'It's murder, Poirot. Fancy a Coke?'

 

ANNE DOYLE adjusts the Chanel sunglasses on top of her head, places her Fendi handbag on the desk so the label can be seen, and begins reading the recession headlines on the Six One News. Weatherman Gerald Fleming winks and holds up a piping hot bowl of Flahavans as he predicts more miserable weather. And on The Late Late Show,celebrity interviewees are constantly interrupted mid-chat while Ryan Tubridy announces there’s another freebie for everyone in the audience, writes KEVIN COURTNEY

This vision of Irish TV hell was brought to you by the forward planners in the advertising industry, who are rubbing their hands in glee at the news that product placement is to be allowed on British TV shows. Can’t be too long before Irish television follows suit, and we see actors and presenters at Montrose plugging everything from baldness treatments to exercise machines on prime time TV. Not only will companies be able to sell their wares during the ad break, they’ll be able to shift them during the main programme, with just a little creative positioning of the goods.

Think of the possibilities. It’s a tense moment in The Clinic, as a new patient is admitted with headaches and back pain. GP Lorcan O’Brien turns to the camera and announces: “She needs fast-acting Nurofen Plus, targeted relief for pain.” There’s a to-do on Fair City, as Louise and Yvonne square up in McCoy’s pub. Suddenly, Leo rushes in and shouts, “Ikea is open!” The situation is defused and the set of Carrigstown gets a flatpack furniture makeover.

Product placement has been used shamelessly on US TV for some years now – tune into American Idol, and you’ll see a bright red Coca-Cola cup sitting conspicuously in front of the judges. Up to now, UK programme makers were prevented from using product placement, and the rule was quite strictly enforced. Anything the housemates on Big Brotherate or drank had to have its label covered. Okay, you can spot many well-known household brands on the soaps, but that’s probably in the interests of gritty realism.

Many believe that lifting the ban is long overdue. (The BBC will continue to ban product placement, so Jonathan Ross can cancel that iPhone order.) Now that product placement has been endorsed on commercial television, however, programme-makers can look forward to a whole new revenue stream, as advertisers clamour to have their products prominently displayed on the sets of soaps, chat shows and even comedy and drama series. Producers have been warned not to take product placement too far, such as altering storylines to suit the sponsor.

IRISH PROGRAMME MAKERSwill have to wait a while for the green light to start littering their sets with cartons of Avonmore, blocks of Kerrygold, bottles of Ballygowan, bales of Bord na Móna briquettes and plates of Jacob’s Fig Rolls. But they probably won’t have to wait very long, so they may as well start prepping their scripts for added commercial value. They could start right away with the All-Ireland Talent Show– instead of warbling Celine Dion, Christy Moore and Mary Black hits, contestants will have to do rousing renditions of classic Irish advertising jingles, including “Gotta get a Gateaux cake”, “Hurry on down to Bargaintown!” and the theme from Pat the Baker. And the Angelus could feature close-ups of succulent, sizzling Denny sausages – “Ding! Dong!”

In a way, it’s a pity product placement couldn’t have been employed during the classic years of Irish television – it’s a history of lost advertising opportunities. Glenroewould have been a godsend for the the makers of farming products – no one better than Dinny to deliver that classic line, “It’s a quare name, but great stuff!”. The set of Upwardly Mobile could have been decorated with overpriced Celtic Tiger furniture and fittings – it wouldn’t have made it any funnier, but at least it would have looked more authentic. And Mrs Doyle (okay, Father Tedis not, strictly speaking, Irish-made, but allow us a little TV licence here) could have found herself at the centre of a bidding war between Lyons and Barrys tea, each vying for the chance to harness her unstoppable powers of persuasion.

It’s not too late to turn back the clock. The first thing RTÉ needs to do is look at its autumn schedule and see if it could be enhanced with just a little creative product placement. Get Miriam O’Callaghan a long, sweeping flight of steps, and let the designers duke it out for the chance to knock up her ballgown for the night. Line The Road to Crokerend-to-end with objects of desire – it’ll give even non-fans an incentive to watch. And why not go the whole hog and turn The Apprentice into an X-Box game, arm the ambitious young hopefuls with the latest weaponry, and let them battle to the virtual death for the chance to work for Bill Cullen. Sure it couldn’t be any less realistic than it already is.