So, the big news for the advertising industry this week is the expected decision that will allow commercial broadcasters to show sponsored products for the first time. If, as expected, the decision is passed, there will be another avenue for brands to promote their wares. The days of fictional products will disappear and pints of ‘Newton & Ridley’ in the Rovers Return will be replaced by Stella, Heineken or A.N.Other highest bidder.
In some ways, our soap operas will return to their routes. The name ‘soap opera’ stemming from the original serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble, Colgate – Palmolive and Lever Brothers as sponsors and producers targeting weekly daytime slots when mostly housewives would be available to listen.
Not that that product placement in itself is a new phenomenon. We seem to know a lot about the spending habits of our favourite fictional screen stars. James Bond’s preferred watch is an Omega (the Rolex brand manager was obviously gazumped), while ¬ Spider-Man likes a drop of Dr Pepper. It’s difficult to forget the cringe worthy scene in I, Robot in which a character compliments Will Smith’s character’s shoes to which he replies “Converse All-Stars, vintage 2004.(the year of the film’s release).
I, Robot was ranked “the worst film for product placement” on a British site due to overt placements for Ovaltine, Audi, FedEx, Dos Equis, and JVC among others, all of them introduced within the first ten minutes of the film. A classic example of overkill if any was needed.
So, advertisers will need to tread carefully. Over the forthcoming months, no doubt there will be checklists developed as how to create a successful product placement. We know that relevancy will be the key. Execution will also be critical. Extreme close ups of freshly poured lager or glinting accessories are going to be a massive turn off. Logistically, it will also be incredibly interesting to see how these product placements will be managed. Will brand managers be on set to ensure that their product is shown in the perfect light? Will scripts be passed through the marketing departments of FMCG brands to check that the correct product cues are being communicated? The process promises to be a complex one.
The essence of advertising is often confused as an art form. Primarily by creative departments. The simple fact though, as communicated most succinctly by David Ogilvy is that advertising ‘has an obligation to sell’. The ultimate aim is to move product – not produce aesthetically outstanding work. Of course, the two frequently go hand in hand but they are not mutually exclusive. It is going to be the marrying of the commerciality of advertising with the simple aim of televisions shows – to entertain, that is going to create friction.
And commerciality is the sole reason behind this about turn. ITV has championed the lifting of the ban which it said would be “warmly welcomed by the commercial broadcasting industry and advertisers alike”. It has been suggested that it will earn an incremental £100m a year for broadcasters. I actually struggle to see how such a figure can be arrived at. Product placement does not mean marketing budgets will increase. The marketing pot is not dependant on mediums available. Instead, all it means is that other areas of the marketing budget will be cut and re-allocated. If I had to place a bet on where the budget for product placement might come from, I would say it would come from elsewhere in the TV budget. Product Placement is some instances could be a very cost effective way to get awareness on TV screens without spending money on ads with high production values.
My prediction is that the real level of earnings will be considerably lower. It is too early to tell now the full effects. Across the marketing world, clients will be asking agencies to look at the opportunities. Some will do it well and some less well but one thing is for certain – product placement will not be the saviour of the ailing television advertising industry.