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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 June, 2003, 09:27 GMT 10:27 UK
Heinz tests advertising boundaries
Nick Higham
By Nick Higham
BBC media correspondent

Baked beans
Heinz is famous for its tins of baked beans
This month Five began broadcasting a 10-part series about cookery supplied by one of the world's largest food companies, Heinz.

The Food Commission has expressed disquiet and the Independent Television Commission is investigating.

But if the president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola is to be believed, they ain't seen nothing yet.

Back in February Steve Heyer - who worked in advertising agencies and TV networks before pitching up at Coke - gave a speech in Hollywood in which he suggested his company and others like it should start participating in the creation of film, TV and music "content".

Heyer argued that, as competition increases and television audiences fragment, making conventional spot advertising more expensive, companies like Coke and Heinz need ways to reach consumers more cheaply and more directly.

The Heinz name is never mentioned in the show
They should be collaborating with film and TV producers, with broadcasters and publishers and with the music industry, finding ways to exploit the "equity" in their brands and their "networks of connections" with consumers.

He even suggested that instead of paying television networks for airtime or film-makers for product placement or celebrities for endorsements, Coke and the rest should start charging producers for using their brand names.

I was referred to Heyer's speech last week by Chris Harrison, managing director of Spring London, which commissioned the Five series on behalf of Heinz.

Spring London, which calls itself a "content marketing agency", has been set up to exploit the kind of opportunities identified by Heyer.

Harrison defines its business as "the use of original media such as television, radio, customer magazines and films to influence consumers in favour of brands or messages."

Family menu

But what works in America - with its unashamedly profit-orientated business culture and its less regulated media - may not work in Britain.

Dinner Doctors, the Heinz show on Five, suggests why.

The programme offers busy mums suggestions for spicing up the family menu with recipes like "crunchy cucumber and chicken salad".

Some of these recipes may contain Heinz products like baked beans, but the Heinz name is never mentioned because to do so would breach Britain's strict rules banning product placement.

Heinz has to be content with sponsor's credits at the start and finish of the show and a 2m campaign promoting the programme in supermarkets with special labels on 25 million Heinz tins - plus the knowledge that the programme generally is supportive of Heinz "messages and values".

Heinz' money would be better spent if it could make explicit reference to its involvement in the programme.

Nonetheless, this could be the start of a trend in which programme-makers and advertisers become closer than ever - the start of what Steve Heyer called "an era of co-creation".

This column also appears in the BBC's publication Ariel.

Angel flies to Five
14 May 03  |  Entertainment

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