WGA Comes Up Short With Proposed Integration Crawl

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

The Writers Guild of America's proposal to run a crawl across the bottom of program that contains product placement is one of the most boneheaded things we've heard in a long time.

Writers Guild of America West President Patric M. Verrone wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin urging him to address disclosure issues arising from product integration into film and, especially, broadcast TV. "When writers are told we must incorporate a commercial product into the story lines we have written, we cease to be creators. Instead, we run the risk of alienating an audience that expects compelling television, not commercials." A crawl would somehow remedy this?

We'll overlook the fact that Hollywood writers -- TV writers in particular -- aren't exactly solo artists, laboring alone in a room over the artistic purity of their scripts. Writing doesn't get more commercial than this. We'll kindly skip over the blatant hypocrisy evident after many of these same writers tried to strike content deals with marketers during the recent strike.

We have nothing against guidelines or rules regarding the use of brand integration or product placement. After all, a cellphone subplot in "Gossip Girl" might make sense; one in "Battlestar Galactica," not so much. But we see no reason for dragging the government into this argument.

The fact is that consumers don't care about product placement as long as it doesn't obviously interrupt the constructed reality of their entertainment. What they do care about is having their screens cluttered with useless information. As it is, some networks have so littered the screen with promos, logos and "snipes," it's hard to understand where a crawl would fit. (And we'd be willing to bet that egregious product placement would prompt consumer complaints and consumer flight, thus establishing a self-correcting system.)

Further, a crawl would likely serve as added value for a marketer, pointing out a can of soda or box of cereal that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. And what of props that aren't advertisements? Would the networks then have to include a crawl or a pop-up stating "This is not an ad for Pepsi"?

In short, this would render product integration absolutely useless -- which very well could be the unspoken intent. But we'd ask the WGA this: If you shut out the marketers, who's going to pay your bills?
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