Why Is Product Placement Okay On TV Without Disclosure?

from the questions... dept

We’re still wondering if the FTC is really going to go after blogs that don’t disclose financial relationships concerning products they’re pitching. So far, the only action the FTC has taken (publicly) has been to investigate retailer Ann Taylor for giving bloggers gift cards — an action for which it was given a pass. In that case, it was worth noting that the focus was on the company, not the bloggers involved. However, there are still many questions about how arbitrarily the rules will be applied. Danny Sullivan is pointing out that with so much undisclosed product placement on TV, shouldn’t that be a bigger concern than if a blogger mentions he or she got a free gift card before writing about a product? While I, like many people, tend to think disclosure is important for your own reputation, the ambiguity and subjectiveness of the FTC’s rules is worrying. While I don’t know for sure, my guess is that the FTC would say that most people already understand how TV product placement works, so they’re not too bothered by it. That, at least, was the explanation an FTC person gave when questions were raised about why the FTC doesn’t go after celebrities talking up products and services they were given for free… But it does seem kind of ridiculous that a celebrity is given more leeway not to disclose just because they’re famous.

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Comments on “Why Is Product Placement Okay On TV Without Disclosure?”

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19 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I also doubt that anyone watches a movie and thinks, “Wow James Bond drives a BMW! BMWs must be really cool cars if James Bond drives one!”

I do understand the concern here. Remember a few years ago when Sony essentially invented a movie reviewer? But honestly, you still need to take the First Amendment into consideration here. I have a right to say what I like about a product without having odious regulations places on what I have to disclose. If we’re going to compare the freedom of speech vs. consumer protection, I have to believe the freedom of speech wins out.

To give you another real-world example. NYTs writer David Pogue wrote a review of Snow Leopard that was overly positive and some people complained that he was pushing Apple’s products because he had written some books on Apple. Should he disclose that he makes more money if Apple does well because he’ll sell more books?

And what about fake reviews written by the author or friends of the author that sometimes show up on Amazon? Is this also something that should be illegal? I somehow doubt it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“But honestly, you still need to take the First Amendment into consideration here. I have a right to say what I like about a product without having odious regulations places on what I have to disclose.”

Let me guess, free speech only applies to rich mainstream media venues and rich and powerful corporations but not to blogs, right?

Anome (profile) says:

Re: Re:

‘I also doubt that anyone watches a movie and thinks, “Wow James Bond drives a BMW! BMWs must be really cool cars if James Bond drives one!”‘

Of course they don’t, they just think “It was much cooler when he drove an Aston Martin.”

Besides as a non-USAian, I’m not clear on the demarcation here, who has jurisdiction over blogging standards, anyway? (Is the phrase “blogging standards” an oxymoron?)

As far as I know (again, not from there), the FTC only really has jurisdiction over trading standards, and so could only really look at the companies, and not the bloggers, or even a TV show with blatant product placement. That last would be under the jurisdiction of the FCC. Perhaps the two agencies should meet and discuss a consistent approach?

Anyway, I may be completely mistaken with the whole thing. It’s hard enough keeping track of our own government agencies.

Rob Lewis (profile) says:

Re: Re: Product placement

Anyone going to argue that the depiction of smoking as suave and sophisticated in the movies was not responsible for inducing millions of people to smoke? This has to be the biggest triumph of product placement ever.

Also, product placement has been embraced as a solution to the “Tivo problem” of people skipping commercials.

Bloomman (profile) says:

I agree that we need to stand up against intrusive disclosure laws. I don’t think making the Hollywood argument will change minds as the counter will always be “watch the credits”.

The focus should remain on the logic of we live in a world where “buyer beware” is accepted and encouraged. This is not a negative as a quality product will *generally* win out over savvy marketing. As we move towards a more connected world it becomes harder and harder to pass a crummy product off onto the marketplace. Five years ago if you told me half my purchases would be based on the ratings of perfect strangers, I would have said you were crazy! Yet I find I hit the 4 star filter on Amazon 90% of the time.

