Guilds Issue White Paper Report on the Runaway Use of Stealth Advertising in Television and Film
Los Angeles, New York (November 14, 2005) – The Writers Guild of America, west, The Writers Guild of America, East, Screen Actors Guild, and the associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication called for a “Code of Conduct” today on the use of product integration in television programming and theatrical films. The announcement came at a news conference releasing a WGA west and WGA East White Paper that outlines the rampant growth of commercial products being incorporated as part of storylines and the public’s right to be informed of such advertising. “The weaving of paid-for product advertisements into the storylines of television and film raises serious ethical questions,” said WGAw President Patric M. Verrone. “The traditional standards & practices governing commercial product placement are increasingly being swept aside in favor of product integration and branded entertainment. In their race to the bottom line to create the so-called new business model, network and advertising executives are ignoring the public’s interest and demanding that creative artists participate in stealth advertising disguised as a story.
“The public has a right to be informed that they are viewing de facto subliminal advertising – and creative artists have a right to exercise their creative voices when required to participate in such advertising. We’re calling on the industry to engage in a dialogue to institute a ‘Code of Conduct’ that will establish standards governing the use of commercial products in all television or film. Barring an industry agreement, we will take this issue to the FCC for federal intervention.”
“Just as there is an established right to truth-in-advertising, there should be a similar right to truth-in-programming where advertising is concerned,” said Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg. “The sharp increase of product placement in film and television too often takes place without any compensation to the very performers that are expected to push those products – and more often is done without any consultation with those performers and their representatives. It is time for producers to work with artists on this issue, and the best way to do that is to establish a cooperative code-of-conduct that will protect the artist, the viewing public and advertiser-supported, free television.”
“The public was outraged when it learned that Armstrong Williams and video news releases paid for by the Bush Administration had infiltrated journalism,” said USC Associate Dean Marty Kaplan. “It was also ruled to be illegal. In entertainment, the minimum acceptable standard is unambiguous disclosure of stealth commercial content.”
Verrone was joined at a noon news conference in Los Angeles by Anne-Marie Johnson, Screen Actors Guild Hollywood division chair and first national vice president, and Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and director of The Norman Lear Center.
The Code of Conduct would include the following elements:
1. Full and clear disclosure for both the visual and aural disclosure of product integration deals at the beginning of each program so the program’s audience knows ahead of time that it will be subject to hidden or stealth advertising.
2. Strict limits on the usage of product integration in children’s programming.
3. A voice for storytellers, actors, and directors, arrived at through collective bargaining, about how a product or brand is to be integrated into content.
4. Extension of all regulation of product integration to cable television, where some of the most egregious abuse is found.
Excerpts from the White Paper:
Last year, the use of products in filmed entertainment increased 44 percent and generated revenues in excess of $1 billion. In television alone, product-related revenues skyrocketed a whopping 84 percent. For example, during the third season of The Apprentice, Burger King, Dove Body Wash, Sony PlayStation, Verizon Wireless, and Visa reportedly paid upwards of $2 million per episode to have their products incorporated into plotlines.
CBS chairman Les Moonves at a 2004 Madison and Vine Conference: “You’re going to see some shows doing [product integration] extremely well, where you’re hardly aware that you’ve been sold something.”
The White Paper can be found in its entirety online at www.wga.org.