Product Placement LogosBroadcasters must let TV viewers know which programmes contain product placement, according to new rules published today. A symbol will appear at the start and end of programmes, says communications regulator Ofcom.

The UK government is finally allowing product placement, after years of lobbying from commercial broadcasters. Europe has already says yes. Broadcasters hope product placement will go some way to making up lost ad revenue.

PQ Media estimates that in its first year the UK product placement will be worth in excess of £54 million ($81 million) and over £270 million across Europe. This is predicted to grow at 30% year on year, meaning that after five years the market could be worth £154.6 million in the UK.

Critics have compared product placement to Agent Orange when it comes to destroying quality television. It’s still going to be banned in news programmes, religious programmes and in children’s programmes. But banning product placement from kid’s TV is not the same as banning it from all programmes children watch.

At one point, the old Labour government said it wasn’t going to allow TV product placement. A previous culture minister said there was a lack of evidence for the economic benefits considering the cultural impact. And he was concerned about blurring the lines between ads and editorial.

The UK has always had a schizophrenic attitude towards product placement in any case. On the one hand, it has always been allowed in films. Indeed, sometimes James Bond 007 seems to have been making the world safe for luxury brands. (The audience groaned when he opened his Sony Vaio laptop in Casino Royale, or got behind the wheel of his rented Ford car.) On the other hand, broadcaster Channel 4 is happy to show Desperate Housewives, which is always stuffed full of designer clothes. And the BBC screened the Heroes episode with a blatant plug for Nissan when cheerleader Claire squealed, “Daddy, you’re giving me the Rogue,” when her father handed over the keys to the SUV.

It seems to me that you hardly notice the best product placement. The whole point of Castaway was that Fed-Ex courier Tom Hanks was going to deliver that package whatever it took. And I bet that McDonalds didn’t pay a cent for all that free publicity when Quentin Taratino penned the famous “Royale with cheese” conversation in Pulp Fiction.

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