Headland: articles

Backfire fear over Jeep placement

PRODUCT placement deals are infiltrating Australian television drama - despite concerns about a possible viewer backlash - with confirmation this week that Chrysler's Jeep brand has been written into the plot of Seven's new show Headland.

The deal goes beyond traditional product placement and contra deals, where products are lent to productions for free in return for the on-screen exposure, by featuring the Jeep Cherokee 4WD in a way that showcases its brand values, for example, innovation and adventure.

Martin Patton, managing director of DaVinci Selectwork, the media agency that handles the Chrysler account, confirmed the deal but would not comment on the Jeep-related plotline. However, it could result in a scene that features the car helping a character to get out of trouble.

"It's more than just 'Can you stick a can of soup in the back of the cupboard when they open it?"' Mr Patton said. "We want the product in-situation ... to be written into storylines."

The star of Headland, which is expected to launch in September, will also receive a Jeep Cherokee to drive as their personal car, extending the brand association with the program, Mr Patton said.

Product placements are common in reality shows and lifestyle programs, fuelled by advertiser concern that traditional commercial spots are becoming less effective, but Jeep's deal with Seven is believed to be the first script-placement deal in a locally produced drama.

Three other brands have been written into the Headland script, according to a source involved with the process, which was originally thought to be seeking a car, a phone company and two other script placement partners.

Officially, the network has denied that the script-placement deals exist, and production companies and other networks considering similar arrangements are believed to be nervous about a possible backlash from viewers against having advertisers embedded into their favourite shows.

"[Seven's] head of drama [John Holmes], [chief executive David] Leckie ... everyone got really nervous," the source said.

Despite that, similar arrangements are expected to be made across a range of dramas over the next three years, possibly involving selling product placement rights by product category across several dramas at once.

Volkswagen did a similar deal with US TV network NBC in January, which will give it product placement rights in NBC-created TV shows for several years.

"Those types of deals are out there now being put on the table for the Australian marketplace," said Danny Townsend, group account director at sponsorship measurement company Repucom.

"If you can get your brand exclusively into McLeod's Daughters so that every time they sit down on the porch [they] open a VB, that's pretty powerful advertising," he said. "The programs that are Australian-produced are wising up that this is a way to get investment."

Branded content company Full Circle derives one-third of its revenue from product placement deals, according to director Brian Gallagher.

"We are doing more and more product placement deals within mainstream programming and it's being sought and it's being valued and it forms part of our business mix," Mr Gallagher said.

"Drama is a developing area which should be approached with extreme caution," he said.

Complicating such deals are the desire of television networks to control the advertiser relationship and revenue stream, and the nervousness of production companies about the effect of script-placement deals on a program's credibility among viewers.

"It's not about cost per thousand [advertisers]," Mr Gallagher said. "It's about affinity and alignment and not [interfering] with the creative feel of the program."

Also complicating matters is the issue of disclosure.

The "Cash for Comment" clause in the commercial TV Code of Practice means factual programming, including news and infotainment shows, dramas, must disclose commercial advertising arrangements. While contra deals are usually included in closing credits, drama is a grey area. Similar deals are not allowed in Britain.

By Lara Sinclair
June 16, 2005
The Australian