PUBLIC RELATIONS: Making the best of a TV appearance - Product placement on television can be worth thousands in brand exposure. James Curtis reports

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 powerful.

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

normal life.’

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

for peanuts.’

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

as props.’

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

the show.

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.


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

poster site.

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.


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.


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