Claire Beale on Advertising

Feel free to place your product - but don't insult the viewer's intelligence

If you've seen Casino Royale you'll notice with a flick of James Bond's elegant cuffs that this 007 wears a rather nice watch. And just in case you don't recognise the label, Bond's leading lady, Vesper Lynd, purrs pointedly: "Beautiful watch. Rolex?" "No. Omega," our hero smirks.

The subtle inference, gentlemen, is that by wearing Omega you too can be a sex god. The not-so-subtle inference is that Omega has paid rather a lot of money to parade its brand in one of the hottest movies of the year.

So James Bond now prefers Smirnoff to Finlandia, Bollinger to Dom Perignon and though he still drives an Aston Martin you can be sure Ford has paid for the privilege. The labels he loves are the ones that have shelled out the cash to be in the movie.

It's not a new phenomenon, just that Bond has always been a canny brand ambassador. Product placement has been a respectable backbone of the movie industry for decades. Now it's heading for UK TV.

The European Parliament has just given the green light to a relaxation of the rules governing product placement in our television programmes, and advertisers and broadcasters are chomping at the bit: as one junk- food door closes (see below) another heavily branded door opens.

MEPs have voted to bring TV programme rules broadly into line with the US TV and film industries, though product placement will still be prohibited in news, current affairs and children's programming. The UK Culture minister, Shaun Woodward, supports lifting the ban and Ofcom has conducted a consultation on the issue.

Of course, we already have product placement on our television screens, despite the fact that it's outlawed under the current rules. The people who inhabit tellyland need to be seen to be living real lives: drinking the same sorts of lager, eating the same sorts of cereal, driving the same sorts of cars that we all do. If no money changes hands and the pack shots are handled appropriately, the proliferation of well known brand names in TV shows is deemed to be a legitimate part of the programme-making process.

The trouble comes if an advertiser finds their beloved brand appears in the show as an object of ridicule, or used as a murder weapon, or closely associated with the villain of the piece; advertisers simply have no control over how their brands are used. Making it a legitimate business practice will put the relationship on to a formal footing allowing advertisers to dictate how their brands are represented.

Even so, seeing your favourite soap star quaffing a Stella has an unquantifiable impact on your own purchasing decisions and on the surface of it product placement looks like a pretty tiny part of the marketing mix.

Well, it is - except that it's a marketing tool that will become more attractive as ad breaks become less effective. As viewers increasingly switch out of commercial breaks or use Sky+ to skip through the ads, embedding your brand in the bits that viewers are actively paying attention to becomes an incredibly powerful proposition. And you can bet there will be plenty of cash-strapped broadcasters happy to package up their stars as brand ambassadors.

The real trick will be to do it convincingly and within the legitimate context of the programme. There's nothing more likely to turn a consumer off than if they think advertisers are insulting their intelligence. Mind you, broadcasters have been getting away with that for years.

JUNK FOOD AD ban: part two (this one will run and run). Now TV companies are being forced to drop so-called junk food advertising from any programmes watched by a high proportion of under 16s, the battle ground is set to shift to other media.

Next up: children's magazines and poster sites. The Advertising Standards Authority is sharpening its knife to remove the junk food canker from comics and other print titles that have a mostly under-16s readership.

Of course, there's no point banning ads from the telly and simply allowing them to migrate to other media. As any communications strategist worth their pay cheque will tell you, we don't form our view of brands in neat media-orientated silos: we absorb commercial messages from across different media and build up a complex brand picture. So there's little to gain from banning junk food TV ads but sanctioning a junk food advertising bonanza in the Beano or on posters in residential areas. The media owners themselves are working on ways to head-off punitive legislation through demonstrable self-regulation; the battle, though, seems already lost.

In the meantime expect plenty of heated debate about exactly what constitutes junk food. Here's a little quiz for you. You've got two boxes: good food and junk food. Which box do you put the following brands into: a Mars Bar; a jar of Marmite; a Big Mac; an apple. Of course, they all go into the box labelled junk food. At least according to the hellishly complicated Nutrient Profiling scheme devised by the Food Standards Agency. The formula is designed to identify offending foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). But working through the minefield of what's acceptable and what's not will sap plenty of time and energy from junk food advertisers, leaving less time and energy to shout about how unfair it all is.

* IT'S THE TIME of year when all the broadcasters send their sales teams out on roadshows to drum up advertising revenue for next year. The TV-sales teams visit media-buying companies and, increasingly, creative agencies to present their programming highlights and creative advertising ideas in the hope of securing big advertising deals before the start of the year.

But there's never been a trading season so fraught with imponderables. With Ntl sent packing by ITV and Ofcom considering Sky's acquisition of a 17.9 per cent stake in our biggest commercial broadcaster, who knows whose hands ITV will be in this time next year.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 has come out with blazing guns, optimistically pitching a 5 per cent increase in its ad rates. This is ostensibly because Channel 4 reckons its programming environment is undervalued by advertisers, but also because there's the small matter of a potential £100 million funding gap between costs and revenues at the channel. Some bloody negotiations and tactical stand-offs with buyers will no doubt ensue.

Meanwhile Channel Five's biggest shareholder, RTL, is also mulling an ITV bid, which would result in it off-loading Five.

The only certainty is that whoever owns ITV this time next year it won't make an iota of difference to advertisers. Next year's programmes are pretty much in the bag and so the fate of its audience ratings is already sealed. The signs so far make Murdoch's £960 million investment look rather generous.

Claire.beale@haymarket.com

Beale'S Best In Show: The Conservative Party

Maurice Saatchi, a former co-chairman of the Conservative Party and a man whose advertising agency will forever be famous for making the Tories a saleable brand, said in this paper last week that "the driving ideology of Conservatism is a belief in self-determination, individuality, independence'.

But David Cameron's first real foray into advertising would suggest he has more in common with Tony Blair's nanny-state approach.

The new campaign, from the right-on creative hotshop Karmarama, is a revelation. It's high on impact, low on branding; it's 100-per-cent digital (see it on YouTube; check out sort-it.co.uk); it's funky, funny, slick. Oh, and it uses the word "tosser" - which presumably is an attempt to talk to us in our own language; it's the only clumsy thing about this ad.

The ad wants us to be more financially responsible. Here our geeky hero is tempted into a life of expensive bling by his oily "tosser inside" until he's riddled with debt. It's all part of a strategy to help us live up to our social responsibilities.

It heralds a new era in political advertising, one where subtlety (there's no Tory branding or attack on the opposition) and humour can flourish and one that fully embraces modern communications.

Whether it will win the Tories any new supporters is another thing, but I guarantee an awful lot of the party's old guard won't have a clue what's going on here.

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