Those who would like to further blur the lines between content and advertising got help from the Bush Administration Thursday when the Federal Trade Commission ruled against a petition by the consumer watchdog group, Commercial Alert, asking that TV shows disclose in some fashion that brand placements in TV shows are paid advertising.
As a journalist, I always think more information is better than less. I always think of the children in these cases. If a child, or parent and child, is watching a TV show and the storyline takes the characters to Burger King for a Whopper, I think it's worth knowing that the trip to the fast food joint was bought and paid for. The point of such a placement is to model the behavior of going to Burger King. Advertisers don't want us to know we have been advertised to. The FTC thinks that's a good thing.
Product integration into TV shows, video games and even magazines is taking off. More and more advertising is going to be woven into the shows we watch, the games we play and the magazines we read. Why? Because advertisers have spent so many years hurling static, uninteresting or obnoxious ads at us, we have driven demand for technology that enables us to skip the ads. Advertisers don't like that, especially when they are paying big bucks for the time and space.
Back in the day, shows like The Andy Griffith Show ran a full slate of credits at the end of the show (still, thankfully, available on TV Land). There was a clear disclosure that Ford Motor Co. provided Andy and Barney's squad car. At the end of The Dick Van Dyke Show, it was made clear that his wardrobe was supplied by Botany 500. The advertisers wanted us to know their stuff was in the show. Game Shows, of course, still do this. I suspect one of the reasons advertisers fought and won this one is because they want the freedom to squish credits to an unreadable type-size and scroll them so fast no one can read them. By doing so, they have extra time to run advertising and promote their own programming.
Lord knows, we can't be against advertising. That would be like being against free speech (though there are plenty of people around who seem to be against free speech, including several people making millons of dollars a year in the media). But there is also a thing called "Freedom of Information," and the FTC just seems to have ruled against that particular freedom.