The Apprentice – Is it featuring paid product placement?

Ok, my tin foil hat is on – something is up with the BBC’s The Apprentice.

I love the show. There’s nothing like laughing at the super arrogant contestants as they fall flat on their faces. Plus, I definitely reckon I could win it! I bet you do too.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed the first two episodes, but something really stood out to me – a couple of lingering shots on brands. Now I know what you’re thinking – so? (right?), but the Apprentice is on the BBC and they have strict rules about showing brands.

The Apprentice advertising

The BBC rules

So here are the rules about showing brands on the BBC:


We should ensure that the BBC brand is not used to endorse outside companies or organisations.  We can achieve this by ensuring commercial advertising, promotion and press releases by outside companies do not give the impression of BBC endorsement, and advertising does not “pass off” BBC programmes.


We should not normally allow the BBC name, logos, titles, channel names, programme titles, formats or characters to be used by commercial advertisers.  Any exception must be in accordance with the BBC Fair Trading Guidelines.  Advice is available from Editorial Policy and BBC Fair Trading.

There are some more guidelines here about taking money for product placement.

How The Apprentice is breaking the rules

When the BBC lingered on a shot of the 5* Stoke Park hotel, I couldn’t help but think it was odd. They really did focus on the sign.

I know that if it wasn’t on the BBC, the odds are the hotel would have had to pay to be featured in a TV show or film. It’s called product placement.

Did The Apprentice have to point out the exact hotel (it’s not like it’s iconic like the Ritz where the context may have been important), it would have been clear it was a fancy 5* hotel without naming it.

The Apprentice Advertising

In the very first episode, a shot that jarred with me was the meat challenge. The girls actually came out of a Heck branded van – on the BBC! Heck, by the way, sells meat.

It wasn’t a fleeting shot either – it looked like a paid inclusion personally, and then I remembered it was the BBC and they ‘don’t do that’.

the apprentice advertising

Again in the hotel challenge, there was a close-up of paint pots. The producers had covered up the main label with tape so you couldn’t see (why are they hiding some brand names but not others?), but you could argue they were not careful enough because you could see the word ‘Once’ and the bloody ‘Dulux dog’ which gave the game away.

The Apprentice advertising

The BBC have got in trouble for this kind of thing before when it had to remove an Apple logo from the show Spooks, after it was accused of taking money.

In fact, The Sunday Times investigation also alleges that a producer on a new 12-part cookery programme promised an undercover team of reporters that they would feature a new drink brand in return for free travel and accommodation.

Why it bothers me

I know, chill out Lotty – it’s not like it’s hurting anyone.

Well, the thing is, I’ve had a bit of experience behind the scenes of this kind of world (not TV though!). At places where I’ve worked, we’ve been totally impartial not to hurt our readers. Personally, on this blog – honesty is SUPER important to me. You lot trust me and I would never take advantage of that. Most people trust the BBC too – and they are either being sloppy, or something disingenuous is happening. 

Chadwicks family butchers

Chadwicks by the way is a butchers chain based in London

How brands pay to be featured on TV, websites, newspapers etc

The world turns and we all have to make money right? Newspapers, magazines, blogs (including mine!), TV shows, films, podcasts, radio shows – all of it, has to support themselves. They need to pay people to produce content, need to pay for the platforms, marketing – all that jazz. It’s not free.

So of course, big and small brands can pay for adverts. Now, there are the usual adverts you see in ‘the breaks’ on TV, a spoken word on a podcast (‘we’d like to thank our sponsors…etc’, there will be ads pretending to be articles in magazines, papers and blogs – but there are strict rules that say you have to tell the readers that money has exchanged hands.

And then, there are the sneakier ways brands can pay to get featured. Do you think James Bond drives an Aston Martin for free? Oh no, Aston Martin is paying to be included. Product placement is in most things you watch and its how you pay for things.

Believe me when I say that if you’re seeing a brand prominently – MONEY HAS EXCHANGED HANDS.

The Apprentice advertising

It’s also worth noting that sometimes it’s not all about cash changing hands – it’s products or services. If you see someone promoting a hotel (like The Apprentice), often free stays, with free food and spa are included as a sweetener.


A bit of clarification from the BBC

I’m not sure what is going on – but I’m pretty sure The Apprentice is not adhering to the BBC guidelines. Take the shot of the Heck van. Either Heck paid/had an agreement with the BBC – or the producers were incredibly negligent when it came to showing the brand.

I contacted the BBC on Wednesday 11th October asking for clarification (asked for the deadline for a response to be on Friday) and I’ve heard nothing back.

At the very least, the BBC needs to be more careful. I understand that The Apprentice is filmed out in the real world (I saw shots of branded chain restaurants and pubs) and I get that is fair – but unnecessary lingering shots?

Something is up.

Let me know in the comments if you spot any shots of brands in The Apprentice.


  1. Phil October 19, 2017
  2. Carol October 19, 2017
  3. Alice October 19, 2017
  4. Melissa Lee October 25, 2017

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