Call the Labeling of Product Placement on TV 'Ludicrous'

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WASHINGTON ( -- Advertising groups are calling a consumer advocate's requests for better disclosure of product placement in TV shows "ludicrous" and "radical" and warn that the demands would make the programming "virtually unwatchable."

In letters sent Wednesday to the Federal

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Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, the Freedom to Advertise Coalition, which includes six ad groups, urged the federal agencies to reject any changes, calling them unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Dodge Chargers and Jimmy Choos
"Product placement has occupied a well-accepted place in film and broadcast television for decades," said the letter from the coalition's lawyers, Darryl Nirenberg and Penny Farthing. The letter cited examples as diverse as the Dodge Charger used in Dukes of Hazzard and the female characters of Sex in the City buying Jimmy Choo shoes.

Commercial Alert, a group with ties to Ralph Nader, on Sept. 30 petitioned the FCC to examine whether major TV networks are adequately disclosing product placement, calling the practice "stealth advertising." It also asked the FCC to require that disclosure of product placement be far more prominent than it is at present; generally it only has to be disclosed when a program ends. The group wants some sort of disclosure to be used at the beginning of a program and then again whenever the brand is shown.

The ad coalition called the requests "impractical," effectively mandating pop-ups that would seriously disrupt TV shows creative content. It called current requirements "time tested" and contended Commercial Alert's petition "smacks of a paternalistic lack of confidence in the ability of Americans to discern fact from fiction."

'Threat to artistic freedom'
"At its core, the Commercial Alert petition is a thinly veiled attempt to lure the FCC down the path to elimination of this form of commercial free speech. ... They establish new and unwarranted limitations on commercial speech rights. They pose a threat to artistic freedom."

The coalition maintained that because viewers know they are watching a fictional program, any concerns about deception and unfairness disappear.

"It takes a substantial stretch of imagination to conclude that having fictional characters drink a certain brand of soft drink, eat a certain brand of snack cookie or pour a certain brand of breakfast cereal is ... likely to mislead consumers," the letter said. The coalition also argued that placement can be essential in a story, making the show seem more real or creating a "creative effect."

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, said his group made similar requests in successfully asking the FTC to mandate Internet search engines disclose paid placements.

Programming as 'infomercials'
"This is a tried and true area of the law," Mr. Ruskin said. "If they want to believe it is ludicrous, then let them slumber on." He contended that use of products in a show, even a fictional one, that are paid for is deceptive to viewers. "If TV networks are going to turn programming into infomercials, then they must disclose that the programs are ads."

The Freedom to Advertise Coalition includes the American Advertising Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association, the Magazine Publishers of America and the Point-of-Purchase Advertising Association.

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