As a result, the time-honored practice of product placement is on the rise. In an ideal world for advertisers, product placement is done so seamlessly that viewers don’t even realize that someone is trying to sell them something. To even the playing field, films and television shows are required by the FCC to state that a sponsor has paid for their product to be used. Usually this is done at the very end of a show or movie, after the credits. Now, the FCC wants to further regulate media and make product placement more explicit by expanding the visibility of sponsorship notices.
With the various advances made in new media over the past few years, media consumers are now able to bypass a key part of what makes media possible: advertisements. We can skip through ads on Tivo or just rent the DVD. A study by Sharpe Partners found that of 865 active online video viewers (“Super Sharers”), 75% of them are finding a way around ads. All of this might be convenient for us, but it’s not so great for the people who create the media we watch. When people stop watching commercials, not only does the airtime become less valuable and effective, but media producers have to work harder to make ends meet. Spot ads on television have been falling in 2008, and are not expected to improve for 2009.
As much as I might not like being persuaded to buy something when all I’m trying to do is relax with a story, I do recognize product placement as a necessary evil. On the one hand, a product placement alert might help people better understand media, and I’m all for that. On the other hand, it could spin way out of control, as the technique becomes more refined, and I also think that such close policing doesn’t really solve any problems. I’d rather actively learn about product placement, and really understand it, rather than be passively told when it’s happening (by a government agency, no less).
Like banning athletes from social networking, this seems like a coverup for the real issue. The buying of stuff and the selling of stuff is fundamental to any economy, and we all need to have an understanding of the many complex meanings behind media messages. However, this can be done without sucking the enjoyment out of media, and it can be done in a way that makes people more independent thinkers. If the FCC is truly concerned with educating and informing the American people about media, they might start with, well–media education.