A rather fascinating case study on product placement in the U.K. suggests that the recent relaxation of rules on the marketing practice may not be creating the free-for-all many critics feared.
NMG Product Placement, which has been measuring the practice since 1987, looked at the new Sky sitcom Trollied, which is set in a fictional Valco (hello Tesco!) supermarket — prime product placement territory. NMG found that, despite the producers' apparent efforts to secure paying placements, "no such deals were done, and in the event the entire set was dressed by free prop supply product placement."
So what does this suggest about "paid for" product placement's future on British TV?
NMG's report measured the media value of the (unpaid) product placements in Trollied and found a total value of £286,200 for the brands featured. Trollied's premier episode had 1.5 million viewers with subsequent episodes averaging around 400,000.
So what does it mean for the future of paid product placement in the U.K. that all this value came from the old method of prop department placement than the new pre-arranged paid placement?
"Producers need to understand that only high involvement brands such as cars, designer clothes, smartphones are likely to benefit from 'paid for' product placement in UK TV," said NMG Chairman John Barnard.
Barnard advises that for many brands that may achieve less onscreen prominence, "free prop supply is the better route into content."
Another route into content is involvement at the foundation level. Grocery giant Tesco recently inked a deal with the UK's Channel 5 to partly fund a new series, Real Food Family Cook Off, in which Tesco's products could be featured.
"Whilst the new rules are called 'relaxed,' [UK broadcasting regulator] Ofcom still bans undue brand prominence, overt product promotion and interference by the brand with editorial integrity," said Barnard.
He suggests that the apparent suspicion evident in the paid product placement market may be an education problem. This, Barnard suggests, is partly the producers' fault: "Broadcasters do not offer an evaluation mechanism to relate the value you can get from free prop supply product placement versus a 'paid for' deal."
Barnard adds that the industry is willing to work with TV producers to make the whole process work better for everyone, commenting: "I'm still surprised that after nearly three decades of looking after the product placement requirements for some of the UK's biggest brands, that broadcasters and producers aren't knocking our door down to pick our brains, share our experience and learn."