October 03, 2005 at 06:01 PM EDT

There’s a fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times about the increasing prevalence of product-placement on TV, not just in reality shows but in scripted comedies and dramas, too. Nielsen says there were more than 100,000 instances of placement on the broadcast networks last season, and it’s only going to become more blatant in the years ahead.

Not everyone is happy about this. Writers are grumbling that they’re losing creative control to sponsors who want only safe and non-controversial storylines — and that they’re not getting a cut of the proceeds. One commissioner from the FCC believes that the pay-for-play arrangements, even when disclosed at the end of a show in credits that whip by faster than you can read them, may violate the federal commission’s rules against payola.

I say to advertisers: Go ahead, if you dare. Just remember that placement could backfire, since even a complimentary reference could appear unflattering in context. After all, when Desperate Housewives‘ Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) served as a Buick spokesmodel at a car show at the mall, the placement seemed to link the brand with Gabrielle’s mortification over having to take a job so tacky and downscale. And having clueless Office boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) raving about his new Levi’s on an upcoming episode is only going to make the jeans look like the opposite of cool.

PopWatchers, do you think product placement on TV is getting out of hand, or is it so pervasive that you don’t even notice it anymore?

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