The key to product placement is context

BBC Magazine takes a look at the product placement situation.

Paid product placement is currently outlawed on British TV, though the broadcasting watchdog is weighing up the possibility of relaxing the rules. It is severely restricted in other European states.

What's an ad man to do? If he makes old-fashioned ads that say "Buy this!" he's accused of being an "evil scumbag" - and if he inserts products into a TV show he's a "diabolical fiend".

Why do so many people seem so down on advertising? And if old-style ads continue to lose their impact and new forms of product placement continue to be slated, will there come a time when advertisers find it virtually impossible - or at least bloody difficult - to promote their clients' stuff?

Benjamin Webb, creative director of Intelligent PR, a media relations company that represents clients from the fashion, art and consumer sectors, can't see what all the product placement fuss is about.

He says the practice is as "old as cinema itself".

"In fact, it can be traced beyond cinema to Victorian music halls and vaudeville, where the stars of the age would wear items on stage that they would subsequently endorse in advertisements.

"It's just that nowadays, product placement has increased in frequency, and is more sophisticated in application."

[...snip...]

Context is all, he says. Get that right and there shouldn't be a problem.

"Complaints might be justified if the product placement was genuinely detracting from the screenplay - if, for example, Elizabeth Bennett used the latest Nokia to call Mr Darcy.

"But as product placement tends to feature in and fund the most mainstream of productions, it also tends to be self-regulating - in that it is only of value to the brand if it appears in films which cater for the right market and if the brand is relatively inconspicuous."

Steve Read, managing director of 1st Place, which pro-actively promotes various clients' brands to the UK TV and film industries, agrees.

"The key to the whole thing is context."

"The problem with PP in the US is that it is unregulated and it's eating up TV. But PP in the right context enhances a production - because the programming becomes more realistic, with real products, and a company gains because their products are shown in a positive light."

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