Retailers cash in on TV's hottest interior

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The Independent Online

It's Britain's most closely scrutinised home interior. Now companies ranging from House of Fraser to the suppliers of Nigella Lawson's kitchen range stand to make millions by exploiting the biggest marketing opportunity on television – having their products included in the Big Brother house.

With five days to go until Channel 4 names the latest batch of contestants for its hit reality show, the wraps have been taken off the domicile where they will spend 10 weeks bitching, conspiring and vying for the £70,000 prize. The new-look interior, described as "cocoon chic" by the programme's producers, resembles a cross between a set from Seventies science fiction series Blake's 7 and an MFI showroom.

But amid the stylised faux futurism that characterises the house's new lounge and kitchen lurk household utensils and items of furniture that will be all too familiar to those with more than a passing interest in interior design. Among them are Nigella Lawson- branded storage jars and scales designed by Sebastian Conran, the son of Habitat creator Sir Terence.

The furnishings have not found their way into the house by accident. Suppliers and retailers are now queueing up to offer items to the show's producers for free.

While strict "product placement" rules bar companies from paying to have their merchandise included in television programmes, they are now "lending" objects or even giving them away. Though products must not be mentioned by name nor their logos shown on screen, companies have found a way of capitalising on their inclusion in the house – by incorporating them into future in-store displays bearing the Big Brother name.

There are signs that 2003 will be a vintage year for the "Big Brother industry". This year's kitchen features a trio of £20 storage jars culled from a range launched by TV chef Nigella Lawson, while a £75 set of scales hail from Sebastian Conran's "Equilibrium" series. Both have been provided for free to the Big Brother housemates by high street retailer House of Fraser.

Meanwhile, the living-room contains a distinctive circular pouffe-like table. Designed by Patricia Urquiola, it normally retails at about £620, but has been loaned to the show's producers by the trendy London store B&B Italia.

Other, more mundane items culled from House of Fraser include a set of four blue mixing bowls and a Kenwood chrome and white kettle and toaster.

Suppliers and retailers have no qualms about the tactics they are using to inveigle their products into the nation's consciousness.

Stuart Smythe, home promotions co-ordinator for House of Fraser, whose website has a link to the official Big Brother site, admitted: "It's product placement, but Independent Television Commission regulations make it difficult [to go any further]. We have found a creative way of tapping into our target consumer. It's a different avenue for great brand exposure."

Both Channel 4 and Endemol, the independent company behind Big Brother, insist that the nature of objects that fill the house is dictated by the "look" devised by the designer, Markus Blee. He insists that the majority of items are still bought by the production company.

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