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Anarchy in the UK: Product Placement Study Shows Room for Growth, Hurdles

Posted by Abe Sauer on October 10, 2012 11:12 AM

In September, just a year and a half after the the British communications authority Ofcom allowed paid product placement in the nation's TV programs, the BBC 2 show The Great British Bake Off featured the logo of refrigerator brand Smeg dozens of times, sending viewers into a tizzy. As one complainant wrote, "The Smeg logo was so visible that I counted it 37 times before giving up." The BBC later admitted that rules were broken involving the Smeg placements.

The conversation involving the terms "British" and "product placement" is currently dominated by philosophical arguments concerning the upcoming James Bond film, Skyfall. But a new report from the UK's New Media Group (NME) brings more hard data and analystics to the topic. One of its findings: It's not just Smeg that's been testing the limits of the new rules.

For its study, NMG scrutinized over 364 hours of UK TV programming that featured the kind of paid for product placement deals that fell under the new Ofcom rules. NMG found that soap operas like Hollyoaks are now filled with placements by L’Oreal and Nokia, while reality programs like Big Brother placed Morrison's. For example, NMG writes of Hollyoaks:

"At least 10 characters are seen using Nokia Lumia handsets. In certain episodes multiple characters all use the Lumia model which is unrealistic. On 21.06.12 this occurred in a storyline geared towards promoting the social media aspect (characters Dodger, Riley, Tony, Darren)."

NME's study — about 14 months after the group's last progress report — found that viewers generally react adversely to overt (some woud say shameless) "brand plugging." NME further states that "a presence of the 'deal' brands, a lack of competitive brands, plus the 'P' symbol flagging up that 'deal' brands appear as a result of a commercial arrangement that does not directly benefit the viewer, could generate negative consumer reaction, even brand boycotting."

For brands, the study suggests some products may be better fits with the current product placement environment. John Barnard, chairman of NMG Product Placement, told brandchannel that when it comes to paid-for placements, a narrative-driven, organic fit would include "high involvement items — such as cars, smartphones, branded fashion and sportswear — where the character and product form a natural integration without the product itself taking over the imagery."

Meanwhile, Barnard says that the free prop supply product placement route is still an option for many FMCG/CPG products like beers, soft drinks, snacks, confectionery, and mineral waters, amongst others. Barnard says these products "form part of everyday life and are consumed from branded packaging, and can naturally appear in a number of sets--pubs, shops, coffee shops, plus domestic sets."

As if on cue, and echoing NMG's conclusion that "Viewers generally react adversely to overt “brand plugging,'" British TV show X-Factor has come under fire for "shameless" product placement for Samsung and the Corinthia Hotel. X-Factor was bombarded with tweets about the overindulgence in Samsung product placement.

All of Ofcom's murkily inexact regulations on product placement can be read at its website. Any British readers care to weigh in on how product placement is playing out on your airwaves?

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