Exclusive research following Ofcom’s decision to allow brands to be promoted in UK TV shows conveys a public more amenable to product placement than last year, writes MaryLou Costa.
After nearly two years of public discussion the arrival of product placement on UK television this week was highly anticipated, hotly debated, feared by some and welcomed by others.
In the wake of Ofcom’s ruling that brands can be promoted in TV shows, many consumers appear to feel relaxed about product placement, according to research conducted by Lightspeed Research, seen exclusively by Marketing Week.
More people say in this year’s research that product placement is acceptable on TV, compared with a survey of 1,000 UK consumers conducted by the same research company in January last year. And, compared with 2010, more people agree that product placement will make them more likely to buy a brand.
This year 71% of respondents say they have noticed product placement in a TV show or film, up from 31% in 2010. Lightspeed Research marketing director Ralph Risk says this is because the topic is being discussed more widely in the media and not necessarily because product placement has appeared on TV screens more frequently.
“I wouldn’t have thought that in the past year there would have been a huge increase in the amount of product placement people are seeing, but more than double the amount of people have noticed,” he says.
“The knowledge and understanding of what product placement is and [what it] is trying to do is probably higher than a year ago. This is an encouraging figure for brands.”
The younger the consumers, the more amenable they are towards product placement, according to the research. Twenty per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds say they would be more likely to buy a product if they saw it on TV as part of a programme, up from 16% in 2010. But this figure declines as age increases, with 12% of 35- to 54-year-olds and just 6% of 55- to 64-year-olds saying that seeing a product in a TV show would make them more likely to buy a particular brand.
The results for the older two age groups are consistent with last year’s findings. “Younger people are generally more accepting of change. They have been brought up in a much more commercial world, so are more willing to accept the reality of commercialism than older generations,” says Risk, adding that product placement seems a “natural extension” of current advertising to 18- to 34-year-olds.
This year the public seems to be more accepting of what types of programmes are suitable for product placement. Seventy-three per cent say it would be acceptable on soap operas, up from 58% last year. Fifty-two per cent say drama would be an appropriate genre, up from 41% last year, while 21% say it would be suitable in period drama, compared with 15% last year. Twenty-four per cent say yes to documentaries, up from 20% in 2010. More than double the amount of people compared with last year agree that sports programmes would be a good slot for product placement: the number rocketing from 15% to 37%.
This year 71% of respondents say they have noticed product placement in a TV show or film, up from 31% in 2010
Product placement will not be allowed in news or children’s programmes, which is in line with consumer views. Just 15% (news) and 9% (children’s programmes) feel it would be acceptable in these formats. This result is also consistent with last year’s survey.
While product placement will not initially be allowed on the BBC, 43% of people in the survey say it would be acceptable. Perhaps many people recognise product placement as a valid way of funding quality content, as Rebecca Miskin from Cosmopolitan magazine points out (see The Frontline, below).
The Sex and the City film franchise has been criticised for excessive use of product placement, but a third of those survey respondents who have noticed it within the movie have positive feelings towards it.
However, many respondents also indicate they do not wish to be treated as a pushover by brands and advertisers. Twenty-five per cent are concerned about product placement being allowed on UK television, while 20% say they have found product placement distracting.
Risk agrees that marketers should take these statistics as a caution. “Brands that do use product placement have to make sure they don’t slam it in people’s faces. They have to understand the benefits and the limitations of the medium and accept that it has to fit in with the user experience,” he says.
People are generally reluctant to say they are affected by advertising, adds Risk, which makes it difficult to assess how effective product placement might be as an advertising opportunity. When considering a list of 20 well-known brands, most respondents do not believe they will be more inclined to buy a brand if they are noticed within the context of a show.
Some brands did score marginally better in this section of the survey than last year. Budweiser and Gucci both rose from 4% to 5% in terms of people’s inclination to buy a brand. But Asda, Tesco and Nokia dropped a couple of percentage points. Seven per cent of respondents say they would be more likely to shop at Asda if they saw it in product placement, compared with 9% last year, while Tesco and Nokia both fell in favour from 8% to 6%.
When asked to name a brand they had seen in the past month in a TV programme, 87% say they cannot remember seeing any. Risk says this figure does not indicate that product placement is ineffective or irrelevant, but it does call into question how brands measure the performance of their product placement activity.
“The challenge for advertisers could be measuring the return on investment around product placement, and [consumer] recall could be one way,” he says. “But it’s not necessarily the best way because, if product placement is subtle and there is low recall, it does not mean it is not working.
“And, if there is high recall, it could be that the advertiser is being too heavy-handed. The challenge will be to understand how to reach an appropriate metric, especially if a brand has other campaigns going on at the same time.”
With UK product placement in its infancy, TV regulator Ofcom is keen to prevent a public backlash by ensuring consumers are aware of brands’ presence in programmes by prefacing them with a special logo.
But Risk believes that many people’s fears around product placement will not be realised because advertisers for the most part will enter this new arena carefully, knowing the responsibility they hold.
Risk concludes: “People will become more accepting if it is done well. If it doesn’t take away from the story or programme, people will find it easy to accept.”
The Frontline: we ask marketers on the frontline whether our ’trends’ research matches their experiences on the ground
Head of commercial partnerships, UKTV
I was quite surprised that a quarter of respondents in the survey were concerned about product placement. To me that is quite high. Every day consumers have commercial messages thrown at them.
We have some very clear guidelines from Ofcom on how product placement should look within content and what we should and should not do. It’s not going to work for everyone but some brands will find it really useful. I anticipate our Good Food and Home channels being a home for product placement.
Days of Our Lives in the US is an example of over-the-top product placement, but in Sex and the City brands such as Weight Watchers and TiVo were used in relevant storylines and were justified. You just need to be clever, not patronise your audience, and work with people who can deliver good content.
Product placement should never block the flow of a show. We can’t do anything that makes people want to switch off.
Brand director, Cosmopolitan magazine
I think the UK audience is used to product placement because it’s in movies and in American programming, so there is an awareness of it. The legislation around it means brands have to be put into context and seamlessly blend into editorial content.
When it goes overboard, as we have seen in the US at times, the audience will find it overbearing and will switch off. But product placement is a bona fide form of production finance and, after it has established itself here, it will enable broadcasters to reduce the cost of a production.
Cosmopolitan UK has been used subtly in programmes such as Coronation Street and Gavin and Stacey. The new legislation enables us to be a bit less subtle at times but the brand will have been around for 40 years next year, so it is important that it is absolutely integrated into a programme – we are not interested in having it stick out like a sore thumb.
I absolutely understand the concerns of those consumers in the survey. And, as the survey indicates, I do think some of the younger generation will find product placement an incentive to purchase, because it will put brands in a context that makes people more compelled to associate themselves with the brand. But other audiences could be put off.
Marketing director, Cherrygood (juice drinks)
Product placement is great news for big brands but not for small brands, which just don’t have the budgets for it.
I’m surprised that only a quarter of consumers in the survey say that they are concerned about product placement. However, my concerns about it are based more on my own views than on what consumers think. If we could fit product placement into our budget right now I think we would have some concerns about the ethics of it. It’s not as up-front as straightforward advertising activity.
Our marketing at the moment is primarily driven by PR and social media. These are more quantifiable for us – we know what we have paid and we can see what it has generated for us.