Product Placement

Product placement, where advertisers pay for their products to appear within programmes, is a particularly pernicious form of marketing.  It breaches a principle, enshrined in advertising rules, that advertising should be clearly recognised, and distinguishable from editorial content.  It is often unrecognisable, making it impossible for parents to protect their children from it.

So the recent announcement that product placement of junk food will not be allowed in UK-made TV programmes is great news.  In his announcement, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said:

“The Directive prohibits the placement of two specific types of product, that is tobacco products (as well as any other placement by or on behalf of a company whose principal activity is the manufacture or sale of tobacco products) and prescription medicines.  The Government has decided to move significantly beyond this.  Our legislation will specifically prohibit the placement of products and services in the following categories:

  • alcoholic drinks;
  • foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar;
  • gambling;
  • smoking accessories;
  • over-the-counter medicines; and 
  • infant formula and follow-on formula.”

Thank you to all who supported our campaigning and sent responses to the consultation. 

This is a real victory for children's health, and shows any future government that they can expect real resistance if they try to reintroduce product placement of junk food.  It is also the first time that it has been recognised that children need protection from junk food advertising in all their viewing, not just children's programmes.

You can read our press release here.

We were concerned about the threat of product placement because:

  • Junk food advertisers are likely to take advantage of product placement to promote their products: in the US, Coca-Cola use product placement the most, and in the UK, Coca-Cola has said that they would welcome the relaxing of rules on product placement, suggesting that they would make use of this marketing tactic if permitted.
  • Claims that children will be protected because the ban will remain for children's programmes ignore the fact that 71% of the television that children watch is outside the hours of “children's television”.
  • There is widespread opposition to exposing children to product placement: a recent survey of 1,349 UK adults by Redshift Research found that 91% do not think it is right to influence children with product placement.
  • Moves to introduce product placement represent a huge u-turn by the Government: only last year Andy Burnham, the previous Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced that product placement should not be permitted, stating that lifting the ban raised "very serious concerns" and was "blurring the boundaries between advertising and editorial".

We campaigned hard against moves to allow product placement, and over a thousand of our supporters responded to the Government consultation to call for the current protections from product placement to be kept. 

An amazing number, and range, of organisations spoke out against product placement.  Here are just a few of them:

  • The Church of England hit the headlines over Christmas with its opposition to product placement, arguing that Retaining trust in broadcasters' integrity and editorial balance is key to maintaining strong relationships between audience and broadcaster, which in turn has both civic, societal and economic benefits”.
  • The opposition of the British Medical Association, National Union of Teachers, Which? and National Children's Bureau to product placement was noted in a front page article in the Guardian on 4 January.
  • Peter Hollins, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, has written an article for ePolitix expressing concerns that, with product placement “we are in serious danger of putting the health of the advertising industry above the health of the nation”.
  • 7 January saw a letter from 27 individuals and organisations published in the Guardian.
  • The following day, the Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Royal College of Physicians expressed their own concerns in a second letter to the Guardian.
  • More unexpectedly, ISBA, the major industry body representing British Advertisers has also announced its opposition to product placement, raising concerns about “higher costs for advertisers and more complaints from the viewing public”.
  • Similarly, the Portman Group, representing drinks companies, has said that it is concerned that product placement “could lead to some less scrupulous companies abandoning other strictly-regulated media in favour of high-profile product placement through which they could convey brand associations (for example, with excessive or inappropriate consumption, sexual success etc) that they could not convey through other forms of marketing.”

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