The hidden persuader: advertising exposed

An iconic Piccadilly Circus advertising hoarding is up for sale, while product placement is soon to arrive on our screens. Is there any escape from the sellers?

'We programme the Piccadilly Lights from a secret cottage outside London,' said Neil Macklin the site manager. 'And the system is firewalled beyond imagination.'

Neil and his team are protecting perhaps the most iconic advertising site in the UK – the five permanent 'Piccadilly Lights' in Central London.

And now, for the first time since 1994, one of them is up for grabs. As Sanyo pull out, four companies are in negotiation to replace them at this famous site, which has displayed advertising boards since 1908. The first neon sign was for Bovril, the meat extract.

This exclusive site is reckoned to cost each company around £2 million per year, about £5480 a day and Coca Cola clearly believe it's worth it - they've been there since 1955.

But now advertisers have a new option. From February 28th, product placement will become legal on British TV.

Already widely used in America, this is 'hidden' advertising, where products are placed in the programme as part of the set. So on X Factor, Simon Cowell might be drinking from a Coca Cola cup as he does on American Idol. Or you might see Kellogg's cornflakes on a breakfast table in Emmerdale.

With TV advertising revenue low, commercial broadcasters are delighted, because it gives them a new way to make money. And Ofcom, the media regulator believes their new ruling will be good for everyone, enabling 'commercial broadcasters to access new sources of revenue, whilst providing protection for audiences.'

Audience protection includes a ban on certain products being advertised, such as gambling, alcohol, tobacco, baby milk and products high in salt, while children's TV and various other programmes will be off-limits.

And wherever product placement is featured, a 'P' will appear for three seconds on the screen at the beginning and end of each programme.

In America, product placement accounts for a steady 5% of the advertising budget and it is reckoned the figure will be the same in the UK.

Goo dares wins
Advertising is not new. Ancient Egyptians used papyrus to makes sales messages and wall posters, while the Romans painted murals behind their fruit stands.

But it's more pervasive today, steadily creeping into every aspect of our lives, from early in the morning until late at night.

'Goo dares wins' says the Cadbury slogan pressing us to buy one of their Crème Eggs. And with UK business risking £1.84 billion in advertising last year, Joseph Levine may have a point:

'You can fool all the people all the time if the advertising is right and the budget big enough.'

You Decide

  1. 'I am not affected by advertising'. Discuss.
  2. 'Advertising: the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it.' Do you agree?


  1. Draw up a full list of places where you will be confronted by advertising – radio, telly, facebook, bus stop, road side hoardings, magazines, barbers, tube, bus etc etc. Then work out how many adverts you see or hear a day.
  2. Research the costs and effects of advertising and write a short piece for your class called 'The dangers of advertising: imagined or real?'

Some People Say...

“Adverts are the best thing on TV.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So when was the first TV advert?
It was a commercial for Gibbs SR toothpaste in 1955, but I'm afraid I missed it.
And what is the most sought-after TV slot today?
The X Factor final without question. ITV made £25 million from last year's final, charging £250,000 for a 30 second slot. The first ad of every sequence is the most expensive costing £8000 per second.
And product placement – will it start affecting soap opera scripts?
We hope not! Ofcom says the placement can't be 'unduly prominent' and that it must be 'editorially justified' – which means they can't have a Ford Mondeo sitting in their front room, unless there's a very good reason.A Only twice: to mark the deaths of Winston Churchill in 1965 and Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.

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