October 24th, 2008

SAG Slams ‘Stealth’ Ads

By John Eggerton
Broadcasting & Cable

Screen Actors Guild calls on FCC to tighten rules on "imbedded" advertising, including disclosures on programs that include product placement.

The Screen Actors Guild renewed its call this week for the FCC to tighten its rules on sponsorship identification for “imbedded” advertising.

In reply comments filed at the FCC as the commission considers changes to its sponsorship ID rules, the guild said that the commission needed to put disclosures in readable type for a reasonable amount of time before and after a program that includes product placement. It did not go so far as to suggest, as others have, that the ID should be contemporaneous with the placement, which these days would likely constitute a running disclaimer on many shows--American Idol, American Chopper.

But SAG said pushed for a crackdown on fleeting disclaimers, like one cited by the Writers Guild of America comments that packed 37 words in less than one second and featured the name of the product’s parent company’s holding company rather than the product advertised. Add the split screen credit, where the type is compressed, and that is a recipe for stealth advertising.

SAG said the current rules are ineffective and that “subtle and devious” product placement has taken its toll on actors as well as show creators and the audience. SAG calls it a form or “forced endorsement,” adding that “actors often have little to no latitude to resist participating in an instance of produce integration, almost always without compensation.

“The staggering growth of stealth advertising--coupled with the industry’s current oblique disclosure practices--underscores the inability of the commission’s rules to respond to this epidemic,” SAG argued.

SAG took issue with the suggestion by broadcasters and advertisers that product identification was an important new advertising model that was threatened by sponsorship ID rule changes.

“Contrary to NAB’s apocalyptic scenario portending the end of free broadcast television more broadcasting localism,” SAG told the FCC, “adequate disclosure would result in little more than more fully infuriated viewers, with not attendant diminution in the abilities of broadcasters and advertisers to strike ‘creative’ agreements.”

The FCC back in June proposed to mandate the type size and duration of disclaimers and asked for comment on a variety of other things it could do, including making them contemporaneous or requiring them to appear both before and after a show.

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