U.K. Proposes Product Placement Alert

Regulators Consider Requiring Warning to Viewers That Brands Paid to Be in TV Shows

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- As the U.K. finally gets close to allowing product placement on TV after years of debate, regulators are proposing that broadcasters be required to use an on-screen symbol -- perhaps in the form of a giant letter 'P'-- at the start and end of programs to alert audiences to the paid message embedded in the content they're about to watch or have just seen.

An Ofcom mock-up of how the screen might look.
An Ofcom mock-up of how the screen might look.
British audiences won't see their first product placements on TV until the start of 2011, but the new Conservative government is clarifying proposals drawn up under the previous Labour Party-run administration in accordance with new European Union regulations.

U.K. broadcast regulator Ofcom has proposed that broadcasters be required to use a warning symbol –- the suggestion is a "PP" device -- to let viewers know which U.K.-produced programs contain product placement. They suggest showing a "P" in a circle on the screen.

Product placement will be allowed on televised films, series, entertainment shows and sports programs, but children's shows, news and religious programs must all remain free of commercial influence. And product placement is banned for marketers of food or drink that is high in fat, salt or sugar, as well as for tobacco, alcohol, gambling, medicine and baby milk.

Ofcom is also exploring the possibility of allowing paid-for references to brands in radio shows. Again, listeners would have to be made fully aware of any commercial arrangement.

The proposals are open to consultation until September 2010 and include restrictions on "unduly prominent" product placement.

Media analysts Screen Digest estimate that product placement could bring in as much as $150 million in the first year, compared to the $5 billion expected to be spent on traditional TV advertising.

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