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July 10, 2008 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Between the old strike the new strike and now a “poison pen” letter to the Federal Communications Commission, is there any group in America feeling more persecuted than the Writers Guild of America?

Last week, Writers Guild President Patric Verrone, fired off a letter to the FCC criticizing Madison Avenue’s use of product placement in films and the shows presently being broadcast on network TV saying “when writers are told we must incorporate a commercial product into the storylines we have written, we cease to be creators. Instead, we run the risk of alienating an audience that expects compelling television, not commercials.”

Verrone’s solution is for the FCC to mandate a crawl along the bottom of film and TV screens letting viewers know any time a product in the scene has been paid for. His rationale is that the use of the crawl is already widely accepted by networks announcing news, weather, emergency messages and stock reports, so why not use it in general programming.

According to an Ad Age article, Mr. Verrone also added, “to further protect creative artists and maximize disclosure, the Writer’s Guild of America believes that the real-time crawl should appear for a reasonable period of time, should move at a reasonable speed, should be clearly readable by the viewer with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the text, and should not include logos or other product-related graphics. The Guild also hopes that any disclosure rules would require the name of the product and the parent company to be included in the crawl.”

That’s a lot of uses of the word “reasonable” for a request that’s anything but.

For the Writer’s Guild, they may find themselves in a place they don’t really want to be. Without ad revenue there is no money to pay for things like production, scripts and the cast needed to pull off what’s written. Considering the strike that dominated last year and this, I’m pretty sure the writers are looking to get paid. And if I had to guess, they’d like the film to look good, the sets to be first class, the direction to be smart and to have a cast that won’t butcher the dialogue, overplay the drama or wreck the comedy 1,000 different ways. Without ad revenue, TV writers don’t have a job.

Still, Mr. Verrone and the WGA are not alone. Other anti-commercial watchdog groups including Commercial Alert, the Marin Institute and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have also called for full disclosure of commercial placement on TV if not an outright ban on them.

In an age where DVRs allow viewers to skip ads all together, a ban on “stealth” ads is not likely to happen, but it is very possible we may all have to put up with annoying crawls constantly interrupting the flow of a program. For most people, product placements roll by without any break in concentration. They’re just part of the landscape and if done well, they’re an organic part of the show with nary a queue. No one is breaking continuity, stopping down the show to say “Hey, look I’m thirsty and I’m quenching that thirst with the ice cold Caffeine Free Diet Coke in my right hand! By the way, this product placement was paid for by the Coca-Cola Company headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Drink Coke.”

Ironically, if the FCC mandates a crawl with product disclosure, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.


Mike Sullivan

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


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