Love Island and the Great British Bake Off have been two of 2017’s standout TV shows so far. One a reality dating show, the other a baking competition but both massive ratings winners for their respective channels.
Channel 4 splashed out £75m to poach the Great British Bake Off from the BBC, a risk that has paid off. The show’s final episode on 31 October was watched by 11 million viewers, Channel 4’s largest audience for 32 years.
Now in its third year, Love Island attracted 2.43 million viewers for its final episode on 24 July, the highest number in ITV2’s 19-year history.
Whereas Love Island signed Superdrug as a headline sponsor and included a number of bespoke product placement deals, Channel 4 decided to make the Great British Bake Off entirely product placement free in order to maintain the “integrity” of the series. It did, however, sign up Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Dr. Oetker as headline sponsors.
Reports in the Guardian suggest Channel 4 decided to give up lucrative product placement deals in order to keep the show “commercially clean” and as close to the BBC original as possible, the implication being that consumers dislike product placement.
But is that necessarily true? Viewers are certainly aware of product placement, with 74% regularly or frequently noticing it in TV programmes, films and music videos, according to a survey of more than 1,000 British consumers conducted exclusively for Marketing Week by audience research platform Lucid.
However, just 15% say they dislike it, while the majority (56%) say they don’t mind it.
We saw Gabby on the show and thought she really epitomised who we feel the Quiz girl is. We knew immediately that we wanted to collaborate with her.
Lesley Morton, Quiz
Some 44% of those questioned believe product placement has increased over the past 12 months, while 53% think it has stayed the same. Just 3% feel it has decreased. The majority of product placement is seen on satellite or cable TV (33%) or blockbuster films (33%), followed by reality TV (31%) and terrestrial TV (26%).
The main issues with product placement, however, are that it distracts from the film or TV show (37%) and makes viewers suspicious of the show’s independence (36%).
The research, therefore, suggests that while consumers are clearly aware of product placement, the majority do not mind seeing it in their daily lives.
Product placement is no longer just props used to make drama seem more realistic. It is now more about bespoke deals that mix continuous on-screen exposure with tactical multichannel brand executions.
ITV senior creative manager, Katherine Marlow, thinks a big part of this shift has been driven by producers who are increasingly getting in touch with commercial opportunities.
“What you had in the UK was a long history of prop placement where brands were used to improve the realism of our programmes, so [producers] were a bit unclear about what more we needed to give to a client if they’re now paying for it.” she explains.
“So there was a bit of an education job that we needed to do and a lot of that was us trying to be a little bit brave about what we could offer, as long as it felt natural within the editorial.”
Marlow describes the introduction of the ‘Bush Scrabble’ challenge for Mattel during the 2015 series of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here as a “real turning point” for commercial working with the producers on product placement that became gameplay in the context of the show.
After the episode aired, 41% of viewers were reminded of “how much fun Scrabble was to play”, according to ITV research, while 10% of viewers had their opinion of the game improved. Some 69% of those questioned said the Scrabble game scored “well for fit” in the context of I’m a Celebrity, while 82% thought it scored well “for enjoyment”.
ITV has been running product placement in Coronation Street and Emmerdale for the past six years, which Marlow believes works well due to the scale, heritage and trust the soaps have among the general public.
We initially trialled product placement in the last series of TOWIE on a ‘test and learn’ basis and have now continued this activity into a second series.
Suzy Brown, Visa
While reality TV does lend itself to product placement, she explains that each show differs in the way these partnerships work. A structured reality programme like The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) has to be mindful of the lives and experiences of the cast, whereas a show like The X Factor offers a greater degree of control. Brands like Three, Aer Lingus and Turkish Airlines have all had recent placements in the programme, showing the contestants directly experiencing their products or services.
Marlow explains that the ultimate goal is to enhance the viewing experience, because the last thing the broadcaster wants to do is put any viewers off.
“If you’re already an existing customer does the fact that you’ve then seen that product used in The X Factor make you feel more loyal to that brand? Likewise, if you had never bought that brand, does it make you want to go out and buy it?” Marlow asks.
“It’s a really fine line to tread and we’re trying to, on a very implicit level, elicit a favourable response. It’s just about how subtle we can be.”
Long standing relationships
As TV formats change and brand objectives adapt, the nature of the product placement relationship has to evolve. Visa started working with ITV three and half years ago with a view to increasing the knowledge and adoption of Visa contactless payments outside London.
The product placement started with subtle integrations into two retail locations in Coronation Street and Emmerdale, showing the characters using contactless transactions as a way of normalising the behaviour.
“That was really interesting because we were then placing a behaviour, not a product,” Marlow explains.
“That’s fine when you’ve got characters who then play within that world. What we always need to be careful of is something like The X Factor. It is real people’s lives, so it’s about thinking of the most natural scenarios where they could use those products.”
After two and a half years Visa wanted to evolve the message to show mobile pay being used outside traditional retail environments, targeted specifically at young consumers. At that point Visa moved the deal from the soaps to TOWIE.