If my son runs a lawn mowing business and has mowed my lawn with precision for 10 years, am I wrong to give him a 5 star on Google? Do I need to write “*WARNING* I’m his Father so you should take that into consideration” or face being fined? What about saying I’m a Fan on Facebook? Is there even a place to disclose that within the Facebook system?

Forget the internet. Let’s say I’m putting one of those cardboard signs on the lawn that says “Mowed by Smith’s Mowing”. Should I be required to put up a second sign disclosing my relationship with the owner?

And how far do these disclosure rules reach? Sure family is an easy target but what about friends? My wifes co-workers? What about the girl I buy coffee from? My son mows her parents lawn. Now when they put up a nice comment on the mowing companies Google profile, was it because they do good work or because I tipped their daughter a buck? Money changed hands! Disclose it or else….

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Its more of the same ...

S.S.D.D. … Every rule and law coming out about the internet is about preventing competition to established companies. This one is about advertising money being shuffled around. Newspapers (Craigslist for classifieds, Monster for jobs, google adwords for everything else), TV stations (competition from 200 plus other stations, the internet making ads more audience targeted). TV studios being allowed product placement and blocking astro turfing – paid reviews is about preventing competition.

James says:

“my guess is that the FTC would say that most people already understand how TV product placement works, so they’re not too bothered by it.”

This.

Most people know that the things they see on TV, even if they have a brand name, don’t necessarily operate or translate to the actual product.

Think of how many times you’ve seen a CU of a cellphone and the sponsored logo. Think about how many times being “out of service” is a major plot point in a show or movie.

Contradictory isn’t it? Major advertising bucks are being spent for that 2 secs of screentime, that inadvertently bashes their product.

During DATE NIGHT information is uploaded from a flash drive to a Kindle when it doesn’t have that functionality.

Do we expect the same model watch we see in James Bond to shoot laser beams. (Yes, it would be AWESOME!) But I think most of us understand, what we see in the movies isn’t always what is available in real life.

There is a weird line between fantasy and reality present in TV and film. This is not true with blogs.

btrussell (profile) says:

“That, at least, was the explanation an FTC person gave when questions were raised about why the FTC doesn’t go after celebrities talking up products and services they were given for free…”
This has nothing to do with what was written for a show/movie.

I haven’t seen a Bond movie with any part of the script having Connery, or any other, talking about Aston Martin because they were given one.

Bradley Stewart (profile) says:

Small Potatoes

I have a much bigger gripe with advertising. Given the number of programs on radio and television I have timed with a chess clock on several occasions 17 to 23 minutes of every hour are filled with nothing but bumpers, promos, and commercials. I understand that this is how these corporations pay their bills and I do believe in free speech but how about the FCC forcing these corporations to announce how much time in the next listening or viewing hour at the beginning of each hour will be spent on this annoyance. This should be made part of their licensing contract.

Dallas IT Guy says:

Re: Small Potatoes

Why? I watch what I watch for the value of the content, not the length of the content. I’m fully aware that when I skip the commercials it only takes me 43 minutes to watch an “hour” show. I kind of see it as a bonus to be able to watch three shows in two hours.

Dallas IT Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Small Potatoes

I really never considered it from that point of view but I am really getting headaches avoiding all this stuff. It has reached the point for me where I am watching less and less television. This is probably good for me but it can’t be what the advertisers would want. I think with my plan the advertising community and the corporations that pay their bills would have to be more careful about how they are handling this.

Anonymous Coward says:

i re-read the post and i have to laugh. mike, did you get a call from the ftc or something? i get this weird feeling that may have happened, as you often seem to blur the lines between your posts and your advertisers. it would be interesting to see who is actually paying the techdirt bills, it might explain why certain bands, acts, writers, and columnists get plenty of coverage and others get ignored.

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