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Product Placement’s Unknown Unknowns

Zeitgeist has commented on product placement several times before, including its bumpy ride to legality on British television (this summer the House of Lords debated its worth), as well as the contextual advertising that takes place on television sets in the US.

Advertising on British television certainly needs a jolt. The amount of money spent on original British programming by advertisers has declined £300m, from £2.9bn in 2004 to £2.6bn today. This figure comes from Mark Thompson at the BBC, at a speech given at the Edinburgh festival recently. One solution to these pains, suggests Brand Republic, is ad-funded programming [AFP].

TV executives used to be extremely snobby about working with advertisers, fearing they would want a programme about the joys of baked beans or the absorption power of nappies.
But this view is changing as programme-makers realise their ivory-tower attitude does sophisticated modern marketers a huge disservice.

This is a potentially lucrative avenue. It creates opportunities for both product and programming that are mutually beneficial. The possibilites of funding from brands for content however are potentially fraught with danger for consumers, and the article concludes quite rightly that such an approach is still a way off.

Holistically, product placement is on course for a compound annual expansion rate of 18.2% to 2014 according to PQ Media, “as a result of the economic recovery and a relaxation of formal restrictions”, as written in WARC. The difficulty will be – as Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for information, society and media said in 2006 – in getting “content to drive the advertising”, rather than the other way around. The EU’s premise for product placement transparency is to ensure that consumers always know when such a placement is ocurring while they watch the idiot box. Brandchannel cannily compares this to “how the Dutch make candy commercials display a toothbrush icon to remind kids to brush their teeth after eating sweets.” This may well be scaremongering though; Zeitgeist isn’t aware of any TV shows, rollicking with product placement they may be, where the advertising drives the content, (except perhaps for the odd clip in the video below…) Indeed, in the US some savvy work is going at the moment, for example with the NFL and Febreze. Brandchannel reports “During ESPN’s locker room interviews with NFL players, the product can be seen on the players’ locker shelves — a subtle yet effective product placement.

One of the nastier and more insipid occurrences of product placement, however, might make regulators nervous. The infamous Snooki from the similarly-infamous detritus that is MTV’s Jersey Shore has been the target of reverse product placement, as luxury brands have sought to distance themselves from any association with her by providing her with products and accessories from their rivals. Devious indeed, not to mention ingenious. All of which goes to show that regulators, broadcasters and consumers must be wary about the potential rewards and pitfalls of product placement in the near future.

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  1. May 5, 2011 at 8:42 am

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