US Ad Groups Hit Back at Product Placement Controls

17 November 2003

America's advertising trade bodies are fighting back against calls for a clampdown on product placement in TV programming.

The Freedom to Advertise Coalition -- a collection of six ad organisations -- last week sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. These denounced as "unneeded and unconstitutional" demands for product placements to be more clearly disclosed.

A month ago, pressure group Commercial Alert launched an attack on the increasingly widespread practice of inserting brands in TV content, calling it "stealth advertising" and "an affront to basic honesty" [WAMN: 02-Oct-03]. CA -- co-founded by veteran consumerist Ralph Nader -- wants broadcasters to announce before a show starts if advertisers have paid for their brands to be featured, and to provide further warnings whenever these products are shown.

In its letter, the Coalition slammed these measures as "impractical" and claimed they would make programming "virtually unwatchable". It defended the current regime -- in which placements are disclosed at the end of a show -- as "time-tested", adding that CA's suggestion "smacks of a paternalistic lack of confidence in the ability of Americans to discern fact from fiction."

Continued the FAC: "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 Coalition also denounced CA's demands as "a thinly veiled attempt to lure the FCC down the path to elimination of this form of commercial free speech."

However, these arguments cut no ice with Commercial Alert's executive director Gary Ruskin, who claims there are parallels with his group's successful campaign to force online search engines to declare sponsored results.

"This is a tried and true area of the law," Ruskin countered. "If TV networks are going to turn programming into infomercials, then they must disclose that the programs are ads."

The six members of the FAC are: the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association, the American Advertising Federation, the Magazine Publishers of America and the Point-of-Purchase Advertising Association.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff