UK Government Minister Opposes TV Product Placement

13 June 2008

BIRMINGHAM, UK: Andy Burnham (pictured), minister for Britain's bizarre bureaucratic mongrel the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has vowed to oppose a European Union proposal to legalise product placement on television.

The practice – banned on British TV but endemic in the US and other nations –"contaminates" the programmes in which it appears, accused Burnham in his address to a DCMS 'Convergence Think Tank' seminar in Birmingham yesterday.

He cautioned that the EU proposal – on which member nations are required by the EU's Audio Visual Media Services Directive to carry out consultations – could damage programmes.

"As a viewer, I don't want to feel the script has been written by the commercial marketing director," he said. "If Jim Royle [a popular TV sitcom character] gets out of his chair for a Kit Kat, I want to think, 'he fancies a Kit Kat', Not, 'Kit Kat my arse!'.

"If I thought it was because someone has paid for him to eat one, it would change the way I felt about the programme." 

Secretary Burnham told the Think Tank, a government initiative set-up to assess the implications of technological development for the media and communications industries, that he could "see the benefits of product placement and understand why people feel it is an inevitability given the pressures they are under".

Then came the inevitable "but" ...

"There is a risk that, at the very moment when television needs to do all it can to show it can be trusted, that we elide the distinction between programmes and adverts."

Rupert Howell, brand director for the UK's largest commercial broadcaster ITV, holds an unsurprisingly polar view. Rooting for product placement, he claimed it "adds to the authenticity of a programme, just as it does in films".

He did not cite any evidence in support of that claim.

Howell ended with what some might construe to be a subtle threat: "The issue is sitting in Andy Burnham's in-tray and we would expect [revised] rules to come into effect next year."

Data sourced from BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff