The practice of covert advertising through product placement on reality programs such as the various Real World/Road Rules Challenges and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is quite obvious and annoying to the astute viewer.
When a cast member on The Real World exclaims unnaturally, “I just got a message on our T-Mobile Sidekick!” instead of simply saying, “Hey guys, we got a message,” it makes the show seem as though it is really an infomercial for various products that sponsor the show.
Of course, these cast members are happy to oblige as long as the price is right. They don’t care that they are turning a program meant for entertainment into an extended ad.Reality shows are not the only programs subject to this covert advertising.
“The character Gabrielle on Desperate Housewives, for instance, was seen last season as an auto show model, touting the benefits of a new Buick,” an Associated Press story said.
Unlike reality TV stars, screenwriters and actors are not so pleased with these types of incidents, partially because they are not being compensated for their endorsement and also because the integrity of their work is being jeopardized.
Organizations such as the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) are calling for a “code of conduct,” with some of the guidelines to include “full and clear disclosure – at the beginning of each program so the program’s audience knows ahead of time that it will be subject to hidden or stealth advertising.”
These organizations want the audience members to be aware they are subject to this covert advertising. They also want writers and actors to be able to express their opinions and have input with producers when confronted with product placement in their medium.
The proposed code of conduct would also restrict product placement in children’s programs, which is justified.
The adult viewer is usually able to discern when a product is being pitched to them when watching a program. A child, however, does not have these capabilities. If they see Dora the Explorer wearing a certain backpack, before long they will be pestering their parents to buy them that same backpack.
Guidelines on product placement in entertainment are long overdue. Viewers are being subjected to ads when they are trying to watch a program for entertainment. Actors and writers have to push products and end up compromising the integrity of their art in some way.
By taking a stand against covert advertising, the guilds acknowledge the desire to keep the integrity of their arts and recognize that viewers have some semblance of intelligence.