by Ben Cohen
An unfortunate turn of events in the U.K:
British television programmes have long had to make up fictional
products, such as pints of Newton & Ridley in Coronation Street's
Rovers Return, or simply tape over the logos of real ones. That is all
likely to change this week after a decision that is expected to allow
commercial broadcasters to show sponsored products for the first time.
The move will be a boon for the broadcasters, who have been struggling to deal with falls in advertising
revenue. Some experts believe deals could raise as much as £125m
annually for the industry, although publicly funded organisations such
as the BBC will remain exempt. The ban will also stay in place for certain programmes, including shows aimed at children.
While I understand the need to increase ad revenue, particularly in severe economic times like the present, the increasingly blurred distinction between programming and advertising in the U.S is not a model that should be copied.
I sat through the awful mess that constituted the 'Sex and the City' movie (my girlfriends idea, not mine), and couldn't work out whether it was an actual film, or a long commercial for Prada, Gucci and Vitamin Water. The same can be said for American Idol - a show so integrated with corporate brands the contestants barely know whether they are plugging a product or singing on a reality contest. The effect, quite deliberately of course, it to associate certain products with a particular lifestyle. Want to be like the 'Sex and the City girls'? You have to wear Prada and Gucci. Want to be like the boys on 'Entourage'? You need a Mercedes, an Apple computer and an X Box.
The need to have intelligent advertising (like running ads for i-tunes during a Music Award show) is obvious, but when you integrate products into a show, it can quite easily take over, and the show can soon become about the products.
This is a major revelation to marketers and advertisers world wide, who have now begun to make shows around products (I know this well because I have several friends and family members in the industry). It's a huge cash cow, but the effects, I believe, are quite dangerous to society.
Buying stuff you don't need makes us more reliant on superficial things to make us happy, and encouraging this through product integration cannot be a good thing. We are bombarded with advertising on a daily basis - through computers, bill boards, TV ad breaks etc, and the more we get, the less we are able to make rational decisions about what we buy. If I like 'Entourage', I will unconsciously associate it with the brands they plug on the show. I'm more likely to buy those brands than other ones, and will probably shell out a little more to have 'Entourage' endorsed products.
Also, if all shows integrate with products, advertisers have an even greater say over what goes into that show. Do I want Coca Cola supervising the script for the latest episode of 'The Office'? Not really, but that's the future of commercial television with product integration.
The end result is an increasingly blurred line between art and advertising, and another way to make us spend a lot of money we don't really have.