Watchdog Assails Product Placement

Media buyers are bristling at a consumer watchdog organization’s efforts to require that TV networks “prominently disclose” product placements as they occur.

Commercial Alert, founded by Ralph Nader, said in a petition to the Federal Communications Commission last week that “pretending that this is just [part of] ordinary programming rather than paid ads … is an affront to basic honesty.”

Laura Caraccioli-Davis, vp/director of Starcom MediaVest Group Entertainment, said, “It’s unrealistic to say, ‘Look here, product placement.’ It should be disclosed at the end, as it is in Survivor.” She added, “If you told people that a Survivor or American Idol might go away without embedded advertising, the 18-24 [demo] group might say, ‘I don’t mind seeing Ford or Coke there.’ ”

Dan Jaffe, vp of the Association of National Advertisers, called the proposal “not only wrongheaded but unconstitutional. They are asking for something not only in the crawl but within the program itself. Could there be anything more disruptive?”

Commercial Alert director Gary Ruskin said the case against product placement is similar to the one against undisclosed ad messages in Web-search results, which the group targeted in 2001. The Federal Trade Commission did not recommend formal action in that case but warned search engines about “the need for clear and conspicuous disclosures of the paid placement [of ads].”

Broadcast networks must disclose “promotional considerations” at the end of shows, but that rule applies mainly to donated prizes and travel services.