Failure to follow these rules invited hefty fines or imprisonment up to a year (in some cases both were applicable). Yet, with the growing number of product placement instances everyday, the FCC has not taken any concrete steps to enforce regulations. Every now and then some rhetoric is thrown in to keep the public deluded, but nothing substantial is seen yet. What is even more unfair is the fact that the United States government itself uses product placement strategies during election campaigns. So, who will regulate the regulator? (Balasubramanian, 2006)
A public interest advocate group “Commercial Alert”, whose basic motto is to “keeping commercial culture within its proper sphere” sent a report to the FCC, highlighting the number of occasions in which the latter had taken no action on the deviant corporations. Some of the defaulting corporations include National Broadcasting Corporation, UPN, Fox Network, Walt Disney, CBS and Warner Brothers (some of the biggest media houses in the country). Prompt came a reply. Not from the FCC, but from an industry representative association “Freedom to Advertise Coalition”. The coalition’s response was a mix of false claims and false beliefs. However, it fails to “show evidence” (Katz, 1993).
So, it is now beyond any reasonable doubt that laws and law enforcement agencies are unfavorable to a large majority of the public. If artistic expression and creative output is influenced or hindered by commercial interests then very soon the media will lose its audience (Katz, 1993). They may also lose public trust and goodwill. This sentiment is seen from a different perspective:
“At hand is the role media products play in society. The mass production of film and video products and their appeal to the masses, in contradiction to the forms of cultural expression common before the twentieth century, has often raised the question whether these products should be treated at all as “culture.” In today’s academic environment even advertisements are studied as cultural products, but that does not necessarily mean they are at par on all aspects with other forms of entertainment.” (Balasubramanian, 2006)
Talking of the academia, it also had a role to play. But some facts relating to academic publications make for distressing reading. Academic journals published after year 2000 carried approximately 550 articles directly related to the concept of product placement. The range of topics was wide indeed: from industry efficiency to innovations in placement to success stories. But, what is alarming is the fact that only a handful of these articles dealt with the ethical aspect of the whole enterprise. For example, Brandweek had published 74 pieces on placement during the course of the last four years. Disappointingly, none of it analyses present legislations and industry practices from the point of view of greater common good. All they talk about were “how to increase profits”, “new placement opportunities to exploit” and the like (Karrh, et.al., 2003). There were examples of “scholarly literature” where product placement is earnestly portrayed as a “communications tool”. This kind of euphemistic language will turn George Orwell in his grave!
The following passage serves as a fitting conclusion to this essay:
“Cultural products that bow themselves to the needs of the industry may carry a little for everyone, but truly nothing unique for nobody. In the age of culture-made-into-industry, the role of cultural production as an expression of the uniqueness of the individual creator ceases, and the contribution of cultural products to society as agents of change, which is their far-reaching most important role, is nonexistent. This leads to a production of culture in which the profit is the main motivation and not the need to express creativity. Corporate interests become the force behind the shaping of artistic expression. On the one hand, the result is uniformity of cultural products.” (Russell & Belch, 2005)
Balasubramanian, S K, Karrh, J A, & Patwardhan, H. (Fall 2006). Audience response to product placements: an integrative framework and future research agenda., Journal of Advertising, 35, 3. p.115(27).
Karrh, J A, McKee, K. B., & Pardun, C J (June 2003). Practitioners’ evolving views on product placement effectiveness, Journal of Advertising Research, 43, 2. p.138(12)
Katz, H. (Jan-Feb 1993). New media, new messages: an initial inquiry into audience reactions to advertising on videocassettes. Journal of Advertising Research, 33, n1. p.74(12).
Charlesworth, A., & Glantz, S A (Dec 2005). Smoking in the movies increases adolescent smoking: a review. Pediatrics, 116, 6. p.1516(13).
Russell, C. A., & Belch, M. (March 2005). A managerial investigation into the product placement industry. Journal of Advertising Research., 45, 1. p.73(20).
Gould, S J, Gupta, P B, & Grabner-Krauter, S. (Winter 2000). Product Placements in Movies: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Austrian, French and American Consumers’ Attitudes Toward This Emerging, International Promotional Medium., Journal of Advertising, 29, 4. p.41.
Moorman, M., Neijens, P C, & Smit, E G (March 2005). The effects of program responses on the processing of commercials placed at various positions in the program and the block, Journal of Advertising Research, 45, 1. p.49(11).