Monday, May 23, 2011

Infotisement: Is it information or advertisement?

Lexi Sweet

According to the article "Paid to Pitch: Product Reviews By Bloggers Draw Scrutiny" in The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Trade Commission is proposing that bloggers, online marketers and the companies that compensate them be held liable for misleading claims. This is the first time that the FTC, which guards against false advertising, has proposed something of this magnitude in response to product placement, which has been infiltrating the media strongly over the past few years. Personally, I think it is a great idea to have some guidelines for something so prominent in our lives (whether we know it is or not). Obviously, I want as much as anyone to be watching a movie and for things to seem real (who would James Bond be without his Aston Martin?), but things have been getting a little out of hand recently.

Traditional Media

We have studied all the ethics codes in class, yet none of them address the issue of product placement. I think it is time for professional organizations to update their codes and help address some of these situations and stop them from happening.

TV/ Movies

The most notable area of product placement is in TV and movies. I mentioned Bond's Aston Martin before, and I would say that many people like me probably like things on TV and in movies to seem like they could happen in real life, which involves things that we know are real. I always laugh when someone is drinking soda out of a red bottle with white writing that says "cola" because I obviously know they are trying to imitate Coca-Cola and feel like they are treating me as a naive viewer. But I finally realized product placement was getting out of hand when I saw this clip from the show "Secret Life of the American Teenager."

Honestly, this placement made no sense in the context of the conversation, it seemed as though the characters were grasping at straws to make it fit in. Companies need to learn to tone it down and get their products in when they actually fit. Because honestly, that just frustrated me and made me not want to watch the show anymore. Some shows, like 30 Rock, have had a few satirical product placement scenes, like the one seen below. But although they are making jokes, I wonder, how much are they being paid for these things? (You should check out some of the other suggested videos too.)

Newspapers/ Magazines
We are used to seeing product placement in visual media, but now we have to deal with it in print too. According to an article in Christian Science Monitor, entitled "Product placement pushes into print," revenue from product placement is expected to jump 17.5% to $160.9 million in magazine editorial copy, and 16.9% to $65 million in newspaper copy. This is scary because when I think of these print publications, my utmost expectation is that the journalists are objective. The same article references a report from that Lexus is "in negotiation with unnamed publishers to try to find ways to integrate mention of its cars into stories." Some proposals as to how to make this happen include, (1) have staff writers compose story-like advertorials that would be indistinguishable from their regular copy, or (2) have Lexus cars appear in photographs that accompany articles. We wouldn't even know that these were ads! In another article by the Columbia Journalism Review, entitled, "Product Placement: It's Everywhere, It's Everywhere" mentions an issue of The New Yorker in which Target purchased all of the advertising space, and it was difficult to tell which were art and which were promo, especially since the words "advertisement" and "Target" never actually appear anywhere. The Magazine tried to defend their actions in a a New York Times article, but personally I think this is wrong.

I hear Radio announcers all the time mention products they support on their show, they probably get paid for this but if it's something they want to endorse I don't care; to me it's just like celebrities on TV commercials. However, I was surprised to hear that the DNC was Astroturfing talk radio in support of Elena Kagan. This is something that I was disappointed with at first, but then decided that if some people want to call in support of Kagan, maybe they need help being eloquent in their conversation- at least they're not being paid.

Social Media

This is an area that scares me more than traditional media, because social media is all about interpersonal communication. It's not about "The Man" bombarding us with information about a product or service (unless, of course, we want him to).

The Wall Street Journal article that I mentioned at the beginning of this post explores the new trend of bloggers being paid to review products, especially mommy bloggers. One blogger said that she always reports her honest opinion, yet concedes that she never says anything negative. That seems strangely contradictory to me- there is no way everything she reviews can be amazing. I could understand if a company had a new product they were looking for people to review (in the same way that psychological studies search for participants), but the bloggers should do this because it is what they dedicate their lives to as opposed to being paid. If something is really so incredible you want to tell people about it, there is no need to accept money to do so.

Although I am not surprised, I had never heard that celebrities were being paid to promote products in tweets until I read about it in the Poynter article, "News organizations sign deals for sponsored tweets, then do not participate in them." This is tricky because I follow celebs because I am interested in what they have to say, I don't want them to be feeding me advertisements. Even though I never noticed that, Twitter does "promote" certain trending topics and celebrity accounts. This isn't really hurting anybody because we are being told they are promoted, but I think it's unfair that they are cheating the system in that way. Why have rules if we don't follow them?

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