When authoress Fay Wheldon’s recent Bulgari sponsored novel featured predictable appearances of a certain brand of jewellery, nobody suggested it breached any rules, so why is it different on TV? For a dip into the ongoing product placement debate click here
Who: Fay Weldon, Bulgari and Prop Portfoli Bulgari and Prop Portfolio
When: August 2001
As a mixture of shock and hilarity greeted news that the best selling author Fay Weldon had been sponsored by the Italian jewellery maker Bulgari to write a novel featuring numerous references to Bulgari jewellery, the fact that this was perfectly permissible amongst consenting sponsors, writers and readers highlighted the anomaly of the UK ban on paid-for product placement on television. Thankfully for some, however, the rules are under threat from a pincer movement.
Firstly there is the increasing predominance on terrestrial and digital television of US-made programming and movies, in which paid-for product placement frequently occurs-there is no US equivalent to the paid for placement ban in the UK and many other EU states. So already cash-strapped European programme makers fighting the avalanche of US-made material are put at a further disadvantage
Separately, there is the growing popularity of the artifice whereby the letter of the ban is observed, but perhaps not its spirit. By this we mean the use of prop-provider agencies as a middleman between product producer and programme provider. Agencies such as Prop Provider (quite legitimately) launder the process by passing props to programme makers free of charge. They make their money by charging the prop provider for supplying them with the prop, but agencies like Prop Portfolio have become increasingly vocal in their attacks on the current system. They say that neither they nor their brand owner clients are comfortable with the situation, but are forced to operate through shadowy "product provision" arrangements by rules which are simply not sustainable given the explosion of TV content now available.
Why this matters
With the recent relaxation of sponsorship rules, allowing the appearance of a sponsor's product in break bumpers and at the beginning and end of the sponsored programme, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify the paid-for product placement ban. Provided programme content rules requiring that props are in keeping with the surroundings and banning undue prominence continue in force and are rigorously enforced, then surely these controls are sufficient to prevent abuse. A relaxation of the ban would also free up further funds for programming at a time when content providers are desperate for all the funding they can get.