ITV has shown more than 4,000 hours of programming which has included product placement since the contentious practice was introduced on TV screens nearly five years ago.
Top shows including The X Factor, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and Coronation Street have all featured the technique, which sees broadcasters put commercial products on the set of their shows in exchange for money.
This comes as Ofcom admitted it had no idea how much overall product placement was going on in British TV because it does not monitor the controversial form of advertising.
The TV watchdog, which regulates the broadcasting industry, says it keeps no data about the prevalence of the practice, which became legal in the UK in February 2011.
Product placement was given the go-ahead despite concerns it would spark a US-style free-for-all where branded items are jarringly shoehorned into shows.
When contacted by RadioTimes.com, ITV said it had shown about 4,000 hours of programming with product placement in it. Channel 4 said this year alone it would be airing about 100 hours of shows that included the practice.
ITV’s most recent piece of product placement was a large Scrabble game that was used during a trial on I’m A Celebrity. Visa Europe has been featured in Coronation Street and Emmerdale, and in the case of the Weatherfield soap, brands such as O2 and Smyths Toys have appeared on the bus shelter.
The broadcaster’s longest running deal was with Nationwide on Coronation Street, for three years from 2011, showing one of the building society’s cash machines in Dev’s shop. McCain chips feature in domestic settings in Emmerdale while TalkTalk’s sponsorship of X Factor is also supported by product placement.
Over on Channel 4, Sunday Brunch has a deal showing Bosch appliances on the show and Made in Chelsea has an agreement with Sony mobile phones. Other Channel 4 programmes to have used product placement in the past are Hollyoaks and Deal or No Deal.
The first British show to ever use product placement was ITV’s This Morning when it subtly placed a Nescafe coffee machine in the kitchen area on the show in February 2011.
When programmes include product placement, a ‘P’ sign is flashed up on screen for three seconds, at the start and end of the show and after advertising breaks.
While individual broadcasters have carried out their own research into the effectiveness and popularity of product placement, which is broadly positive, there is some surprise that the regulator has never researched the volume of it on UK television.
Ofcom says it has issued “detailed guidance” to broadcasters to make sure they stick to the rules, if not it takes “robust action”. It reports it has recorded 22 breaches of its rules in this area since 2011.
In 2014 the regulator issued a note to broadcasters warning them that makeover and cookery shows should “avoid the impression that success is dependant on the use of a placed product”. It added placed products with no obvious branding – such as furniture – could only be identified if they were “integrated into the programme’s narrative”.
The practice is banned from news and current affairs programmes, children’s, religious and consumer advice shows.
Certain products such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes, medicines, alcoholic drinks, junk food, gambling and formula baby milk cannot be used in product placement.
An ITV spokesman said: “ITV is the biggest marketing platform in the UK and Product Placement plays an important part in the mix of options for brands and advertisers. Product Placement on ITV offers seamless integration and context in some of our biggest and most loved shows”
An Ofcom spokesman said:“Product placement is permitted on television as long as it meets strict Ofcom rules. We’ve issued detailed guidance to broadcasters to help ensure they comply with these rules. We take robust action if the rules are broken. We have recorded 22 breaches of our rules in this area since 2011.”
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news