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Nike v Adidas in the Top 40

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Mark Easton | 15:15 UK time, Monday, 28 July 2008

It's legal in the States - but do we want to allow product placement in UK broadcasting?

50 CentThe government has just begun consulting on whether to implement a European directive that would allow the likes of, say, Nike, Adidas or Rolex to associate their brands with prime-time entertainment.

In many ways the question is irrelevant - because they already do.

Listening to yesterday's Top 40 Chart Show on Radio 1, all three of those brands were featured - sometimes hidden in the lyrics but in the case of the watch, prominently featured in the track title.

To save you the trouble, I scoured the lyrics of the songs and found the following references which would make corporate marketing men smile.

At number 22: "Low" by Flo Rida Ft T-Pain includes the line "Them baggy sweat pants And the Reeboks with the straps". Reebok is a subsidiary of Adidas.

At number 26: "Wearing My Rolex" by Wiley.

At number 23: "American Boy" by Estelle Ft Kanye West has yet another Adidas reference: "Sneakers looking Fresh to Death, I'm Lovin' Those Shell Toes". Shell Toes are Adidas trainers in which the toe of the shoe has a large rubber cap with lines running along it, making it look like a shell. (The style also got referenced in a song called The Way I Am by Knoc-Turn'Al in 2004.)

At number 33: "With You" by Chris Brown featuring the lines "You're like Jordans on Saturday, I gotta have you and I cannot wait now." This is a reference to Nike's trainers endorsed by Michael Jordan the basketball star. The "must-have" footwear was always released on a Saturday.

At number 38: "Love In The Club" by Usher has the line "You ever made love to a thug in the club with his Sice on 87 jeans and a fresh pair of Nikes on"

Some will argue that these are simply cultural references, but I am convinced the fingerprints of corporate promotions men are all over the charts.

In 2005, a US brand management consultancy, Agenda Inc, listed the most commonly featured products in the Billboard 100. Mercedes had 100 mentions and Nike had 63. 50 Cent cited 20 different brands in seven songs making him the biggest name-dropper. Wikipedia has a list if you are interested.

Agenda founder Lucian James is clear: "Over the last few years a lot of people have said hip hop has sold out, that it's full of advertorials. But I take a different point of view. If 50 Cent mentions Gucci, you know it's a global metaphor for success."

The chief executive of Nike Mark Parker has unleashed what he calls "coolhunters" to find out what is happening in the clubs, stores and on the street. "The question is," he argues, "how do you keep an edge, a crispness, a relevance?"

So the corporation has made links with a New York graffiti artist Lenny Futura, LA tattoo artist Mr Cartoon and Brazilian muralists known as Os Gemeos.

The key is to get under the radar - to be part of the consciousness of young people without them being turned off by the big corporate sell. Hence the way in which products turn up within the lyrics of chart hits.

The link between music and consumer brands may be about to become much more direct, however. As the industry considers how to deal with the problem of illegal downloads, one answer being considered is the use of brand advertising bundled up with the product.

At the moment under Ofcom's broadcasting code, programmes and commercials should be clearly distinguished so that viewers know when they are being "sold to". Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has made it clear he is opposed to the idea that product placement should be legalised in the UK.

"My instincts remain that if we were to relax the ban on product placement we would put at risk the integrity in British programming that underpins its international reputation", he says. "But I'm open to hearing other views."

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