Legitimate money was paid in the US for Maybelline mascara to feature in a reality series set in Marie Claire’s New York office. But did screenings on the UK’s Style Network breach the rules? Nick Johnson reports Ofcom’s findings.
Topic: Product placement
Who: Ofcom, E! Entertainment UK Limited, E! Entertainment Television Inc
When: 20 July 2009
Law stated as at: 3 September 2009
Following an investigation by the TV regulator Ofcom, references in a US reality series to Maybelline Lash Stiletto mascara were held to breach Ofcom Broadcasting Code rules on undue prominence but not rules on product placement.
The references appeared in an episode of Running in Heels, a series originally commissioned for broadcast in the US and now shown in the UK on The Style Network. The series followed three interns working in Marie Claire magazine's New York office.
In the USA, the programme's commissioners had entered into a product placement deal with Maybelline, as a result of which:
- one of the interns in the episode in question announces to the two others that she had brought something back from the office for them – "the new Maybelline mascara";
- one of the other interns then adds "Lash Stiletto";
- the mascara then appears in a close-up shot with the packaging and the product name clearly visible, followed by a medium close-up shot of the mascara; and
- the three girls are then seen applying the product and making positive comments such as "my lashes look so much longer" and "it really does make them look glossy".
Ofcom investigated following its own routine monitoring.
Because the UK broadcaster (E! Entertainment UK Limited) had acquired the programme from outside the UK and had not directly benefited from the product placement arrangement with Maybelline, the arrangement was held to fall under one of the exemptions in Rule 10.5 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. It was accordingly not prohibited product placement (even though the programme had originally been commissioned in the US by the broadcaster's parent company E! Entertainment Television Inc.).
However Rule 10.4 applies separately. This prohibits undue prominence being given to any product or service. Ofcom held that the references to, and close-up shots of, Maybelline Lash Stiletto in this programme went beyond what was editorially justified and gave undue prominence to the product in breach of Rule 10.4.
Why this matters:
Like similar adjudications before it, this decision highlights the inequality of treatment under the Ofcom Broadcasting Code as between domestic UK productions and imported programmes. Under the current regime, which the Conservative party have recently promised to change should they be elected into government, UK producers and broadcasters are at a distinct disadvantage through being unable to offer any product placement opportunities in their domestically produced TV programmes.
It is also a reminder that broadcasters' compliance departments need to be alert to product placements in imported programmes. While a certain level of brand involvement may be editorially justified and hence acceptable under the Ofcom Code, multiple brand references and prominent visual shots may need to be edited for local compliance. Brands buying product placement opportunities outside the UK will of course need to factor this in when assessing the value of their deals as they relate to the UK market.