Product placement ban lifted and its impact on engineering PR

Simon Cowell promoting Coca Cola
on America Idol. The little devil. 
From 28 February 2011, product placement is to be allowed in UK TV programmes for the first time, following an Ofcom ruling. Paid-for references for products and services will also be permitted in television programmes. Ofcom has also liberalised the rules on paid-for references to brands and products in radio programmes. But does this have any impact on the world of engineering PR?

Well, yes and no. Its long been customary for companies involved in home automation and the building trade to appear in DIY programmes in exchange for goods and services. Crucially though, this has been part of the editorial decision of the production company and not a literal quid pro quo arrangement. Equally, engineering companies have long provided experts for interview on television and radio.

You have also been allowed to reference goods and services spontaneously, provided you aren’t associated with them. For instance, while I was representing SKF several years ago Lord Brockett emerged from the tribulations of ‘I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ and remarked that the show was as reliable as ‘that Swedish bearings company’. Nothing to do with me at all, but reliability was SKF’s cornerstone message.

But none of these examples are product placement; rather they are examples of PR done well.

Where product placement could come into effect for engineering businesses, providing they have the budget of course, would be on niche shows, like Engineering Connections, Extreme Engineering or Industrial Junkie.

Perhaps more interesting is the idea of being inspired by product placement on television to action similar tactics using more immediate routes to market. For example, could you place product on a partner’s stand at an exhibition? Are there any magazines looking for ‘stock’ images of products or services to illustrate their articles? Could you do the same with Web sites of partner companies or even just companies that use illustrations of the kind of product and service you provide? Could you add your photography to the 'creative commons' section of Flickr and similar sites.

Again, these are truly speaking examples of PR in action, not product placement. My point is merely that thinking about consumer marketing can be a great way of generating ideas for technical marketing activity.

The details of Ofcom’s ruling
TV viewers will see a new product placement logo on their screens in advance of an incidence of placement. The logo must appear for a minimum of three seconds at the start and end of programmes so that viewers know which UK-produced programmes contain product placement. The logo must also appear at the return of the programme following any advertisement breaks.

Under the old British law, programmes were allowed to use products such as laptops and clothing as props but are forbidden from receiving cash in exchange for the placement. By contrast, product placement in the US is rife with 117,976 individual placements across America's top 11 TV channels in three months last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Product placement will be allowed in films (including dramas and documentaries), TV series (including soaps), entertainment shows and sports programmes. But it will be prohibited in all children’s and news programmes and in UK-produced current affairs, consumer affairs and religious programmes. So, you are safe with Dora the Explorer and I Can Cook.

The product placement of tobacco, alcohol, gambling, foods or drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, medicines and baby milk is banned by UK legislation. Ofcom has also prohibited the paid-for placement of products and services that cannot be advertised on television, such as weapons or escort agencies. All these prohibitions are reflected in Ofcom’s new rules.

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Richard Stone

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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