Danny Rogers: Product placement is a blunt instrument

Much excitement this week about the potential for product placement on British TV.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

The buzz was created by Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, who used a speech to float of the idea of more relaxed rules on such placement.

The Government appears to see the technique as a potential £100m boost for the beleaguered world of commercial broadcasting. Who knows, it could even take some pressure off the increasingly maligned BBC.

It is indeed good news for broadcasters, which desperately need something more to sell. And any potential growth area in promotional spend is bound to set tongues wagging in Soho and Fitzrovia agencies, particularly at a time when advertising is in decline and even digital marketing is cash-strapped.

But who will own this mythical pot of gold? Just like most marketing techniques at the moment, there will inevitably be a tussle among ad agencies, media shops, new media specialists and the rest.

The PR industry has also raised its hands. After all, this is a marketing technique based on content and narrative - surely the natural turf of PR. This is true, but there are some problems with this analysis.

First, product placement is already widespread in the British media. Not only gadget-fuelled Bond films, but also the myriad TV detective series, where stars always seem to have use of a pristine Lexus or Merc.

Second, this placement has traditionally been handled by the same media buying agencies that book the big ad slots, or even directly by the brand managers.

Third, while PR professionals understand narrative, so do the programme makers. They already know their requirements and it does not take a genius to place a Stella Artois pump in a soap opera pub, or an iPhone in the hands of a youthful screen icon.

Instead, the opportunity for PR professionals lies in the wider area of content creation, where brands can have a more sophisticated dialogue with their audience.

Creating a new story or experience will add real brand value, rather than simply tapping into existing vehicles.

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