Jesus Christ ... Salesman? TV show to plug coffee-maker
His ability to transform water into wine is well known. But now Jesus Christ will endorse the Magnifica bean-to-cup cappuccino coffee maker as ITV offers brands the chance to embed their products in its new search to find a West End star.
The Magnifica is expected to play a starring role in ITV1's next talent show, a Saturday night search for the lead in a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar, with Andrew Lloyd Webber heading the judging panel.
Sir Tim Rice, the hit musical's lyricist, has already called the show "tasteless" and "tacky" after warning that it would be "ill-advised to have people voting for who should be Jesus".
His concerns about the programme's overt commercialisation may not be allayed by the news that ITV is asking brands to provide products which will be demonstrated on camera by the singing finalists.
In an email exchange seen by The Independent, ITV said it was "looking for a company to supply a new Saturday night prime-time programme with a coffee machine to be used by the talent".
The plea was forwarded to the brand manager of De'Longhi, producers of high-end coffee machines. An account executive from Clarion Communications, De'Longhi's PR agency, replied the opportunity "sounds great!".
She wrote: "The show is a talent show looking for the next Jesus Christ Superstar lead role with Andrew Lloyd Webber. They require two coffee machines to sit in the competitors' house kitchen (it can be a machine of our choice so we suggest providing a Magnifica), and in return De'Longhi get a credit on the website, which can include a blurb about the products, a logo and a link to the De'Longhi website."
The machines will be used for the "full length of filming which will be until the autumn". The De'Longhi brand manager agrees, writing: "Let's go ahead. I would suggest Magnifica too." Viewers expressed concern that performances of the rock opera's climactic song, "The Crucifixion", could be halted while Jesus samples a cup from the £300 Magnifica ESAM4200, a fully-automated "bean-to-cup" machine with integrated coffee bean grinder.
Vivienne Pattison, director of viewers' association Mediawatch UK, said: "It shows that with product placement, anything goes. The purpose isn't to make better programmes for viewers but to deliver viewers to advertisers."
Last year a Nescafe Dolce Gusto coffee machine became the first item to gain an on-screen role following a relaxation of paid-for "product placement" rules by Ofcom. The company paid £100,000 for the machine's three-month appearance on ITV1's This Morning show.
ITV said the Magnifica was "prop placement" rather than product placement since the De'Longhi had not paid to get prominence for its coffee machine during the series.
ITV agreed a paid-for deal with Nationwide to place a branded cash machine in Coronation Street. But claims that product placement, a commonplace feature in US television shows such as Mad Men, could generate £100m a year in the UK have proved optimistic.
A ban on "junk food" placement means ITV cannot scatter cans of Coca-Cola in front of Simon Cowell on The X Factor. Paid-for branding is not allowed in children's, news, consumer affairs or religious shows – ITV's Superstar series is classified as entertainment.
Superstar, which features Jason Donovan and Spice Girl Mel C as judges, marks Lord Lloyd-Webber's debut for ITV after defecting from the BBC where he enjoyed a run of successful West End talent searches.
An ITV spokesperson said: "There are currently no paid for product placement deals in place for Superstar."
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