Media: Why Mike Baldwin never has to walk: Once branded products were kept out of TV drama. Now marketing executives know how to get names named, says Meg Carter

MIKE BALDWIN in Coronation Street drives a Nissan Micra (when his Jaguar disappears). Such product association with television personalities provides valuable publicity, and it is catching the attention of advertisers eager to stretch their budgets further.

Paying for branded products to be used on screen is big business in the United States, but banned here. Yet British advertisers are waking up to the opportunities offered by supplying free products and services that production companies' budgets would not stretch to.

'Product placement' is a misnomer, say companies working in the business. While providing products to producers or broadcasters in exchange for money is banned by the Independent Television Commission and the BBC Charter, supplying products at no cost to the production team, ultimately saving cash for the broadcaster, is not in breach of any code.

What better product endorsement could there be than for viewers to see a familiar television character using a branded product in prime time? And for the beleaguered producer struggling to make ends meet, what better way of adding realism to a production than by using the latest fast car or computer?

BT, Toyota, Honda and ICL are among companies that have appointed product placement specialists to act on their behalf. Others, including AEG and Rank Xerox, have asked their advertising agencies to develop placements. Companies see this as a way of extending marketing budgets, getting their products seen in use in 'real' environments and, if they are lucky, used by a star.

Those companies using product placement companies favour retaining them for at least a year at an agreed fee. Payment often takes into account results - although guarantees are impossible - and can amount to tens of thousands of pounds over a year. In a business that operates close to the margins of propriety, exact figures are kept a close secret.

Critics describe product placement as merely 'cheap advertising'. Advertising agencies describe it as a 'new media opportunity'.

'It is subtle inference rather than direct advertising,' explains Richard Worrall, head of broadcast sponsorship at Media Horizons, a division of the advertising agency Young & Rubicam. 'The really good examples are visible from the marketing perspective, but when seen by the viewers the message is absorbed subliminally.'

But such subtlety concerns critics who regard product placement as insidious. While Beamish stout has become associated with Inspector Morse through its TV sponsorship, the association is commercial and labelled as such. Product placement is less clearly defined, which has caused some programme makers to worry about the possibility of editorial interference.

Product placement companies deny that this could happen. 'The appeal to the client is the chance to get their product on to television,' says Diana Happ, director of Prop Buying Services, whose clients include Mars, Courage, Apricot computers and Volvo. 'But you can't guarantee this - the product may not be in the shot or even in the final cut. By pure law of averages it will happen enough to satisfy the client.'

Even so, Brookside, Challenge Anneka, One Foot in the Grave (Ariel), EastEnders (Golden Wonder and Nintendo) and, most recently, Gamesmaster and The Big Breakfast (Sega) are among programmes criticised in press reports or in complaints to the ITC for giving undue prominence to certain products and services. The ITC does not comment on individual complaints.

Steve Read, director of 1st Place Product Props, a placement company, prefers the term 'product props' instead of 'product placement'.

'As long as we work within the ITC code it's a totally legitimate business,' he maintains. 'Branded products are part of our everyday life. If you took all the brands out of TV programmes they would look like Dixon of Dock Green.'

1st Place's clients include Nissan, ICL and Guinness. The company says it has worked on programmes including Coronation Street, Body and Soul, Riders and Trainer. Product placement helps producers to make better programmes and complements manufacturers' marketing activities, Mr Read maintains. Companies who have tried product placement agree.

IBM recently provided personal computer equipment for series including Rides and Westbeach. 'Getting IBM kit on film and television raises background awareness of IBM products and allows them to be seen used in different ways and environments,' says Steve Walker, marketing programmes manager for IBM UK.

Product placement is 'an investment in general consciousness-raising', Mr Walker believes. But it is not without risk. Products can suffer from association with a negative plot twist. IBM would not want its PCs associated with computer fraud, for example. One way to avoid this is to contract a product placement company, which can often preview scripts, or at least plot synopses, before products are provided.

One recent estimate suggests that product placement is worth up to pounds 100m a year towards production budgets. Yet this is not openly welcomed by producers. The problem is that broadcasters have outlawed product placement while in effect encouraging it by squeezing budgets. 'Producers don't set out to break the rules,' explains John Woodward, chief executive of the independent producers' association, PACT. 'It is indirectly encouraged by the very low production budgets the production companies are forced to work on. It is a little self-righteous of broadcasters to wring their hands - and effectively condone it.'

The ITC tries to enforce its ban on product placement and 'undue prominence of products or services' within ITV programmes, but an ITC spokesman conceded: 'We have not yet upheld a complaint. Product placement requires money to change hands.'

The commission believes that its intervention, simply by querying allegations, does help. 'A letter from us will perhaps check a tendency that may be embryonic within a particular production team.'

The BBC denies the existence of such practices. 'Product placement occurs in no shape or form on the BBC and that includes the provision of goods or services in exchange for editorial,' a spokeswoman insisted.

Yet she said it was hard to generalise on how products were acquired. And with more programmes made by more producers for more channels, product placement on British television will become even harder to monitor.

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Account Manager, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent Uncapped Commission Structure: ...

Sales Executive, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Charter Selection: This exciting entertainment comp...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star