Product placement: over-hyped?

Adrian Coleman

New Legislation in the EU will, for the first time, allow European TV companies to follow the example set by their US counterparts and charge to feature products in programmes. Of course, this will have major implications for the British advertising industry, but whether it will be positive or negative remains to be seen.

Product placement in the media is not new. Its origins can be traced at least as far back as the 1950s, when soap powder companies created 'mini dramas' as a means of pushing their products. Fifty years on, TV is still by far the strongest medium for communicating with the mass market.

Many would argue that this new ruling will see an increase in the blurring of editorial and advertorial space and that programming will increasingly be swayed by which advertiser can put up most cash. There are worries about the impact that this could have on the quality of programming. Will scripts and final cuts have to be agreed with advertisers before they are aired? And will this ultimately lead to creative control being handed over to the advertiser? It's a question that comes down to integrity. Both advertiser and producer will want the programme to gain as many viewers as possible, so over-zealous intervention in scripts may deteriorate the programme into shameless plugging of goods.