Monday, 12 November 2012

The New UK TV Product Placement Market- A Progress Report

Update- my comments in the UK national Daily Mirror on Superman- Man Of Steel raising the bar for movie product placement- read the article here . For my piece on our UK TV product placement research, read on.... 

Television is the greatest billboard for brands ever invented. Except that we don’t really watch the ads, or if we do, we don’t like most of them. But we do see brands on TV, all the time, in contexts that make them look pretty cool. And, in marketing, context is everything. Movie and TV stars drink branded beer, wear branded clothes, drive branded cars, sit on branded furniture- TV scenes and actors need props. Branded props add a sense of reality to the scene. Hence, there is a symbiotic relationship between TV and movie entertainment, and brands, and has been since the first silent movies. We just didn't really notice it for 100 years or so. Now it's gone mainstream and it's big business.        

When we see a brand in a TV scene, it can be there for a number of reasons that don’t result in a fee going to the producers. But sometimes there is a contract and a fee, and the brand is called a paid-for product placement.      

UK commercial TV channels have been free to earn fees from brands for product placements in their drama, quiz and chat shows since February 2011. Prior to that, Ofcom, the media regulator, didn’t allow paid-for product placement on UK TV, even thought there were plenty of free placements going on. The rule change came about because of a European Union Audio Visual Media Services Directive, which risked the UK being left out of a potentially lucrative market.

We’ve followed this topic for several years (see the page on this blog) and our latest comment is just out in the International Journal of Advertising- web links and full title of the paper below.

Suffice to say that the new market, even after 20 months, isn’t looking anything like it was supposed to, with barely 2% of the anticipated revenue earned so far by the TV companies. There are a host of reasons for this, which we discuss in the paper. Here is one.

The BBC, the world's biggest public service broadcaster, makes the UK TV landscape unique in the world. The Beeb has 30% audience share across its 6 channels and produces about 27,000 hours of domestic TV per year. Brands are needed to make dramas look realistic- cars, clothes, breakfast cereals, shop shelves, mobile phones, locations, hotels, you name it, all are necessary as props or scenes in TV productions. But the non-commercial BBC still isn’t allowed to earn revenue from this source. Which is fine, but this distorts the UK TV market by creating a vast and influential space for brands which is effectively free of charge to the brand owners lucky enough to have their brands featured. We’re not suggesting this should change, it just matters.       

UK TV, including the BBC, makes considerable use of free prop supply agencies, product placement agencies to you and me, to fill their scenes with credible props. The brand owners have no say on how or whether their products appear, that is all up to the director. The brands just pay a retainer to the agency to supply their brand when the set dresser or props manager calls to ask for a car, a wardrobe, a grocery shop shelf, or whatever. It’s a method that works on every level- the brand owners get cheap TV exposure, the agencies earn their fee, the TV shows look realistic, and the viewers don’t notice anything because the brands are unobtrusive and make sense in the context because their presence in the scene is driven by the plot and characterisation.

So, if you decided that all this was too cosy and Corinthian and the UK needed a proper grown-up product placement market like, for example, on TV in the USA, where would you start? It isn’t an easy brief I admit, but would you, say, ignore the role of the BBC and the product placement agencies supplying ‘free’ props? And ban several categories of placements, for example for alcohol, burgers and other ‘high fat' food? Meaning that cooking shows can't do a deal for a brand of olive oil or cheese even if it's used in the recipe? And ban any placements in children’s TV, even though sales of action figures drive a lot of chidren's TV content? And enforce strict compliance rules on ‘undue prominence’ in scenes, allowing lawyers to decide what is congruent with the scene and plot, and what is 'unduly prominent'? Well, if you would, then you might work for Ofcom. And the result hasn't been all that impressive. 

Update: John Barnard, founder of the UK's longest established product placement agency, New Media Group, has published his predictions for 2014 for the UK TV product placement market. It seems as though the new TV paid-for market is growing, slowly, but the main consequence of the new market is that the benefits of prop supply and movie placement are becoming even more apparent to brands. The paid-for TV market continues to be hamstrung by three things: the Ofcom restrictions, the vibrancy of the free prop supply market, and the influence of the non-commercial BBC in the UK's media environment.      

Full citation to our latest paper:

Hackley, C. and Hackley, R. A. née Tiwsakul (2012) Unpaid product Placement: The Elephant in the Room in the UK’s New Paid-For Product Placement Market, International Journal of Advertising, 31/4 pp703-718.    

Full paper on International Journal of Advertising website

A pre-print draft of the paper on my uni research website

Update: A piece on our paper in The Register



  1. I've been so updated with celebrity stuff these past few weeks through our company's commercial direct TV. I even heard that the American Idol today is like a reality show for Nicki and Mariah's endless feud, if it interesting though.

  2. American Idol has been one of the most followed shows in America before. Guess, most people prefer the old version of it than the new set up.

  3. Product placement should be natural. A big sponsors logo in the middle of the show does improve brand visibility but not necessarily sales. I like it better when they show the product in use. Say when you promote a phone then it would be better if they show it in use like some gets a phone call

  4. Yes, quite interesting report but I think whatever have been given in here that's all are very true and surely we are understanding that TV has a great role for product placement in the market and also lots of actors and actress are also out there. So I think don't need to think about more because people are more aware now and hope that before buying anything they will justify first. Thanks

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