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Coalition Urges FCC to Adopt Product Placement Rules

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DETROIT A coalition of 23 consumer and advocacy groups Thursday sent a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, proposing an action that would force the agency to listen to public concerns over advertising.

In the letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin, the coalition argues that the lines are blurred between TV programming and advocacy, which includes such practices as product placement and product integration. It asks that the commission adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking rather than a Notice of Inquiry, which was advocated by advertising trade groups in December.

Contrary to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, a Notice of Inquiry would acknowledge a problem, but would force no action. The FCC has not yet decided which one to approve.

"Research has demonstrated that product placement and integration can affect the brand choices of younger children and tweens," the letter states. "Research also suggests that adolescent consumer behavior is affected by product integration. It is not surprising that youth are vulnerable to these techniques since even adults can have trouble recognizing product placement as advertising and viewers of all ages are less likely to apply critical thinking to identify and evaluate advertising while engrossed in a story."

Members of the coalition include the Marin Institute, an alcohol watchdog group, Free Press, which advocates media reform, and the Commercial Alert, which is currently endeavoring to halt drug advertising.

Efforts to toughen federal rules on product placement and integration have been waged by advocacy groups since 2003, when the Commercial Alert petitioned that the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission regulate the practice.

Meanwhile, product placement continues to rise in mainstream media. Placement in Q1 increased 39 percent on broadcast TV, per Nielsen Product Placement Service, but it was down 1 percent on cable TV.

"The hijacking of content by marketers makes a mockery of TV ad limits, threatens public health and undermines parents' ability to monitor media and marketing influences," the letter says.

An FCC rep said the issue is still under consideration.

In a public meeting on media ownership last September, FCC's Martin noted that because of prevalence of DVRs, "networks may be turning to more subtle and sophisticated means of incorporating commercial messages into traditional programming. As these techniques become increasing prevalent, there is a growing concern that our sponsorship identification rules fall short of their ultimate goal: To ensure that the public is able to identify both the commercial nature of the programming as well as its source."