Protests over Product Placement

I’ve written a number of times about the question of how people are going to make money producing entertainment content for the new world of “television.” Video recorders let you leap over commercials in a single bound. When you let the viewer control the flow of the content stream, the paid advertisements are likely to be the first casualties. One response is to weave the sponsorship into the show itself, as Mitsubishi is doing with MTV’s HD channel. Another approach is “product placement” which you already find in sitcoms, dramas, and even morning news shows. Manufacturers pay to have their products appear prominently on camera. It’s usually not as blatant as in “The Truman Show”, but it’s there.

Now the Writers Guild of America, west, The Writers Guild of America, East, and the Screen Actors Guild have joined voices to protest product placement. In a call for a “Code of Conduct” last month, these groups challenged the practice. “The public has a right to be informed that they are viewing de facto subliminal advertising – and creative artists have a right to exercise their creative voices when required to participate in such advertising,” said WGAw President Patric M. Verrone.

All this time, I thought that “subliminal advertising” was another term from the Department of Redundancy Department. Are you telling me that there’s no subliminal content involved when two women mud-wrestle to sell beer? And product placement certainly is no new phenomenon. Pop quiz: what car did Steve McGarrett drive in “Hawaii Five-O”? Right, it was a big, bad, black Lincoln-Mercury. Oh, and Ford was a major sponsor of the show. And yes, Ford provided the production company with cars. That was 35 years ago. And I can’t imagine that it really tied the creative hands of the writers to have his ride dictated by the sponsors.

Now, I can understand how this could get out of hand. Gratuitous product shots can be disruptive; I still remember the bottle of cologne exploding when Mel Gibson’s trailer got shot up in one of the “Lethal Weapon” movies. (Can’t remember which one it was, but I remember the cologne.) But methinks the writers and actors doth protest perhaps a little too much. Buried in their release is the complaint that they’re not getting paid to push these products. So maybe a little subliminal chicanery is alright if everyone gets their cut of the action.