that this is
’not product placement, but free prop supply - that’s it. Clients know
they have no control, but they don’t expect it. They’re not doing it for
control; they’re doing it because they can. The programmes need the
product and, if they use it, the brand owner gets in front of millions
The ’peanuts’ is the client’s fee to the placement agency, much like any
PR agency/client relationship.
’It’s an investment against an unknown result,’ says Robertson, adding
that the fee may go up depending on how much the product is
Client and agency will review showings of the brand and rank them for
time in shot and visibility of logo.
There is a dearth of data on TV placement. However, the industry body,
the Entertainment Marketing Association, gives some indicators.
John Barnard, chairman of the EMA and New Media Group, the biggest TV
placement agency in the UK, says that 140 client companies have a
retained placement agency. The ten specialist agencies generate billings
from TV work of just pounds 1.5m per year.
However, the results are worth a lot more. Barnard says that of the
2000-plus projects undertaken by NMG every year, the average worth of
exposure for a grocery brand is pounds 200,000-pounds 400,000
Cars, alcohol and packaged goods lend themselves best to placement, says
Barnard, as they are needed to create a realistic environment.
Of course there are risks attached to product placement. An agency may
get the product on a programme but it can’t control how it is used.
Showcase Placements is used by Ford to place its cars. In a statement,
Ford says: ’We view product placement as supporting both our brand,
television and the film industry. We like to keep awareness levels for
our products high, and the TV and film companies need access to vehicles
However, a story concerning Ford shows the pitfalls. A Ford placed in
EastEnders was driven by the Frank Butcher character when he ran over
Walford’s favourite barmaid, Tiffany Mitchell. It was the cliffhanger in
the New Year’s Eve episode - the storyline of the year.
A spokesman for Ford confirms that it supplies cars to EastEnders via
Showcase but cannot recall if the Ford driven by Frank on that fateful
night was a placed vehicle.
Robertson argues that the damage from occurrences like this is easily
overestimated: ’Who’s going to say ’Oh my god, Tiff was killed by a
Ford?’ Nobody. People love to make something out of nothing.’
In conventional TV product placement, consumer brands have no control
over how their brands are used.
However, a recent example featuring Harper Collins and Channel 4’s
Brookside, showed how a brand can get good exposure as well as control.
Knowing that Brookside’s producer, Phil Redmond, was keen to pursue
adult literacy as a story line, Harper Collins saw an opportunity for
its educational imprint, Collins.
Its agency, the Media Edge, devised a strategy called Brookie Basics,
whereby Collins and Brookside worked on a literacy story line and
associated sponsorship package. For 35 episodes between February and May
this year, Brookside highlighted the adult literacy issue through the
character of Neve. At the end of each episode, a 35-second ident with a
freephone information number invited viewers to call.
Collins sponsored the indent. Any literature sent to callers was also
sponsored, containing information about Collins’ books. Callers also had
the option of enrolling on reading and writing courses at 1000 centres
nationwide. Again, Collins sponsored these, and the course-work
In all, 15,000 people called and Collins got its brand in front of 2.5
million viewers, four times a week.
In the US, the rules of engagement concerning product placement on TV
are different. One recent episode of the hit comedy Friends may have
left UK clients wondering just how brand prominence is regulated.
In an episode where Rachel flies to Ross’s wedding in London, Virgin
Atlantic hit the jackpot.
Rachel arrives at the airport and goes to the Virgin check-in desk
complete with Virgin-uniformed desk clerk. Several valuable seconds of
Virgin-filled shots ensue as Rachel vainly searches for her passport and
tries to persuade the clerk to let her on the plane without it. She
Rachel goes back to her flat in a taxi, and then returns to the airport
for more banter with a smiling Virgin clerk. Rachel then boards the
plane, patrolled by more Virgin angels, and there is an ’establishing
shot’ of the Virgin plane in mid-flight.
With typical British understatement, a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman
concludes that the exposure was ’quite good for us, really’.
There is no mystery over the coverage - it was a contra-deal. The
airline flew the cast and film crew to the UK in return for appearing in
Barnard says deals like this are common in the UK and US, but says that
US regulations concerning TV product placement are very different.
’They also seek to prevent undue prominence, but the purpose is to
protect paying advertisers, not the consumer. It is designed to ensure
that advertisers paying to appear in the commercial breaks are not
overshadowed by rivals placed for nothing in the programme.’
With video games poised to become a major channel for product placement
(see box) the market is going to get more sophisticated and harder to
regulate. Watchdogs beware.
CHARITY LINKS TO EASTENDERS
The International Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) recently scored a coup
when it managed to promote its annual Race for Life women’s cancer
campaign via EastEnders.
PR company Grant Butler Coomber was charged with generating as much
awareness as possible for Race for Life, a series of 54 fun runs for
women taking place around the country between May and August this
Samantha Munro, GBC’s head of consumer PR, was aware of the story line
in EastEnders involving the Barbara Windsor character Peggy Mitchell and
her fight against breast cancer. She also knew that the show is popular
with women and that on the set of the show, in the square, is a large
As EastEnders films episodes eight weeks before transmission, Munro
ensured that she approached the BBC early. ’With something like this,
they have to run it past lots of different departments and it takes a
long time. It’s important you understand their process and don’t get
impatient,’ says Munro.
In the end, the show’s producers could see that the proposal fitted in
well with their story line and was, after all, a good cause. It was
agreed that a poster promoting the campaign could go onto the site in
the square, where it remained for nearly four months - the duration of
the Race for Life period. It read ’75,000 women wanted’ and included a
freephone number to call.
Louise Holland, national event director for ICRF, says it was crucial
that people seeing the poster on TV didn’t think it was a fictional
She charged GBC with generating as much press coverage as possible,
which it did via features in The Mirror, Essentials and OK!
’We wanted women to read about it in the paper, see it in magazines and
then see the poster on EastEnders. We wanted to create as much noise
about it as possible.’
Compared with 1998’s total of 53,000 participants, this year 80,000
women took part, raising pounds 3m for the charity. Next year, Holland
hopes to attract 120,000.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT IN VIDEO GAMES
As the Lucozade ad campaign, featuring Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, shows,
the burgeoning video games sector is starting to demonstrate exciting
possibilities for brand tie-ups.
The key attraction is that placing your brand in a games environment can
provide huge exposure with little of the expense and uncertainty
associated with film and TV deals. Another crucial difference is that in
this cut-throat market, games manufacturers often want strong brands in
their games to lend them credibility.
An example is games manufacturer Codemasters. It has a range of new
games that all feature prominent product placements. One game, No Fear
Downhill Mountain Biking, features trendy sports gear manufacturer No
As well as in the name of the game itself, No Fear’s logo appears in the
graphics of the game as it is played, placed on ad hoardings and bikers’
Codemasters paid No Fear to use its name to endorse the game, as it knew
the clothing brand had strong credibility among its 14-24 male target
Giant, the manufacturer of mountain bikes is also ’placed’ in the game,
although under a different deal involving joint promotion with
The manufacturer has also struck deals with Adidas, which features in
the new Prince Naseem Boxing game and Nescafe, in Toca Touring Cars.
Sarah Nugent, marketing manager for Codemasters, says brand placement in
games is a powerful but misunderstood tool: ’A lot of marketers don’t
understand what they are buying into and the level of exposure they are
going to get. There is no better way to interact with your target market
in such a personal way. People play these games for hours.’
As graphics on game consoles improve, so will the opportunities to
realistically portray brands placed in games. With Sega’s Dreamcast and
Sony’s PlayStation 2 due out later this year, the market for product
placement in games is only just beginning.