In the TV show Marty and Bernard: on the Road Again, Marty Morrissey and Bernard O’Shea drive around Ireland in a blue Renault car and “meet various people from different communities, who do remarkable things for their community”.
Morrissey revealed last week that he had personally borrowed a Renault car for five years from the car company. But that’s not the car featured in the show, an RTÉ spokesperson said.
Renault provided that blue car specifically for the show, a spokesperson for RTÉ said on 7 July, and it was a different car from the one Renault loaned Morrissey for personal use.
RTÉ did a deal with Renault for product placement, and that was indicated when the show was broadcast, the spokesperson said. “The Product Placement (PP) bug was included on the series, there was no sponsorship agreement.”
Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) rules in place since June 2017 say any product placement – a form of advertising where the product is woven into the action of a show – must be flagged at the beginning of a show, at the end, and after each ad break.
But last Friday, 7 July, there was no indication of product placement during episode 1 of Marty and Bernard: on the Road Again on the RTÉ Player.
“This series was made available on the RTÉ Player in 2020. The BAI regulations did not apply to content on RTÉ Player at this time,” said a spokesperson for RTÉ on Saturday afternoon.
Should RTÉ have taken responsibility for communicating product placement to the audience regardless of BAI rules?
“RTÉ has an established a workflow to include Product Placement where appropriate in content,” a spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Before the BAI took over regulation, “the On Demand audio Visual Service Group, a voluntary secretariat within IBEC oversaw VoD [video-on-demand] services”.
The rules for product placement, in the On-Demand Audiovisual Media Services code of conduct appear to be the same as the BAI code.
Later, on Tuesday, following further queries, the spokesperson for RTÉ said that a mistake was behind the failure to flag the product placement for Renault on the show.
“In relation to Marty and Bernard On The Road Again, this was not included due to human error, once this omission was brought to our attention, this was rectified as soon as possible,” said the spokesperson.
The version of the show on the player was updated over the weekend to announce the use of product placement, at the beginning and between the breaks.
It’s not the first time the broadcaster has sailed close to the wind in how it deals with product placement.
In July 2018, the BAI said that there appeared to be a link between the programme’s content and the commercial arrangement. The BAI said that arrangement amounted to product placement.
On the Road Again
Marty Morrissey apologised last week for accepting a loan of a car from Renault for five years after he performed as an emcee for the company at multiple Renault functions.
“I am a sports reporter and commentator concentrating exclusively on GAA,” said Morrissey in his statement.
“There was no expectation or requirement that I publicly endorse or promote Renault, on air, on social media or otherwise, while I had use of the car,” he said_._
That caused a flurry on Twitter, with accounts posting photos of Morrissey presenting Marty and Bernard: on the Road Again, which heavily featured a Renault car, and with no mention of sponsorship or product placement on the RTÉ website.
The spokesperson for RTÉ said on Saturday that the product placement was clearly communicated when the TV show was broadcast originally, but not on the RTÉ Player.
“The programme on RTÉ Player is a different file and not a transmission copy as you can see (there’s no RTÉ One bug either),” she says.
“However, to ensure full transparency we are now ensuring it will be added to the series on the RTÉ Player,” she said.
The RTÉ Player is now regulated by Comisiún na Meán, which took over from the BAI in March 2023.
Later on Tuesday, a different spokesperson said that there was a different reason for the show not being flagged as product placement.
“Under the voluntary secretariat within IBEC which oversaw VoD services prior to CnaM, RTÉ had an established a workflow to include PP where appropriate,” she said.
“In relation to Marty and Bernard On The Road Again, this was not included due to human error, once this omission was brought to our attention, this was rectified as soon as possible,” she said.
Bogged down with adverts
In 2018, RTÉ aired a documentary about the restoration of the bogs, battling climate change and increasing biodiversity, called Turf Life: a Day on the Bog.
It later emerged that the programme was paid for by the peat briquette-making semi-state Bord na Móna, which featured heavily in it. The commercial arrangement was not originally communicated to the audience, as reported in the Sunday Times in June 2018.
The BAI found that the arrangement amounted to product placement, which is never allowed in documentaries. According to the BAI code product placement can only be used in certain shows, like entertainment programmes and light talk shows.
RTÉ said that Turf Life was a lifestyle programme not a documentary because it also included photography and cookery.
“There would appear to be a clear link between the programme content and the commercial arrangement,” the BAI wrote at the time.
RTÉ strenuously denied that Bord na Mona had any editorial input into the content of Turf Life.