If the cap (or drink, or car, or shoe) fits…

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Yesterday, in my first glimpse of daytime TV since my student days, I caught a lively debate about the proposed guidelines for broadcast product placement. 

The focus of the discussion was the ‘P’ symbol that will appear before and after programmes to warn viewers that they contain product placement. The gist was that viewers don’t want to be patronised by this symbol and feel that they can easily spot product placement without it.

We’ve all seen product placement done very badly. The Coca Cola cups on American Idol to name just one example. The bottom line is that this initiative won’t work for the viewer or brand and therefore nor will it for the broadcaster. The real beauty of product placement and PR in general is that it should be seamless and so well placed that it’s invisible (at least to the masses). 

Whilst my gut instinct is to think that seeing Heinz on Heartbeat or Kellogg’s on Corrie could be a bit naff, done well, it is highly strategic and effective. How many girls can say that they don’t fancy a pair of Louboutins when they watch Carrie swishing down Fifth Avenue in hers? And what man would turn down a drive in Jack Bauer’s Ford Exhibition? 

Going back to whether viewers need to be warned, I’m inclined to say – probably not. Product placement could benefit TV quality as long as broadcasters don’t insist on crowbarring irrelevant products into the scripts. After all, this much-needed revenue should help to improve the quality of programming, and an actual product is a far more realistic addition than anything a prop department could offer. The door of opportunity is wide open and we’re intrigued to see which brands capitalise on it.