Is It a Feature Story or a Commercial?

On September 6, Inside Edition ran a story during their daily program where a dermatologist was being interviewed giving tips to viewers on how to maintain a youthful, healthy appearance. Toward the end of the segment she recommends a particular product for the face and neck.

Here is the web version of the story (which may vary slightly from the TV version which our story is about):

Click arrow to play video

It only began to sound fishy when the dermatologist started ticking off all the benefits of the cream and then said it was a bargain at Target.

To the best of MrConsumer’s memory, there was no conspicuous disclosure at the beginning of the TV version of the piece nor at the end to indicate that the doctor was a paid endorser, as it appears at the end of web version.

In fact, it was at the end of the TV show in the credits that the following disclosure appeared, captured live as it aired:


Inside Edition disclaimer

So what’s the problem here? There are actually two issues. First, this story had the look and feel of any other segment on Inside Edition when in fact it was a mini-infomercial for a product. In Federal Trade Commission-speak, this is “native advertising” where an ad is made to look just like the surrounding content in form and style. And the FTC has guidelines saying there should be clear and conspicuous disclosure that this is actually advertising.

There were some half-hearted attempts within the piece to make disclosures. The voiceover states in passing toward the beginning “we teamed up with No7.” The trouble is the viewer has no idea what “No7” is because it is not a familiar product name and has not yet been introduced on the screen. That disclosure doesn’t clearly convey that this is really an ad. It is several minutes after the piece ends in the TV version that the bold on-screen disclosure is made, as shown just above.

Secondly, under the FTC’s guides governing endorsements and testimonials, since it appeared that the doctor was merely a guest being interviewed on a television program and was not acting in a commercial, the viewer would have no idea she was being paid by the manufacturer. Thus, a clear disclosure of that fact was necessary. In our view, the identifier thrown up on the screen for a mere three seconds — “Dr. Doris Day — Dermatologist/No7 Spokesperson” — would not be noticed or understood by most viewers to clearly convey the fact that this doctor had been paid for these comments. And the disclosure at the end of the program was too late.

Dr. Doris Day

We wrote to the executive producer of Inside Edition raising these issues, asking why better disclosure was not made, and whether it would be in future pieces. To date, no response has been received.

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8 thoughts on “Is It a Feature Story or a Commercial?”

  1. See also: a “news report” in which the infamous Dr. Murad warns us to slather on sunscreen when using a computer, tablet or smartphone. . . . but only sunscreen bearing his name.

  2. Happens all the time on the local “news” cast, on all major channels. It’s less blatant than the one you show, but it always is pushing SOMETHING you can buy or SOMEWHERE you can go (for a price). Getting where news isn’t covered much, but “news reports” that are really ads are taking up more and more space between the rest of the commercials–the ones that SAY they’re commercials.

  3. I watch ‘Inside Edition’ because I can get a preview of what’s going to be on ‘ABC World News Tonight with David Muir’ the next day. Ha ha. Sad but true. I first noticed the sneaky skin-care fake news story a couple of years ago. I feel some outrage as do others but since I always record the shows I watch, I just hit the skip button a couple of times when it come on.

  4. Talk radio is terrible when it comes to ads blended with content without a clear warning that the host is trying to sell you a product.

  5. Nobody thought the name Dr. Doris Day was a fake????

    Edgar replies: Cheryl… actually it is her real name. She is a dermatologist in New York, and is even on New York Magazine’s best doctors list.

  6. So many media outlets are using native advertising that we might as well start considering advertising to be the main content. Everything is a promo.

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