The FCC, which under Kevin Martin, has been extremely odd, is now moving to demand more network warnings or admissions about embedded advertising, which is basically TV product placement. Lately as budgets continue to rise and viewer ratings continue to sink, many TV shows, particularly those which cater to younger audiences, such as Smallville and 7th Heaven, have gotten more aggressive about their product placement. Arguably this is a partial return to an older era of television when shows were sponsored by a particular advertiser, a tactic that Ford has already used in the TV network airing of Schindler’s List and a 24 season opener and that advertisers like Acuvue have used on Smallville.
But do viewers actually need warnings about embedded advertising? I find embedded advertising annoying, but I also find a culture annoying that requires having the government enforce warnings about everything. Should a TV doctor on House or ER begin talking up a pain medication, I would have issues with that, because it’s arguably an unqualified medical endorsement. But we haven’t seen anything like that happen yet and it probably won’t. What we have seen are teenagers using iMacs, driving VW’s and eating Oreos. Sometimes the product placement is obnoxious, The Office with its Apple iPod and Staples product placement, and Smallville with Accuvue and chewing gum oriented episodes are big winners in the obnoxious product placement sweepstakes, but do we really need to be warned that what we’re seeing isn’t characters authentically enjoying the great taste of Stride Chewing Gum?
The WGA is pushing for a crawl during embedded advertising, which would be distracting and ridiculous. And besides if you ran a crawl on TV or at the movies each time product placement occurred, you’d wind up doing a comedy routine pretty fast. There’s simply too much of it and it’s too ubiquitous. But does it actually harm anyone or mislead them in such a way as to create fraudulent transactions or impressions? I don’t think so. Nor does it make sense for the FCC to put pressure on TV networks for finding alternative means of advertising, at a time when TV networks are already in trouble and facing a decline in commercial and actual viewership.