Product Placements May Require In-Programming Disclosure

23 06 2008

Today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal includes an article reporting that product placements are going to get FCC scrutiny. It’s one each of us in the marketing business should read and a developing story we should follow, because it could have a big impact on both paid and unpaid product placements going forward.

With more consumers using digital recorders to fast forward their way through TV spots, product placements are on a significant rise to reach them within programming. The WSJ article reports that Nielson Co. found product placements are up 40 percent in the first quarter alone on broadcast TV shows and that spending on paid product placements is up 33.7 percent from a year ago.

The FCC is expected to start a formal look at new requirements for product placement disclosure. New rules could completely change the product placement game for advertisers and PR folks, depending on the outcome of the FCC’s rule review. One of the biggest recommendations for the tool is to think of it as product integration. The product should show up contextually, relevantly and become part of the story. Anything too promotional becomes a distraction to viewers and typically turns them off. So imagine what may happen the next time you’re watching “The Office.” Those prominently placed HP computer monitors may require a flashing bubble across the bottom to make sure you know that HP provided them.

This is also big news for those on the TV side of the fence. I’ve received calls from several producers who work on reality shows asking if a client would like to provide free products in return for recognition in the credits. It’s one way they look to cut back on expenses and fall under their budgets.

What do you think about product placements? Do you think the FCC is going too far or do you think it needs to reign in the dramatic growth of what some are calling “stealth advertising?”

(Thanks to my friend Maria Lachapelle for pointing me to the WSJ article!)


Ad Agency May Be Best Place To Practice PR

19 05 2008

Edward Boches

I’m Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer for Mullen. Welcome to relentlessPR!

I still remember the first time the agency tried to “sell” public relations to one of its clients. “Give us the business and we’ll deliver a stack of press clippings this tall,” one of the advertising account guys promised. He held his hand about 16 inches above the table. The client’s eyes lit up. I shuddered. You’ve got to be kidding me. I had just joined a Boston ad agency to help to launch its PR practice and this was how they presented it? These people had never heard of Edward L. Bernays. They had no idea how PR worked. To them it was a way to offer clients media space without paying for it.

Twenty-five years ago, this was how all ad agencies looked at public relations.

I got out of the PR business and into the creative side of advertising. In an “ad agency,” if you wanted to do something interesting, this was where you had to be: big ideas, brand launches, Superbowl spots.

But along the way, something interesting happened. Our PR department, under far better leadership, grew to about 60 people. In part because it had a competitive advantage in the form of a creative department able to deliver posters, viral campaigns, and PSA TV commercials to augment what were already impressive PR programs. In fact, in the case of the Grains Food Foundation we actually conceived a two market outdoor and viral ad campaign whose sole purpose was to make the association look so big that we’d get national press and TV coverage taking head on the anti-carb craze. Copywriters, art directors, press relations, street performers all worked together to change consumer opinions, wake up the media to a different point of view and most importantly make the cash register sing.

Something else changed, too. Creative advertising people started thinking like public relations professionals. In fact this month, for client National Grid, we’ll launch a campaign titled The Power of Action, the centerpiece of which is a digital experience that encourages people everywhere to make friends with a virtual polar bear. When they do, they’ll have the power to enlarge or shrink the ice floe on which it lives, all based on their energy consumption and willingness to change. It’s a program that will educate, inform, alter behavior and, yes, even generate a stack of press clippings “this high.”

How ironic. Twenty-five years ago an ad agency was the worst place to buy or practice public relations. Today it just might be the best.