There is something about the Government’s new regulations on product placement that is quintessentially un-British. There has always been an air of the enjoyably provincial about British television, transcending the American-led trend for gaudy advertisements and celebrity endorsements. The BBC, almost by definition, is frequently cited as a British institution, a bastion of impartiality and British sensibilities.
But times are hard. Traditional methods of income generation are becoming increasingly less lucrative. Corporations are looking to diversify their income streams, especially with the advent of Sky+ and Tivo allowing consumers to skip through adverts at their leisure.
Some commentators have estimated the potential revenue from embedded marketing to be in excess of £100m a year. But at what cost to the British consumer? Are we selling-out our values for the price of a Diet Coke or a Budweiser? Former Culture Secretary Andy Burnham certainly thought it was the top of a very slippery slope.
But defendants claim that product placement will add an air of reality to programmes, and argue that the uptake of product placement deals are likely to follow a ‘slow-burn’ trajectory rather than a sudden onslaught, giving consumers time to adjust to the new regulations. They cite the strict regulations in place to protect the public from embedded marketing – placement is banned in children’s programming, news and current affairs, religious and consumer advice shows. ‘Undue prominence’ is also banned.
Advertising is by no means a new phenomenon. Studies show that we’re exposed to over 3,000 pieces of advertising every day. It’s everywhere – the Russian space program has even launched a rocket bearing a 30-foot Pizza Hut logo into space. We’re already exposed to it thanks to the volume of American film and TV we watch in the UK.
Perhaps we should give the average British consumer more credit in their ability to be discerning – not only in the programmes that they freely choose to watch, but in their ability to be sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference between genuine content and clever advertising strategies.