Sourced from The Guardian
An episode of US show Black-ish saw a character discussing an ad campaign by Procter & Gamble. Is this the future of TV?
Advertiser-funded programming is an important source of money for broadcasters, but could advertiser-funded dialogue be the next step? Last week saw a groundbreaking attempt to blend advertising and editorial in an episode of the hit US sitcom Black-ish, which involved consumer goods firm Procter & Gamble paying for a plotline.
In the episode, broadcast on ABC, characters discussed P&G’s award-winning ad campaign, “The Talk”, which features African American parents talking about racism to their children. The show’s storyline involved character Dre Johnson – the father of the family, who is himself black and an ad executive – developing an advertising campaign that focuses on P&G’s film.
While we are in a new golden age of television, it has been less memorable for advertisers, who have found the digital audiences provided by Google and Facebook more alluring. Global spending on ad slots will grow 1.1% this year to $188.7bn (£136bn), according to media buyer ZenithOptimedia, while digital spending is expected to rise more than 10% to $224.7bn.
This has forced broadcasters to find new ways of bringing in money and set up deals like the Black-ish episode with P&G.
The explosion of catch-up and on-demand services such as Netflix, the rise in the recording of shows and the skipping of ads, and a decline in viewing on traditional TV sets by younger viewers has led advertisers to look beyond the 30-second commercial break. P&G’s jump to a starring role in a show is nirvana for brands targeting the kind of viewers who are increasingly switched off by TV ads.
Advertisers are now frequently heavily involved in all aspects of a TV show, from providing funding and doing product-placement deals to having products digitally inserted into scenes using special effects.
Viewers of Channel 4’s hit celebrity winter sports show The Jump, Sheridan Smith’s turn in ITV drama Cilla, Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, or Air Ambulance ER on Sky might be unaware that they made it to the small screen in part because of co-financing from an arm of WPP, the world’s biggest advertising group.
Advertisers looking for even more control are becoming involved in creating shows that will appeal to viewers and show off their brand. The deal for Channel 4’s Eat The Week with Iceland, which shows attempts by time-starved families to cook together, included the frozen-food chain having naming rights for the show. “Iceland was fully integrated,” says Liam Mullins, managing partner at media agency the7stars, which struck the deal. “We even chose the freezer.”
Three years ago, UKTV, which owns 10 TV channels including Dave and Gold, revealed that a quarter of its original commissions were part-funded by advertisers. Kate Norum, senior commercial partnerships manager at the company, says the proportion is now much lower, at about five shows per year, but that it remains an important part of the business.
“Nearly every brand is looking to move into content creation but a lot of what they do is sitting unwatched on digital platforms,” she says. “If we can bring top-up funding to the table, then every penny goes into the production of the show. We will only do things that we think are editorially relevant: we wouldn’t want viewers thinking they were being bashed around the head with a commercial partnership.”
One example is a tie-up with Ancestry.co.uk to make The Secrets in My Family, a show that dug into a family’s history each week, fronted by The One Show’s co-host Alex Jones. The genealogy company was consulted on elements including the talent, the title, the contributors and their stories, but ultimate editorial control was held by UKTV.
Advertisers can also pay to have products featured in shows, which must carry a “P” logo to indicate the presence of paid-for placements – something that has been allowed in the UK only since 2011.
The problem with the modest £30m-a-year product-placement business is that sometimes brands don’t realise what they are getting themselves into. For every success like Superdrug’s tie-up with ITV2’s Love Island, which saw bottles of suntan lotion located strategically throughout the set of the runaway hit show, there is the cautionary tale of Big Brother.
In 2012, Henkel, which owns brands including haircare label Schwarzkopf, spent £2m on a Big Brother deal, but the Channel 5 reality show became embroiled in an abuse and racism scandal between housemates. The deal, which included the housemates and presenter Emma Willis dyeing their hair the brand’s distinctive red colour, did not go as intended for Henkel, as more than 1,200 viewers complained to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.
Some advertisers are now looking to Hollywood-style effects to make sure they get the perfect placement.
London-based Mirriad places virtual advertising inventory into finished TV programmes – for example, inserting a billboard advert for insurer Prudential into an episode of the hit US comedy Modern Family.
“It is all about putting in images that were never there,” says Mark Popkiewicz, chief executive of Mirriad. “In today’s world, where audiences are ignoring traditional ads more and more, or blocking them, it is critical for an advertiser to be able to benefit from great content in a natural way.”
However, these innovations – from dialogue to superimposed ads – carry a health warning. Advertisers need to tread carefully as modern audiences have an increasingly low tolerance for commercial exploitation, and blurring the line between advertising and content can run the risk of a viewer backlash.
The makers of The Great British Bake Off banned potentially extremely lucrative product placement deals when it moved from ad-free BBC to Channel 4, in order to protect the integrity of the UK’s most popular TV show.
“It is a careful balance,” says Richard McKerrow, co-founder of Bake Off maker Love Productions. “While obviously we have scrutinised commercial opportunities, you have to be careful to protect the creative integrity and authenticity of a show. It is vital that viewers trust what they are seeing.”
If the example set by the Black-ish episode takes off, it could also be question of whether viewers trust what they are hearing.