by Tim Atkin

Keith Floyd and the art of product placement

RIP Keith Floyd. For all the headlines about boozing, bankruptcy and failed marriages, Floyd was a talented chef and a brilliant TV presenter. It’s easy to forget that, before Floyd, cookery programmes were invariably pompous, prissy and dull. He appeared, often with a glass of wine in hand, and made the whole thing look like fun. Without Floyd, there would arguably have been no Ainsley, Jamie, Gordon, Hugh or Nigella. We’d be stuck with Delia clones instead.

Floyd died of a heart attack (after a good meal and a bottle of wine, naturally) on the day after culture secretary Ben Bradshaw announced that the government was reconsidering its six-month-old decision to outlaw product placement on TV. I like to imagine the old roué shouting from the after life. “Bastards! Twenty years too late! I wish someone had paid me to promote red wine in my prime.”

It’s still possible that product placement on TV won’t happen — that there will be yet another U-turn at the end of the three month consultation period — but my hunch is that it will. At a time when commercial television companies are struggling, to put it mildly, the new ruling could provide a huge fillip. When you consider that the presence of Coca Cola cups on the set of American Idol is worth a reported US$35m a year, you can see why British TV executives are so keen to get the ban lifted. One estimate is that these deals could raise £125m for the industry.

As it is, the ban is full of holes. When Roger Federer won Wimbledon earlier this year, the BBC, no less, showed a lengthy film of his feet during a point. Federer’s golden tennis shoes are emblazoned, like everything else he wears, with the Nike logo. And what about actors who go on chat shows brazenly to promote new films? How much difference is there between a plug and full-on piece of product placement?

Indeed, you could argue that the latter is more transparent, as long as viewers know about it. Does anyone care that James Bond is effectively a walking advertising hoarding for Omega watches or whatever car company pays the highest fee?

It is hard to know where booze on fits into this at the moment. Will we see soap stars reaching, to order, for a bottle of Magners? Or Come Dine With Me contestants pouring sponsored Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc to their guests?

My understanding is that the Wine & Spirit Trade Association is expecting the government’s call and that, so far, no one in Westminster has ruled out product placement for wine, beer and spirits. My hunch is that product placed alcohol will be permitted on TV, as long as the ads meet the respective marketing and advertising codes of the Portman Group and the Advertising Standards Authority.

This is quite a prospect. After all, it wasn’t so long ago — just over a fortnight to be precise — that the British Medical Association was calling for a complete ban on alcohol advertising, arguing that “alcohol advertising promotes alcohol and this, in turn, has a role to play in encouraging people to drink more”.

The good news is that the government appears to feel otherwise, possibly with one eye on the advertising and sponsorship opportunities that would be lost to sporting events such as the Olympic Games, the Cricket World Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, all of which will take place here between 2102 and 2018. The UK will not, it seems, adopt its own version of France’s Loi Evin.

Maybe now is a good time to have an informed national debate about alcohol and its place in our society: about its health benefits (if consumed in moderation) and cultural significance as well as the damage it unquestionably does. Let’s talk about drinking responsibly, but let’s also talk about the pleasures of consuming alcohol.

When Oz Clarke accepted his Personality of the Year Award at the 2009 International Wine Challenge Awards dinner, a gong he won with co-presenter and drinking buddy, James May, he told the audience that it was time to stop apologising for enjoying wine, beer and spirits. The health lobby, Clarke implied, has had the upper hand for too long. Some criticised him for going too far, but I applaud his sentiments. I love booze, particularly wine, and I’m not ashamed to say so.

I never met Keith Floyd (wrong generation, no mutual friends) but I think he would have been a good bloke to share a bottle of wine with. Yes, he got drunk on occasion. Yes, by all accounts, he could be paranoid or aggressive when he’d had too much good red. But Floyd was someone who celebrated good food and drink. It’s a shame he didn’t live long enough to consume a bit more of both.

Originally published in Off Licence News