P is for product placement as TV shows sell out to advertisers

Ofcom, the media regulator, today unveils its new on-screen warning signal designed to alert viewers to the presence of product placement in television programmes.

The monochrome double P logo will be seen from 28 February, appearing for three seconds at the start and end of programmes, following the Government's decision to accede to the demands of an under-pressure commercial television sector and permit advertisers to pay broadcasters for the inclusion of branded goods and services in their programmes.

It is thought to be the first warning signal on British television since Channel 4's short-lived red triangle on shows with adult content in 1986. That experiment was abandoned after a few months amid accusations that the triangle served only as a means of drawing the attention of viewers to the existence of racy material.

Unlike the red triangle, which was an editorial decision by a single broadcaster, Ofcom's product placement logo will be mandatory across all British commercial programming when paid-for brands appear in the content.

Product placement will be allowed in films, dramas, documentaries, soaps, entertainment and sports programmes. It will be prohibited in all children's programmes, news and current affairs, consumer advice and religious programmes made for UK audiences.

The new rules state that product placement must be editorially justified and programmes cannot be created or distorted so that they become vehicles for a brand. The product placement must also not be unduly prominent.

In other television markets, such as America, such "embedded marketing" is part of the culture. Research by Nielsen records thousands of instances of product placement every year in popular reality shows such as The Biggest Loser, Hell's Kitchen and American Idol, where Simon Cowell can be seen sitting on the judging panel with a branded Coca-Cola drink in front of him.

UK broadcasters, struggling to cope with limited advertising revenues during the recession, have long been appealing for a relaxation of the rules on product placement.

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