Stealth advertising set to become legal (in the UK)

Yeah, I took the headline right out of the mouth of the Financial Times as it sounds so doomsdayie*. When I think of stealth marketing, I recall actors asking people at the empire state building to take their picture with a phone, and actors chatting about new drinks at bars. At the finacial times they're talking about product placement, which is a whole 'nother can of worms.

Product placement - in which items with visible brand names are integrated into television programmes - looks set to become legal on British screens within 18 months. But the process must be treated with care if it is to boost revenues, according to some of the UK's leading broadcast executives.

Following an European Union directive on broadcasting issued last month, member states have been given the option of permitting product placement in most genres of commercial television, but not news, current affairs, sport and children's programming.

* new word!

A good example of real stealth advertising is when Sony Ericsson Campaign Uses Actors To Push Camera-Phone in Real Life.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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tod.brody's picture

It's funny that this topic came up as I just wrote about my experiences with product placement the other day. Of course this was meant for the uninitiated, not this savvy audience, but it's still on topic. Here's what I said:

And finally, a word about product placement. All filmmakers make use of it to save money. All filmmakers from the smallest Indie film to the biggest studio blockbusters. There are product placement specialists making huge sums of money brokering such deals between companies who want to get their products into films, and producers who want to save money. Typically, if you use a company's products on screen, you'll get their products for the production. So if you feature Coca-Cola products on screen, you'll get as many Coke products as you can consume during production.

Now I'll admit that I'm no different than anyone else, and I've made liberal use of product placement in every film and TV show I've done. I've had deals with Coca-Cola, Nike, Poland Spring, Air France, Continental Airlines, SAS, Apple Computers, FrozeFruit, Snapple, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Kraft, Anheuser-Busch, Sam Adams, Brooklyn Lager, Carlsberg, Maersk-Sealand, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Volkswagon, Porsche, Bentley, and on and on and on. But one of the rules of thumb I've used is not to go overboard. For instance, if you make a deal with BMW, not every character in your show can be driving a BMW. Unless your show takes place at the BMW factory. It's OK if your lead drives a BMW and it's the most featured car in the show. That's why BMW does the deal. But everyone can't be driving one, and everyone can't be wearing Nikes like they are on ENTOURAGE.

Which is why I brought this topic up. Over the holidays I watched the entire third and fourth seasons of Entourage. And what jumps right off the screen at you is that every character using a computer is using an Apple, most often an iMac. Sometimes a Macbook Pro. Now while there's a high probability that so-called creative people are drawn to Macs, Apple's market share is still hovering around 6% of the total computer market no matter whose statistics you embrace. So with a 6% share of the total US market, what are the odds that everyone in LA has a Mac? The only time in 32 episodes that the computers featured weren't Macs was when Drama and Turtle were at an Internet cafe, looking at personal ads on Craig's List. I suppose even the Apple kissing producers realized that iMacs at an Internet cafe would be ridiculous.

Dexter also jumped on Apple's bandwagon featuring Macbook Pros and Macbooks for Police Officers and FBI agents. Maybe it was just supposed to add to the already surreal nature of the show. A Cop with a Macbook Pro is like an animator with a Dell Laptop. It just doesn't fit. Enough said.

Dabitch's picture

Youknow, that really bugs me at times - Macs used where macs don't go. Not to mention the programs run on these fantasy macs!

caffeinegoddess's picture

Curious how people feel when the placement is made overtly obvious. Like last night on the Simpsons, for example, Marge was reading a paper about the Springfield Dodge kinda made me feel dirty.

TDD's picture

Do you have to get permission before you show a product? I don't watch TV, nor do I go to the movies, so I'm not current.

I do remember soda cans being turned so you couldn't see the brand name, and things like that.

"Happiness is overrated."

tod.brody's picture

Legal opinions on this matter can be as many and varied as the number of entertainment lawyers acting as production counsel. However, a general rule is that if the production is responsible for placing the product on camera (ie: hand props, set dressing), then yes, you need permission. Of course things go wrong, and sometimes a product appears in the dailies, and you don't want to reshoot just because a set dresser put a bottle of Pepsi on the kitchen counter and no one noticed. Lawyers will say that if Pepsi can't really claim any damages, you're probably OK. So if you're shooting a wholesome G-rated family film, Pepsi will probably be happy about the exposure. If it's a show about a twisted serial killer who uses the Pepsi bottles to kill his victims, not so much! Unless of course it's Dexter, in which case Pepsi will be happy to jump on Apple's bandwagon. I think I'm going to try to make a another deal with Apple for the film I'm starting next month so I can get a new Macbook Pro. We're in the middle of working out a deal with Canon to get an EOS 1DS. If I can show them in the script that there are enough scenes where I can feature a camera, I can work it out.

Now say if you're shooting out on the street, and someone in the background is inadvertently drinking a Coke (equal time) and you have no control over that, permission isn't an issue. Or if any product or billboard or ad gets on camera. As long as you don't focus on it, or make it part of the story.

Prop houses used to have a whole slew of generic props to take the place of Soda and Beer and Cereals and all of those household goods, but with changing legal opinions and product placement, you don't see the generic props as often any more. Of course, laws limiting product placement can change a lot of this, but in the US, the Fed is unlikely to crack down with anything but tobacco and alcohol.

TDD's picture

So if you're shooting a wholesome G-rated family film, Pepsi will probably be happy about the exposure. If it's a show about a twisted serial killer who uses the Pepsi bottles to kill his victims, not so much!

Kind of like how Ford was happy about the use of the Mustang in the movie, Bullitt, and maybe Dodge not so much about the use of the Charger?

"Happiness is overrated."

tod.brody's picture

Sort of, but you can use any car you want in a film. Of course if the story line is about the car exploding on its own, and killing the driver, you may hear from the manufacturer. :-) Unless of course the car is a Ford Pinto, and then history is on your side.

I love Bullitt. And I got to work with Peter Yates once as the 1st AD on a series of Lux Commercials with Ali MacGraw.

TDD's picture

The 1968 Mustang GT is the only Ford Mustang I like. I work at a Ford/Lincoln dealership, and part of my job is to check-in and inspect the new vehicles when the trucks bring them. Today, a truck dropped off a 2008 Mustang Bullitt. It was already sold when it came off the truck, of course. It went for CAN $40,000.

"Happiness is overrated."

tod.brody's picture

My '67 S Code GT is pretty cool, and not that much different than the '68. It could blow the doors off most other muscle cars although my dad's '68 427 big block Corvette could eat it for lunch. The Mustang's 390 with the single four barrel was no match for the Vette's 427 with the three two barrels.

I know I've posted this photo before, but what's talking about it without a little visual aid. :-)

TDD's picture

The muscle cars back then were the true muscle cars. The Ford Mustang of this decade (the '00s?) does nothing for me.

But let's go back, shall we?:

1967 Ford Mustang

1968 Ford Mustang

"Happiness is overrated."

Andreas-Udd's picture

The girls were better too. Or at least, they had bigger hair.

Ford Mustang - Shes Back (1983) - 0:30 (USA)