Giving New Meaning to Reality Shows

TV product placements rose 27 percent in the first quarter, Nielsen Monitor-Plus reported last week. Coke Classic alone appeared 1,931 times on U.S. television shows in the first quarter, almost as many times as it did during all of last year.

Eight of the 10 TV programs with the most product-placement ads were unscripted reality shows. NBC's "The Contender" had the most, followed by Fox's "American Idol" and UPN's "The Road to Stardom With Missy Elliott." The scripted shows in the top 10 in product placement were CBS' "King of Queens," with 747 occurrences, and "What I Like About You" on the WB network, with 783 placements.

Let the second-guessing begin. Will this tsunami of paid placements work for advertisers or simply annoy their customers?

Rick Munarriz writes in The Motley Fool: "...I can see why advertisers want in. I also see why producers of a popular show would be willing to take the extra money to slip in some carefully crafted product mentions. But that doesn't mean I have to like it as a consumer.



"The scripted ads in TV shows, even when they're worked in seamlessly, compromise the show's credibility. They feel forced. And I imagine this problem getting worse -- a lot worse -- before it gets better. But the networks, show producers, and sponsors may be in for a cruel surprise when viewers abandon shows that lack integrity. A television set won't make anyone any money if it's turned off."

As paid placements gain traction, viewers like me get annoyed every time a brand is visible because I'm never sure if it was part of the creative plot (think Junior Mints in "Seinfeld") or slipped onto the set for real - or virtually - by the "product placement department." My reaction, assume the worst and hate the advertising for distracting me from the flow of the content.

And where does it end? Can I trust that Brian Williams is wearing that tie because his wife bought it for his birthday, or because the "product placement department" ordered him to wear it? Has the network reporter filing a story on a car crash been paid to have Starbucks in the background? Christ, they can't interview an athlete anymore who isn't festooned with brand logos.

Is it only me? Apparently not.

U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has launched a crusade against hidden pitches in the media and last month called for a probe. "Failure to disclose who is behind sponsored programming violates the law," he said in Forbes. Adelstein sees "nothing inherently wrong" with product placement, but he wants broadcasters to provide "clear and prominent" disclosure when it happens.

Looks like more work for those fast-talking guys who have to disclose on pharmaceutical ads that "one side effect is anal leakage."

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