Writer Guilds call for disclosure in promotions and product placement

Today the Writers Guild of America, West, and the Writers Guild of America, East, with the support of the Screen Actors Guild, will hold a news conference calling for a code of conduct for stealth advertising -- product placement and the weaving of products into story lines as key plotlines. The groups say that "the integration deceives audiences and forces writers and actors to do jobs they were not hired for." They are also expected to release a paper today which states:

"We are being told to write the lines that sell this merchandise, and to deftly disguise the sale as story. Our writers are being told to perform the function of ad copywriter, but to disguise this as storytelling."

Here are some more exerpts from that article:

"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 Alan Rosenberg, president of the actors guild, in a statement also to be released on Monday. "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."

The unions are calling for clearer disclosure to viewers when products are integrated into a show's story line, and for greater say in the practice by actors and writers. "Failing that," warned the writers' memorandum, "we will seek additional F.C.C. regulation."

Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West, said the practice had become worse in the age of reality programming. "They started doing it in reality TV, where writers don't have union protections and are easy marks for getting this kind of material in there," he said. "You're less likely to find it on network prime-time series, but the creep is moving in that direction. It has become intrusive and overwhelming to us as a union of writers."

Writers and producers said they struggled with juggling their primary jobs, to create entertaining programs, with the often last-minute demands of product integration.

Scott Miller, a story producer on the reality show "American Dream Derby," a horse-racing contest that appeared on GSN earlier this year, said he was required to get Diet Dr. Pepper, a product of Cadbury Schweppes, into every episode, complicating his efforts to get contestants to interact in ways that served a story line.

"These were moments when people were crying, or two cast members were screaming at each other, or two allies were sneaking off to strategize, and there were several times when it was: 'Let me stop and make sure everyone has a can of Diet Dr. Pepper,' " Mr. Miller said. "I'd literally be below the frame line, handing a can of Diet Dr. Pepper to someone who didn't have one. First and foremost, I want to tell a good story. I'm not necessarily there to help make a commercial."

Rich Cronin, president and chief executive of GSN, which is jointly owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment and the Liberty Media Corporation, said the network took care that the placement of the soft drink was not intrusive. "I don't think it's that big a deal, to find one point in a one-hour episode to have someone have a beverage," he said.

And he warned that the unions were swimming against the tide. "Because there are so many TV networks, because TiVo and personal video recorders are so popular, there's going to be more product integration," he said. "But networks have to be careful to do it organically, otherwise viewers will reject the programming."

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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caffeinegoddess's picture

An adgrunt pointed out today's Foxtrot comic strip is appropriate to this topic. Check it out here. (if viewing after the 15th you're going to have to look for it in the archive- is from Nov. 15)

Dabitch's picture

Direct link to Foxtrot the 15th, since I'm slow to catch up and didn't check until today. Pretty cheeky. :)

caffeinegoddess's picture

And apparently some Writers Guild reality tv writers (oxymoron anyone?) crashed the International Radio and Television Society breakfast yesterday.

"We're not going to go away until somebody's ready to sit across the table and negotiate with us," a WGA West spokeswoman said. "What they did today was on behalf of reality TV writers, but product integration has a much broader landscape that involves all of our members."

The bright blue fliers said reality storytellers are treated as "second-class citizens" who often work 90-plus hours a week without proper pay or Writers Guild health and pension benefits given to writers who work on scripted programs.

AnonymousCoward's picture

it's high time to think about how the commericals survive .unless you can give a sufficient reason.