“I have not heard of any kind or public debate or outcry. (The) average viewer still does not seem savvy to product placement.”
“I believe it is driven not by the public but by a select group of self-appointed ‘watch dogs.’ Most public reaction is indifferent (exception: tobacco).”
“Those who spend their time debating will miss the chance of our business and opportunity.”
“Silly. The public is not hurt or taken advantage of.”
“We are surrounded by products in real life. Art imitates life.” (Moorman, et.al., 2005)
We would expect the key players in any industry to support practices favorable to the bottom-line. The product placement industry is not immune to this corporate endemic either. Of course, there were dissenting voices within the industry as well. But as with the history of dissent, they are a small and powerless minority (Balasubramanian, 2006). We now understand the industry’s role in the growth of the practice. But this is not the whole story and the debate does not stop here. Even if the general public might have been indifferent or even complicit with the concept of placement, it still does not vindicate the industry. Let us hear what the legislators have to say.
When it comes to public industry regulation, the United States had fallen behind many countries. Countries in the European Union, Canada, Australia and even Israel have come up with reasonable measures of restraint. To fix a problem, it first has to be acknowledged. Going by the reports in the mainstream American press, there is apparently nothing wrong with the practice. This puts an end to all further progress. In contrast, other countries mentioned above all recognize product placemen as an “advertised message” (Gould, et.al). Clearly, the European approach to product placement implies the different value systems on either side of the Atlantic.
The United States law sees public communication as one of two things. All communication falls under 1.Broadcasting or 2.Commercial speech. The rules set for commercial speech are elaborate, fair and balanced. But the broadcasting industry has always enjoyed greater freedoms benefiting from such clauses as “freedom of expression”, “artistic freedom”, etc (Gould, et.al). Hence, the broadcasting industry has largely been unregulated. Since films and other entertainment products fall under the broadcasting category, product placement gets a free ride alongside. In other words,
“In the U.S., broadcasting was a form of speech that called for regulation mainly under the guise of spectrum scarcity. Since there were not enough spectrums, common wisdom of the FCC and the courts suggested rules needed to make sure that the dominant position of those fortunate to acquire licenses was not abused.” (Gould, et.al, 2000)
While the broadcasting industry enjoys immunity from prosecution, commercial speech does not. In 1942, the Supreme Court passed a ruling that made clear the non-applicability of First Amendment rights to “purely commercial advertising”. But, subsequent processes of “fine-tuning” (another euphemism) the decree, it has now become practically meaningless (Karrh, et.al., 2003).
Section 317 of the Communications Act of 1934 is another case in point. It states that “All matter broadcast by a broadcasting station for which any type of monetary (or other) compensation is provided, needs to be identified as such.” Section 507 of the same Act mentions a “requirement from those providing and from those receiving the compensation to notify the station of the received reward.” Thus, the entertainment production houses as well as the sponsors will be liable for any breach of disclosure. These regulations were followed by a positive development when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed a stringent code of conduct on the industry. Rule 73.1212 of the FCC states that
“When a broadcast station transmits any matter for which money, service or other valuable consideration is either directly or indirectly paid or promised to, or charged or accepted by such station, the station, at the time of the broadcast, shall announce that such matter is sponsored, paid for or furnished, either in whole or in part, and by whom or on whose behalf such consideration was supplied.” (Balasubramanian, 2006)