— Visa UK (@VisaUK) November 1, 2017
Suzy Brown, Visa marketing director for UK and Ireland, explains that the strategy is less focused on product placement and more on finding ways to drive millennial engagement with the brand. The company also wanted to reinforce the ease and speed of using contactless, as well as the flexibility of paying with Visa while on holiday.
“We initially trialled product placement in the last series of TOWIE on a ‘test and learn’ basis and have now continued this activity into a second series [the last series ending 5 November],” Brown explains.
“TOWIE has been a good partnership as we have been able to integrate a number of our key marketing objectives into the current series including a Visa cross border payment, a Visa Checkout payment and five mobile payments worked into the storyline across different episodes.”
Brown says that TOWIE was selected due to the level of audience engagement it attracts and the fact the typical viewer demographic index highly for shopping.
“We are targeting a new type of viewer, people who dip in and out of TV, watch on catch-up and so forth,” she adds. “What’s more, this is an audience that is multi-screening while watching TV, focusing as much of their attention on social media as what is happening in the programme.”
This means that while the first round of product placement activity in the previous season was entirely in-show, this series Visa used second screen activations and ran competitions across social media to coincide with the placements. The social activity was then amplified by content being shared via the official TOWIE channels and the cast’s personal accounts.
Jumping on a trend
Finding your products featured on one of the biggest shows of the year presents a real opportunity for any brand. This was the situation for clothing label Quiz, which saw its dresses worn by a number of Love Island’s female contestants during the series which ran from 5 June to 24 July.
Contestants Jessica Shears, Olivia Attwood, Camilla Thurlow and Tyla Carr were seen on screen wearing lace dresses and embroidered playsuits from Quiz’s latest collection. The clothing brand worked with Shears after she exited the show for its #LostInSummer blogger event while the remaining contestants were still in the house.
Then in October the brand launched a collaboration collection with Love Island finalist Gabby Allen. “We saw Gabby on the show and thought she really epitomised who we feel the Quiz girl is – she is fun, she doesn’t take herself too seriously, has a cracking sense of humour and of course great style, but she’s also a real girl’s girl, which is something that is really important to us,” says Quiz head of marketing, Lesley Morton.
“We just loved her whole vibe and we knew our customers would love her too. We knew immediately that we wanted to collaborate with her.”
Split in two, the first half of the collection featured a selection of casual items and partywear “designed to give customers a slice of Love Island style”, Morton explains. The second drop, released on 7 November, is focused on party glamour and statement pieces for the festive season.
It all comes down to the show itself and ensuring that it remains as natural as possible.
Katherine Marlow, ITV
“From a marketing perspective, we’ve been focusing on creating great content and experiences with Gabby. Of course, social media has been a key channel for us for pushing the collaboration, both on our own channels and Gabby’s,” says Morton.
“This has also been done in conjunction with our wide network of influencers, with more than 100 influencers wearing and posting images and products from the collection.”
While capitalising on the popularity of a show like Love Island has been important for Quiz, the brand has also trialled product placement in the past, albeit on a smaller scale. Morton explains that product placement worked for the brand from an awareness perspective and is likely to form part of the strategy going forward.
The Love Island effect
The standout success of Love Island this summer represented a “revolution” in the way ITV approaches the amount of activation around its product placement deals, says Marlow.
Now on its biggest shows the ITV team are maximising their partners’ exposure on screen via social media and embarking on secondary partnerships that sit alongside the headline sponsor.
“We’ve done 16 product placement deals this year and only about a third of those are relating to a sponsorship, all the rest are new brands,” Marlow says.
“Superdrug is an example of where we’ve done it for a sponsor [on Love Island], but then we have done a deal with Ministry of Sound. We’re crafting a partnership that still has enormous value outside of the sponsor. We are very careful how we go about doing that because there is ultimate respect for the overall sponsor. “
Such was the success of the show that the broadcaster sold more than 100,000 personalised water bottles (designed in the style of those used by the cast) direct to fans through its Love Island app and signed a licensing deal with Primark on Love Island branded merchandise, which sold out nationwide.
Love Island also saw the broadcaster evolve beyond continuous deals. Due to the nature of its products, sponsor Superdrug was guaranteed exposure across the whole series. However it would not have been possible to stage a party every night with a Ministry of Sound DJ, so the team took more of a phased approach.
“Some deals can be continuous and some deals might be tactical. With Ministry of Sound’s new album coming out in the summer we did a live party and DJ Colin Francis went into the villa to do a live set,” Marlow explains.
“Going forward, given the scale of the show, it’s about all of us across the commercial team, the producers and editors thinking, where do we want to take it? What brands do we feel could really enhance that experience? Also, every single brand has to feel like they are getting good value, so you need to have discreet packages where they feel like they’re owning something.”
Marlow acknowledges that there is lots of demand around the show, which returns for a winter edition in the New Year, meaning her team will need to choose the “right brands, on the right terms”.
“This year has been crazy for us in terms of not only the volume, but the ambition for these deals, so we remain really excited and we’ve got some announcement coming out in the New Year where we’re going to take it to a new level,” she adds.
“However, it all comes down to the show itself and ensuring that it remains as natural as possible. That’s still the best way for anyone.”