As E4’s reality show Made In Chelsea returns to our TV screens with a NYC spin-off, so does the news that a new character will be joining its elite cast. No, it’s not another young lavish Londonite on the brink of inheriting a large fortune – it’s the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact.
The latest Sony model has been given a starring role in the BAFTA award-winning show as part of its first product placement partnership. We can expect to see all of our favourite (and not-so favourite) cast members using an Xperia Z1 throughout the new series, which (as expected) is jam-packed with relationship breakdowns, extravagant parties and awkward silences. So far, McVitie’s Heir Jamie Laing and Fashion Blogger Binky Felstead have already been spotted using the brightly cased compact mobile in Ep1.
A triumph for E4 and Sony I think you’ll agree, but this new partnership sparks a continuing debate on whether product placement is blurring the lines between entertainment and exploitation.
The leading argument in support of product placement is that the inclusion of brands within TV shows enhances their realism. Those in favour believe it is important for characters to interact with real-life products to make a show seem more believable and for the product to be promoted in its typical functioning environment. Would we enjoy watching Made In Chelsea’s Spencer Matthews pour his latest date victim a glass of wine from a brand-less bottle? Hmm…
The opposition, however, warns that many TV viewers who are not so ‘market-savvy’ will innocently perceive a character’s use of a branded product as an implicit endorsement. Placing a branded product with a popular TV star is seen as a sly form of celebrity endorsement where, instead of a traditional advertisement setting, the brand is being promoted within a TV show. When you come to think about it, the difference between Mark Francis wearing one of his ‘divine’ designer suits on Made In Chelsea or in a regularly programmed advertisement is minimal!
The underlying question is; do we TV viewers find product placement to be effective or deceptive?
Personally, I don’t mind seeing the Sony Xperia on Made In Chelsea as long as it’s carried out tastefully. Call me new-fashioned, but I’m much more likely to engage with brands in a TV show than an irritating advertisement that pops up in-between episode breaks. For me, the setting of a TV show is also much more authentic if it resembles a commercial world – because that’s the kind of world we live in, right?