The Differences Between UK and US Product Placement


Table Of Contents


The Growth Of A Non Traditional Advertising Practice

I was recently interviewed by the British publication The Grocer, by writer Megan Tatum to share my insights on how US and UK approach product placement differently.  The article she wrote is absolutely insightful and fantastic - but gated with a required subscription, with access at What Does The Future Look Like For Product Placement.

Much of this difference is actually driven by legal restrictions, where European laws have a more limited allowance for advertising without alerting consumers to the appearance of product placement in content.  In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares insights on the differences between US and UK product placement, and how we see this marketing practice growing.

The Differences Between US and UK Product Placement (1)

A Brief History Of Product Placement In The United Kingdom Versus United States

What is called prop product placement has been part of TV content around the globe for decades – including in the UK.  Fee-based product placement however has only been allowed in the UK since 2011 when Ofcom, the official governing communications regulator, approved fee-based product placement under specific conditions.  The difference here is that with “prop placement” no fees are charged to the brand by the production or content distributor, and the product is loaned or gifted to the production as a cost savings or to help assist in bringing the scene more realistically to life – and is absolutely essential to productions.

In the United States, our fee-based TV product placements did not truly begin until the advent of Mark Burnett’s Survivor in 2000 on CBS, and grew into a burgeoning practice with Donald Trump’s The Apprentice four years later that continues to this day. TV networks realized quickly that brands would pay a premium for advertising media if their brand was prominently featured within the program, and the marketing practice took off.   

A Receptive Audience

Both prop or fee-based product placement is in fact not unwelcome by viewers when done well.  And that is the crux of where controversy can occur as to whether consumers like or hate this marketing practice. When brands become part of scenes on screen and help bring to life a character – by helping to show their status in life such as when luxury brands are featured versus more everyday brands, or by enhancing the storyline with realism, and the production has successfully crafted an organic integration of the brand on screen, there is success to be had by all partiers – production, brand and viewers. 

The goal of product placement is to help make scenes more real, and to tell a better story overall. It is when a product placement feels out of place or forced that viewers push back, as their viewing of the content has become disjointed and no longer flows.  We know that characters are going to drink beer, and would prefer to see that it says a brand name versus a fake can that says “beer”.  We feel more aligned to a character when their favorite snack is our favorite snack too. Brands help build better stories in these instances.  And that’s why American audiences have been open to product placement in their content.

New Call-to-action

How The Laws Differ

In the United States, we do have more relaxed rules when it comes to certain aspects of product placement, but we still don’t allow product placement to occur when marketing alcohol to underage viewers, or allow cigarette brands to be advertised, or certain pharmaceutical brands.  Many networks also self-regulate, and limit options for gambling or sportsbook sites to be featured within their content. Just like the BBC, we also have networks including HBO who don’t want to commercialize their content, and won’t allow fee-based product placement, but will happily embrace prop product placement for its cost savings and storytelling abilities.  When have you seen a grocery store in a scene that was not full of brands?  It would be impossible to recreate that setting without brand support.

Why Hollywood Content Versus Country-Specific Content

Many brands from all over the world choose to work with Hollywood content not because they are trying to work outside of legal rules that are in place in their own home country, but because content from the United States has been traditionally much more global in reach.  Working with a TV series that will have global distribution is a very different proposition to a brand marketer than working with a TV series that will only have a very limited reach inside of one specific country.  With that said, there is content being produced and distributed in the UK that is massively growing in popularity globally, with strong interest by US brands to become part of the storyline. This is very much so driven by streaming video on demand platforms like Netflix and Amazon, and been a major game changer.

Free Versus Paid Product Placement 

The UK calls no-fee based product placement "prop product placement".  We just call it "product placement" in the US.  And typically "brand integration" when fees are paid. 

When it comes to “prop product placement”, even though they are not paid for placement, brands do find creative ways to ensure they’ve got a better chance than competitors of being selected as a prop. 

  1. One approach we utilize is ensuring that the brand is actively in front of the production decision makers.  If the production is not aware of the brand, and the brand is not made easily available to the production, then it does not have a fighting chance of being selected. 
  2. We also make sure we can provide the quantity of the product needed for the scene.  Depending on the brand category and the scene, multiple units of the same item are often needed. 
  3. We may also look at ways we can help the brand with their wrap party by supplying additional product, or with craft services where the cast and crew snack and eat during filming being provided complimentary product. 
  4. As a product placement agency, we very proactively approach filmmakers to education them on the brand, and ensure the brand is top of mind. 
  5. There are also opportunities for the brand to potentially assist the filmmaker by co-promoting the content through their own marketing efforts, or through their digital or social channels. 

For brands that offer tremendous cost savings as well to a production, they will be kept even more top of mind.

product placement guide

How To Better Negotiate A Great Deal

When it comes to brands negotiating fee based product placements with filmmakers and broadcasters, the ingredients of a great deal reside in ensuring the partnership is organic. 

You don’t want to bop the viewer over the head and disrupt them while they are engaged with the content. Instead you want to work with the production team to craft a very organic partnership that still includes the branding and messaging you are trying to secure.

Keep in mind that you need to be open to toning down that messaging, and changing the verbiage in the case of call outs, to feel more realistic to the aligned character.  Each product placement deal is different because there is no set pricing guide for every production, every brand category and every brand is unique in what they offer to a production, as is what the storyline and characters may offer for the brand.

In one instance a fee-based product placement with prominent logo may be the perfect fit, and in another, a few logo shots along with verbal call out or even scripted messaging may be the ideal for a scene. 

Each production needs to be approached individually as none is the same as the other.

Also keep in mind that you can:

  • Ask for social media posts by the production, for behind the scenes content that your brand can repurpose. 
  • Or even explore a strategic co-branded promotional campaign or sweepstakes, or other amplification that further aligns your brand with the content. 

Rinse And Repeat.  Again.

Just like with any other sort of advertising, repetition is a way to enhance viewer awareness, and further memory recall.  Don’t just expect wild out of the gate success by creating a single campaign.  Product placement is best served on a continual basis, allowing the viewer to see your brand in multiple productions they watch, across their favorite programming.

Here are some blogs our team has written that you might find helpful on product placement. 

Also, check out our video on how a product placement - or also known overseas as a 'prop product placement' works!

How Product Placement Works Video