What You Don't Notice, Can't Hurt You

In Germany, you would never see plastic Coca-Cola cups on a desk sitting in front of "American Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, and Paula Abdul.

That's because product placement, paid or free of charge, is illegal - for all broadcasters - commercial, public, or otherwise. You can't even talk about real brands on the air.

German TV viewers must now feel duped - and not by German commercial TV networks - but by the advertising-free public broadcaster ARD, no less. A German news magazine recently uncovered illegal placements by ARD's TV production subsidiary, Bavaria Film, that go as far back as 10 years. Ten years!

Perhaps German viewers were too sleepy to notice that bottle of Heineken in the bar scene of the German TV drama. No doubt it didn't register that a detective was following a suspect driving an Audi A6.

But the real question is this: If it took 10 years to uncover that real products were placed on German TV shows, how good could the product placements have been? And if anyone paid for those product placements, they ought to get their money back. Or, at least a make-good of some sort.



Right now even the commercial stations have an antiquated system concerning advertising, where one- or two-hour blocks of end-to-end 30-second commercials run before the evening's programming begins (Talk about your clutter!).

Commercial networks want this to change - and they want the product placement restrictions lifted. To bring German television and TV advertising somewhat into the modern world, the head of the Association of Commercial Broadcasters and Telecommunication proposes advertisers be listed in the opening and closing credits of programs.

One Bavaria Films-produced soap "Marienhof," which airs on ARD, offered up home improvement tips, travel advice, and support for Turkey's admission into the European Union. All this was paid for, undisclosed, by travel operator L'tur, the Association of Turkish Entrepreneurs & Industrialists, and, most appropriately, the Consortium of Textile Floor Coverings. Floor coverings? In a product placement coverup? Bad footing, for sure.

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