FCC Seeks More Disclosure Around Product Placement Ads

Discussion
Jul 01, 2008

By Tom Ryan

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week voted unanimously to consider stricter rules for letting viewers know when advertisers have paid for products to appear within television programming.

Currently, disclosures are typically done during the credits at the end of television shows, which fly by viewers in small script. The FCC plans to study whether sponsorship notices should be written in bigger print and displayed for a longer time. This includes possibly adopting rules similar to those for political ads, which require sponsorship messages to be in a print at least four percent the height of a screen and displayed for at least four seconds.

The government agency is also considering whether the rule should be modified to include real time disclosure, and whether product placement is even appropriate in children’s programming. It’s also reviewing product placement rules for radio.

The possible rule change comes as more consumers use digital video recorders to skip commercials, and advertisers have turned to other techniques such as product placement to promote their products and services. These include not only using products as props (e.g., a bag of Doritos sitting on a coffee table), but also having products integrated, or “embedded”, into plot lines. Last year, Nielsen found that the number of placement occurrences in prime time broadcast network programming grew 13 percent.

“As these techniques become increasingly prevalent, there is a growing concern that our sponsorship identification rules might fall short of their ultimate goal: to ensure that the public is able to identify both the commercial nature of any programming, as well as its source,” said Kevin Martin, chairman of the FCC, in a statement. “I believe it is important for consumers to know when someone is trying to sell them something.”

Among the top 10 broadcast television shows, advertisers paid for 26,000
product placements in 2007, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
says. Among cable programs, the number was 160,000 placements last year.

“When the boundaries of content and advertising are eroded, it makes children, in particular, more vulnerable to things like junk food — Coca-Cola and Oreos — when we are faced with an epidemic of childhood obesity,” Josh Golin, a spokesman for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told the Washington Post.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said rules need to be updated so that consumers realize when they are getting pitched, particularly during children’s shows.

“It’s like the old subliminal advertising, which people find offensive,” Mr. Adelstein said.

Discussion question: Do you think there needs to be more disclosure regarding product placement in television ads? If so, how do you propose better disclosure could it achieved without significantly disrupting the entertainment product?

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12 Comments on "FCC Seeks More Disclosure Around Product Placement Ads"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
13 years 10 months ago

I favor no disclosure at all. In response to FCC Chairman Martin’s comment that “it is important for consumers to know when someone is trying to sell them something,” I suggest that consumers believe it’s happening all the time. What’s wrong with a bag of Doritos in a sit-com kitchen? Do you face product labels to the wall in YOUR kitchen? TV programming still is mostly paid for by sponsors, so why should we be offended or “influenced in an untoward and unexpected fashion” when we see their products during programming? Marshall McLuhan is Dervishing in his grave. The medium is still the massage (nope, it’s still not “message”).

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

No disclosure is needed. Every television show is entertainment and one big commercial. Why disclose anything? Do we need to disclose that the guests on Oprah and Phil are just actors?

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
13 years 10 months ago
It’s all about the children!? Give us all a break; product placement is a form of advertising and has been a part of America since the first printing press was cranked up. Product placement has been a factor on Sesame Street, Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doodie and every other kid’s show for years. Kudos to our bureaucrats for reacting to this after someone else pointed it out to them. Personally, I’m for getting government and regulation out of my life. I’ll bet over 50% of the American public feels the same way. If the FCC wants to actually do something then let them follow through on the “do not call list.” After signing up every phone I have I continue to get off the wall solicitations every day. That is something that truly annoys people and cost them money and time. If product placement keeps the cost of a movie down, I see no harm. If it increases the profits of those who risk their wealth to finance a new movie or TV show, then so… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

Regulation for children’s programming makes sense. The research done at the time of and since the Soupy Sales controversy says that until about 7 years of age children can’t distinguish between an ad or a non-ad. However, if disclosures occur then and children do learn the difference between and ad or non-ad and if they become aware that product placements are advertising, then what is the issue for adults? How many people stay for the credits at the end of a movie? Is it really worth time debating what the size of the credit should be and how long it should stay on the screen?

Cathy Hotka
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

This is the same FCC that brought you the Sirius/XM merger and the DTV rollout. I live inside the Beltway, and observers here think that this is the worst set of FCC commissioners ever.

jack flanagan
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

Yet another “solution” looking for a problem.

Warren Thayer
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

George Carlin would have had a field day with this. (We miss you, George.)

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
13 years 10 months ago

What a colossal waste of time and money.

Our, and our children’s, world is nothing but one big commercial, filled with product placement.

As adults, we are bright enough to understand when a product is being placed and advertised in TV and Movies. Children’s television is built around a theme, which is then converted into licensing which in turn is sold in stores.

I would much rather see efforts placed on ensuring that our children’s education includes such oft ignored subjects such as Ethics and Civics so that they can be taught the difference between right and wrong, personal and public duty.

Oh well, such topics are too boring to be considered when there are such exciting topics such as Product Placement warnings to be covered.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 10 months ago

To the FCC: Make it easy on yourself. Make every company pay an “appearance fee” for having their products appear within TV programming. Then apply those monies toward reducing the first .0000000001% of our national debt.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

Britain’s culture secretary, Andy Burnham, recently said that the British government would not accept a European Union directive allowing product placement on UK television, due to come into force in member states by the end of 2009 on the basis that it risked further harming trust in TV, “already rocked by last year’s series of deception scandals.”

Like most everyone else here, I cannot see any need to change the rules for adult television. Surely everyone with even a limited amount of intelligence knows when they see a product on a program that someone has paid to put it there. But I also agree that kids could get confused. The solution to that is simply not to allow it. Labeling, especially at the end of a program, isn’t going to help as they probably won’t notice or understand. If products want to sell to kids (and I will not get into my views on that here and now) then they must make it very clear that that is what they are trying to do.

Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

What will more prominent information about product placement accomplish? Do consumers think that television is free due to the largesse of government? I can understand concern about product placement in children’s programming, but not in regular programming. Surely the government has at least one or two matters on its plate that are more important than this.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

It’s summer time in D.C. and silliness rules once again. If it’s entertainment, I don’t see why any regulations requiring disclosure are necessary. Sure, for children, but this looks like regulators trying to protect us from something we don’t need protection from.

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