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December 5, 2007 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

It’s official. The debate over product placement in TV programming is on.

On September 26th, U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman, D-Cali., and Ed Markey, D-Mass. wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin concerned that the increased use of product placement in television programming was “blurring” the line between TV ads and TV content. They said without adequate disclosures to the viewing public, product placement was both “unfair and deceptive.”

Last week, in response to Waxman and Markey, Martin proposed that the FCC open a full-scale inquiry into whether the product placement disclosure rules should be changed in light of the growing integration of branding messages into programming. Another FCC Commissioner named Jonathan Adelstein has also questioned the growth of product placement on TV and now he and “consumer groups” are calling for product placement disclosure as well. FCC commissioners will vote December 18 on whether to proceed.

Clearly, advertisers worried about ad-skipping and DVR usage are looking to replace ad revenue with revenue from brand integration. Just this week, NBC’s “30 Rock” integrated Verizon Wireless into its show with funny tongue-in-cheek dialogue between Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. At the end of the exchange, Fey looked directly into the lens and said, “Can we have our money now?” Sarcasm? Yes. And no.

According to Nielsen, this season has featured 142 product placements on “30 Rock” and 80 brand mentions on “The Office” accounting for more than 41 minutes of programming. Clearly, the public was outraged. “The Office” landed in the Top 10 four of its first five weeks. “30 Rock” cracked the Top 10 once this season.

The FCC says it’s concerned about the public and the “integrity of the programming” but really, is product placement the right TV beach head on which to fight that battle? What’s more concerning to a parent? That at 8 o’clock on Sunday night, their 10-year-old might see a Desperate Housewife holding a Diet Coke can,or that they might see her taking a shower with a man other than her husband? How about the intense blood spray from last week’s blown carotid artery on “Grey’s Anatomy,” or the multiple machine gun deaths on any given week of “CSI” in New York, Miami or Vegas? Is that really better than seeing one of the docs driving up in a Ford?

As with so many other things, the FCC thinks consumers are brainless automatons who can’t possibly make a decision for themselves. Let’s hope they made the right one on December 18.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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