Making product placement work for brand owners


Louise McMurchie,

founder of media regulation and compliance specialists LJM Media Consulting, advises on Ofcom licencing, and provides training and guidance on Ofcom and BCAP Codes. Her client list includes Dunya News, PTC Punjabi, ARY News, World Media Connect, Discovery Networks Europe, Sky Networks and BT Sport.

TV has come a long way since ITV’s This Morning featured the UK’s first product placement deal with Nestlé’s Dolce Gusto coffee machine for a reported six figure deal in 2011. Nearly six years on from the introduction of the Product Placement rules in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code in February 2011, this new commercial opportunity has not quite delivered the revenue stream hoped for by many television and production companies.

Certain programme genres, however, do lend themselves to product placement if a good fit can be found between format and brand. Probably the most successful sector has been the cookery lifestyle genre creating opportunities for retailers and food brands to partner with major broadcasters.

One such case was Channel 4’s ‘What’s Cooking?’ from the Sainsbury’s Kitchen in 2013. Broadcast from a purpose-built, interactive studio based at a Sainsbury store, hosts Ben Shephard and Lisa Faulkner were joined by celebrity guests to prepare recipes suitable for all budgets and tastes before a live studio audience. It managed to integrate Sainsbury’s own-label products in the recipes, use cutaways to store visuals and include an interactive
element via social media to enhance the consumer interaction. Recipes and videos were available on the TV channel’s website creating a convincing 360-degree commission designed to be integrated with other interactive media content and feed (forgive the pun) into Sainsbury’s Live Well for Less campaign.

Asian cookery

The most recent example of product placement in Asian cookery is Spice Up broadcast on Sony SAB TV. It’s sponsored by Madhus, East End Foods and Ram Parkash Sunderdass & Sons. It features a wide range of Asian recipes and East End products are placed in the shows.
East End products are used in the recipes and the brand name is visible in the food preparation and on the workbench and shelves. These shots are editorially justified and on a par with the product placement of Uncle’s Bens in Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals. Both East End and Madhus advertise in the commercial breaks around the show to maximise exposure.

Ofcom rules

Ofcom’s rules require that the product placement does not undermine the editorial independence of the programme, does not encourage purchase of the placed product and does not give undue prominence to the placed product. Certain programmes are prohibited from product placement, namely religious programmes, children’s programmes, news and
current affairs programmes and consumer advice programmes. Hence, why lifestyle and cookery shows provide a great platform for product placements. Additionally certain productscannot enter into product placement deals. In the UK these are alcohol, tobacco products, food or drink high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), gambling services, medicinal products and infant formulae. As ad-funded programming (AFP) is classed as “sponsored” programming under the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, any ad-funder or sponsor will be subject to the relevant rules on programme sponsorship and BCAP advertising scheduling restrictions. In the case of HFSS products, any programme it sponsors will be subject to these timing restrictions.

HFSS brands can find themselves in a bit of a jam when it comes to getting access to viewers in daytime because of BCAPS’s scheduling restrictions intended to keep HFSS ads away from programmes made specifically for children and programmes
that are likely to appeal to children.

This created a major precedent for HFSS products and their sponsorship options. To understand if your product falls under the HFSS definition, refer to the Food Standards Agency’s nutrient profiling scheme at
The latest development gathering steam in the product placement sector is MirriAd’s digital insertion of brands. It doesn’t affect the production process as it’s all done in postproduction.
Channel 4 used it in Deal or No Deal to map PG Tips logos on contestants’ mugs and many major broadcasters have used it to patch in brands on backdrops, shop windows
and street furniture so the brand has a presence without being unduly prominent.
Discovery Networks is thought to have run the first postproduction placement by inserting Karcher products in the background of Discovery Real Times Tommy’s Fix it Yourself.

Sky TV’s first digital insertion is believed to have been Pedigree Dentastix in A Different Breed on Sky One in 2011. The brand, an oral care product for dogs, was inserted on bus
shelter posters behind the featured dog owners and pets. Tilda used MirriAd to integrate the UK design of its basmati rice into 10 episodes of Zee TV’s soap Pavitra Rishta. As we look for new opportunities to engage with consumers in what is increasingly a skip generation of viewers, hopefully product placement in both physical or virtual form can offer growth and scale to brand owners.

Product placement will always remain a labour-intensive process due to the regulatory hurdles but we should keep lobbying Ofcom to liberalise the rules in this area of the Broadcasting Code to enable more presence and prominence in programming without undermining the editorial integrity of the programmes.





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