UK Gives Product Placement Go-Ahead for February -- With Conditions

Regulators Require Campaign to Educate Public, Logo to Identify Shows With Product Placement

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LONDON ( -- U.K. commercial broadcasters will begin an awareness campaign in the New Year -- including slots during ad breaks -- to let TV audiences know that product placement will be coming to their screens starting Feb. 28.

Regulators' earlier mock-up of an on-screen product placement alert that will begin and end programs integrating brands.
Regulators' earlier mock-up of an on-screen product placement alert that will begin and end programs integrating brands.
Communications regulator Ofcom has finally given the full go-ahead for product placement on U.K. TV, within a framework that, Ofcom said, "will enable commercial broadcasters to access new sources of revenue, whilst providing protection for audiences."

The whole country is waiting to see which advertiser will be the first to use product placement. Pioneers can take advantage of the fact that U.K. TV audiences will be able to see people wearing real branded clothing, eating branded food and drinking branded drinks for the first time next year.

Still no Happy Meals allowed
But the British public, brought up on the commercial-free BBC, will require a gradual introduction to product placement, and there are still severe restrictions on what can be shown and where.

Tobacco, alcohol, baby milk, medicines, gambling and food or drink high in fat, salt or sugar are all banned, ruling out big brand names such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's and Burger King. Escort agencies and weapons -- neither of which can advertise on TV -- will not be able to place products either.

News, children's programs, consumer affairs, religious programs and U.K.-produced current affairs will not be allowed to raise money through product placement. No product placement will be allowed on the BBC. But films including dramas and documentaries, TV series including soap operas, entertainment shows and sports programs will all be able to bring in extra income.

Product-placement alert
Broadcasters will be required to show an on-screen logo -- most likely a "P," but that's yet to be finalized -- to alert viewers to the fact that product placement is present in the show they're watching. It will be shown for a minimum of three seconds at the start and end of programs, and at the end of each ad break.

Further restrictions include a ban on "undue prominence" given to any particular product, while any direct references to products must be "editorially justified." These rules are designed to prevent programs from being distorted or created so that they become little more than vehicles for product placement.

With the use of technology, it will also be possible to place products into old shows, opening up further opportunities for broadcasters.

MirriAd, an "embedded advertising" company, expects U.K. product placement to be worth at least 5% of the TV advertising market, as it in the U.S., giving it an annual value of $232 million. Media analysts Screen Digest, however, estimate the value of product placement to be closer to $150 million in the U.K.

Ofcom this week published the results of its consultation process on product placement, which began in June when, following changes to European legislation, the U..K government decided to allow product placement on TV. Ofcom's decisions have now been officially incorporated into the U.K. broadcast code and will take effect Feb. 28. Using the same regulations and restrictions, commercial radio is allowed to use product placement immediately, and has been trusted to find its own method of alerting audiences to the presence of product placement.

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