We can't run away from the ethical debates in marketing

Rory Sutherland

A few of us were discussing the newly liberalised product placement regulations, and began musing on the ethics of negative product placement – whereby you would pay broadcasters to feature your competitors' products being used by deeply unattractive characters. So that next raid on a crack den in The Bill might show an array of P&G cleaning products on a shelf.

Interestingly enough, only days later a real instance of this arose. In the recent film The Invention of Lying, set in a world where everyone can only tell the truth, a bus drives past carrying the slogan, 'Pepsi: for when you can't get Coke.'

I suspect this was the work of a scriptwriter, not a copywriter. It is rather wonderful in its way. Yet if it were a piece of product placement it would be ethically debatable.