For years product placement has been visible on British TV screens in films and international programmes, particularly from the US.

Think American Idol, instantly the image of Jennifer Lopez sipping from her Coca Cola branded red cup resonates in your head. Think E.T, present was one of the earliest examples of product placement in film: the friendly alien eating away at chocolate manufacturer Hershey’s Reese’s pieces. Even though British audiences have been exposed to many examples of it, however, it was only until February of this year that Ofcom lifted the ban on product placement in British programmes.

Daytime TV show This Morning, last February, became the first show to incorporate the use of product placement. Forking out £100,000, Dolce Gusto’s coffee machines were nicely in shot while presenters Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield led the shows cooking segment.

…the increase of commercial adverts between films and dramas to six minutes…

While this was a more discreet attempt of brand promotion – the presenters never once engaged with the product or seeming interested in it – popular soap Hollyoaks has made a more direct attempt at combining advertising within their show through a deal they struck with Heat magazine. An episode which aired on 18 March saw the Heat team visit Chester to interview and photograph one of the characters; product placement being a driving force of the plot in this instance.

Product placement will boost the sales of certain brands, but the question must be asked: is this all at the expense of us, the viewers? Coinciding with the lifting of the ban, Ofcom also announced the increase of commercial adverts between films and dramas to six minutes. Just when you thought it was the American’s who are the worst offenders in bombarding viewers with countless advertisements, it seems we are soon to follow suit.

…companies are surely gloating with joy at the prospect cashing in on product placement…

For viewers engrossed in a hard hitting television drama to be interrupted by a six minute advert would prove frustrating, possibly even more so is returning to the drama unable to avoid the obvious plastering of product placement on the screen.

Only time will tell how this lifting of the ban progresses, but big brand companies are surely gloating with joy at the prospect: cashing in on product placement. The new James Bond film is set to break the record funded by an outstanding $45 million worth of product placement.

Viewers intrigued by hopes of getting a glimpse at which cigarettes soap veteran Dot Cotton has been smoking for 15 years or what alcoholic beverages the Big Brother housemates indulge in, however, will be disappointed as the promotion of tobacco, alcohol, gambling and foods containing high levels of fat, salt or sugar are still banned. Nonetheless we can only hope that what’s still available will add value to the programmes and not interrupt or dishearten viewing for audiences.

Image courtesy of James Vaughan  and Hollyoaks


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