Who checks the plug on our TV?

Product placement in movies is an old story, but it's still banned on British television. Or is it? Meg Carter reports

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. That's the motto of advertisers eager to get their products on screen - not through traditional advertising but by a more surreptitious route: product placement. Commonplace in movies yet banned by the Independent Television Commission and the BBC, it is nevertheless an activity on the increase on UK terrestrial and satellite TV.

Product placement offers the ultimate endorsement. In the latest Bond film, Goldeneye, 007 drives the new BMW Roadster, wears a Brioni suit and Church's shoes, sports an Omega watch and sips Smirnoff Black. Each brand struck a product placement deal with the movie's producer, Eon Productions. "It is a powerful way to launch our new car," a spokesman for BMW explains. "We get exposure; [Goldeneye] gets promotion in our marketing."

In the movies, it takes two forms: paid-for placement - when an advertiser pays a producer to use its product - or when a product is offered free and the provider agrees to help promote the movie in its own advertising. Product placement has been big business in the US ever since Humphrey Bogart poured himself some Gilbey's Gin in African Queen back in 1951. Today, the drinks giant Anheuser Busch has set up its own LA-based product placement division for Budweiser Beer.

What goes on in Hollywood, however, is unacceptable on European TV, where product placement is banned on terrestrial, cable and satellite stations. Yet many agencies now see it as an area set for significant growth. Already Mars, Volvo, Whitbread and many more are working with product- placement specialists.

"Product placement can be a very effective way to communicate brand message," says Simon George, managing partner of sponsorship specialist Drum, part of the advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. "We are striking deals across the board with programmes for ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC." For the ITC allows the producers to obtain discounted, or even free, products and services as long as they are not paid to do so or enter a contractual arrangement to feature the product. Nor can branded products enjoy what the ITC calls "undue prominence" - appearing on screen longer than required for the purposes of realism. In short, a plug.

"We work with prop supply companies," Mr George explains. "No money passes between the prop company and the producer, but the brand owner pays the prop hire company a fee to represent its products."

A wide range of programmes have benefited from products "placed" this way, from Coronation Street, Rides and Trainer to The Bill. Of course, there are no guarantees the product won't end up on the cutting-room floor: that would be breaking the law. But placement specialists say they can veto use of a client's product if it is shown in a poor light and sometimes they even view scripts in advance.

"There are a number of benefits to the advertiser," explains John Barnard, chairman of promotions at New Media Group and co-founder of the Entertainment Marketing Association, the product-placement trade body. "It's free media. It enables the product to be seen as contemporary. The brand can be endorsed by a character." Then there is the benefit of repeats.

For Goldeneye, free supply of IBM and Pioneer products alone shaved around pounds 500,000 from the budget; total savings could run into millions. For the beleaguered TV producer, it can free funds to be spent elsewhere. "Every little helps. If that means accepting payment in kind, then so be it. I can, and will, protect the integrity of my production," says one producer.

The ITC and BBC insist product placement is illegal - and that applies to US films and programmes. This poses a problem. "There's only one thing we can do - take it out," says Jeff Ford, controller of network acquisitions at ITV Network Centre. Easier said than done. Ford points to the film The Paper, in which a Coca-Cola vending machine stands centre- stage in the newspaper office. "It looks like product placement," he says. "But it is also realism, which makes the whole area very slippery."

The ITC is getting tough on companies that give products "undue prominence", launching a consumer ad campaign to encourage viewers to report perceived breaches of the ban. Last November, it fined Granada pounds 500,000 after products including Heinz, Safeway and Calvin Klein enjoyed undue prominence on This Morning. Others criticised Big Breakfast, Blind Date and Aspel and Co, and the ITC prevented UK Living from broadcasting the BBC series Challenge Anneka for the same reason.

But it is an uphill battle. Policing the ban is near impossible, as proof is required to show that money has actually changed hands. As more programmes are made by more producers for more channels on smaller budgets, product placement on British TV will inevitably become harder to detect.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
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

Sauce Recruitment: Programme Sales Executive - Independent Distributor

£25000 - £28000 per annum + circa 28K + 20% bonus opportunity: Sauce Recruitme...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Are you an ambitious, money mot...

Guru Careers: Investment Writer / Stock Picker

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A freelance Investment Writer / Stock Picker ...

Guru Careers: PPC Account Executive / Paid Search Executive

£20 - 24K + Benefits: Guru Careers: An enthusiastic PPC Account / Paid Search ...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us