Towards consolidated rules for Product Placement in Italy?

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Branded content is a hype word. Audiovisual content is meddled with products and vice-versa, while advertisers are more creative in devising new solutions. Within this context product placement is becoming increasingly important. But what are the main rules for product placement? Has anything changed? What are the current trends?

A lot changed since the times in which product placement was not allowed (and a lot of producers were in any event doing it!). Since the legislative decree no. 44.2010, there are clear rules for product placement in Italy also for audiovisual media services, including films and TV series, sports and “light entertainment” programmes (excluding children’s programmes). The main rules on product placement provide that:

- product placement must not affect the editorial independence of the broadcaster / audiovisual media services provider;

- programmes shall not give undue prominence to the “placed” products, and should not directly encourage the sale or rental of such products;

- viewers shall be clearly informed about the existence of any product placement in the programme, at the start and at the end of the programme and after any advertising break (where the programme is commissioned by the audiovisual media services provider);  

- there can be no product placement for tobacco or medical products available on prescription.

While the underlying principles are not controversial, there are still a number of issues that are subject to interpretation.

For instance, the is no clarity as to what is to be considered an undue prominence for the placed products. Recent trends consider undue prominence when, among other things, it affects the objectivity of the description, or it entails an excessive frequency of quotation / references / images of the product. The quotation / reference / image frequency is not clearly defined (and most doubt it can ever be defined on a general basis, given that it should be considered within the overall context of the programme).

Another issue relates to the relationship with sponsorships. Most commentators now consider product placement and sponsorship perfectly compatible, so that the same subject can be at the same time “product placer” and “sponsor” of the programme (and provided that, individually, the relevant regulations on sponsorship and product placement are complied with).

These are very interesting trends. As to future trends, a key role will be played by the specific committee set out by the Italian Communications Authority (AGCOM), which will monitor the audiovisual media services providers and their self-regulatory codes.