Product placement proposal raises junk food fears

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

A possible change in UK law to allow product placements in UK-made TV programmes is causing concern for children’s food campaigners, who fear it will increase kids’ exposure to marketing of unhealthy food and drink products.

The UK government has launched a consultation on changing the law to allow product placement in television programmes. The consultation is running for 8 weeks and will be open until 8 January 2010. This is considerably shorter than the usual 12 week period, especially since it spans the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

The question of product placement was included in an earlier consultation carried out in 2008, when Andy Burnham was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. After concluding that the balance of arguments was against changing the rules, UK parliament decided not to change the law in March this year.

The new consultation, launched in November, comes five months after Burnham was replaced by Ben Bradshaw. Christine Haigh, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign at Sustain, told that this is “a dramatic U-turn in a short space of time.”

Product placement is a form of marketing not currently allowed in the UK so any product placement will increase children’s exposure, reasons Haigh, who favours a blanket ban on product placement for all food and beverage products.

The government already recognises the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children as a problem, she said, and there are curbs on the explicit advertising of such products around salt around children’s TV programmes.

Although EU rules would prevent product placement in any programmes aimed specifically at a child audience, Haigh pointed out that 71 per cent of children’s TV viewing is of programmes that fall outside kids’ viewing hours, according to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

Even if product placement were to go ahead for other products, a blanket ban on placements for food and drink is the only way to avoid going down the “slippery slope”​ of more junk food advertising.

“Otherwise you get into the question of what is a junk food and what is not,” ​she said. A nutrient profiling system is already used in the UK to determine which products may be advertised to children based on their salt, sugar and saturated fat content, but a parallel EU system governing the use of health claims is deemed weaker.

Beneficial or pernicious?

Ofcom has estimated that annual income from product placement could be between £25m and £30m after five years. Others have put the potential return as high as $140m.

Advocates of product placement argue that UK media risk losing out in the competition stakes to programmers in the United States and other countries where it is allowed.

However Sustain calls placement “a particularly pernicious form of marketing.”

“It breaches a principle, enshrined in advertising rules, that advertising should be clearly recognised as such, and distinguishable from editorial content,”​ it says on its campaign website. “It is important that people know when they are being advertised to, and parents are able to recognise advertising and protect their children from it.”

The government consultation document is at

Details of Sustain’s product placement campaign are available at

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