Nebenzahl and Jaffe (1998) called product placement “the least ethical form of advertising” because of its concealment and obtrusiveness. Other critics argue that the public will eventually be unable to distinguish advertising from news or entertainment. Because advertising largely supports media, traditional media outlets offer little, really no criticism of product placement.
For their part, consumers generally have positive attitude toward product placement because, they say, it adds realism. Maybe. Let’s also consider, however, that product placement threatens artists’ freedom in creating and in expressing their ideas. So I’d like us to consider the moral experience that a film or narrative attempts to shape or provide. If we ask ourselves, does the work cultivate our capacity for moral thinking (think “Breaking Bad”), or does it deform them (think, again, “Breaking Bad”)? As we read, view, or listen to an artistic expression with an eye (or ear) toward its ethical dimension, what is the appropriate moral response? What is the moral value of the expression, and how has product placement or, more broadly, commercialization and commercial colonization undercut, eroded or even prevented that moral exercise? Are our very imaginations becoming commodified and commercialized? How branded have our worlds, even our imaginative or creative worlds, become?
Here’s a different way to look at it: Can you even imagine a world that is not branded, one where the values associated with brands are different than what the brand purveyors would like us to believe?
In terms of product placement, we need to ask ourselves are we better off, are we morally enriched, by such an unchallenged and increasingly supersaturated logic of commodity culture? Of pervasive, even ubiquitous product placement and “brand integration”? Have we confused freedom — real freedom — with merely “consumer choice”? Have we ratified an unbearable lightness of being — an existence so light, so insubstantial, so dependent on a branded view of social worth and “happiness? Are we first citizens, or consumers?
If these questions are a bit too heady, start with the more direct question of whether product placement be taken too far, or done in such a way that it is corrosive or cannibalistic of a greater good, perhaps an artistic or aesthetic good? For examples of this as a possibility, think of the Nascar-like advertising and product placement in TV shows like NBC’s Chuck and in movies like Herbie Reloaded, Dodgeball, Talladega Nights and Austin Powers. To think of this in terms of a spectrum, and with product placement increasing, does culture and artistic expression risk folding in on itself, or being completely hollowed out by commercial interests? Are distinctions between advertising and news blurring? Between advertising and entertainment? Between advertising and culture?
In light of these considerations, do you think there should there be an ethical code governing product placement?
For example, should disclosure should be required? (Should advertisers, marketers and brand “integrators” be required to disclose what’s been bought, traded or donated for “special considerations”?)
Give me your comments, and more than just a quick toss-away paragraph. I want considered thoughts and reflections on this. It’s our culture; what do we want it to say or be?
Your comment due by class-time Friday, March 21.