Advertising Masquerades as Program Content on TV Talk Shows – Part 3

For the past two years, Consumer World has been investigating TV talk shows that present what looks like a typical informational segment, but in fact the program is quietly making money by airing it. In essence you are watching an infomercial — advertising masquerading as regular program content. (See our first two stories, one about the truth behind “deal” segments on morning TV, and the other about doctors as product experts on television.)

Another prong of our investigation focused on a segment from the CBS daytime show, The Talk. In this March 2018 segment, a dermatologist conducts a beauty care quiz with the co-hosts and the audience.

After several general questions, the dermatologist casually mentions a particular product line, No7, and discusses the benefits of it. The program host then introduces a consumer in the audience who tells of her positive experience with the product. Only in the credits at the end of the program is there a momentary disclosure that No7 sponsored part of the show.


No7 sponsorship

So this segment which appeared to be a regular part of the program was really an infomercial of sorts. Marketers call it “product integration.”

There are several legal issues here. Was the doctor paid by the company to tout its products and was that consumer in the audience a plant?

To answer the first question, we did a little digging. On The Talk‘s website, CBS offered this description of that beauty segment:


"we teamed up"

And on the doctor’s own social media account, we found her thanking the manufacturer for selecting her to be their dermatologist spokesperson for No7:


Doctor thanks No7

As for the audience member who touted her results using the product, we can find no independent information about her. However, what are the odds that sitting right there in the front row was an average consumer who just happened to try the product and liked it? In all likelihood, both the doctor and audience member were paid by No7 for the appearance. And that triggers the FTC’s guidelines governing testimonials and endorsements, which require clear disclosure if those people were paid for their comments. No such disclosure was made on the program.

Equally if not more important is the lack of disclosure to the viewing audience at the time the segment was airing that it was actually sponsored content — in essence an advertisement — rather than a regular program segment. They disclosed the sponsorship only in the credits at the end of the program. Under the FCC’s “payola” rules, if a program’s producers receive payment to feature a product, that fact must be disclosed to viewers during the program.

Also, whenever someone creates content that looks like the other material that surrounds it, but is really advertising, this is called native advertising. To keep viewers of TV shows and readers of news websites properly informed about the commercial nature of these types of offerings, the FTC’s native advertising guidelines require clear, up-front disclosure. And that is often missing or obscured.

After seeing this segment on The Talk, Consumer World contacted the West coast head of broadcast standards at CBS to remind the company of the various disclosure requirements, and ask what the network was going to do to correct the problem. Not long thereafter, the segment was quietly removed from the CBS website. And eventually, we got a reply:

“I have been advised that we have reviewed our practices and procedures and have reiterated to those involved the importance of transparency, and adhering to the applicable guidelines. You may have seen some changes on our product integrations on THE TALK, as well as some of our other programs.”

This segment on The Talk is but one example of the secret commercialization of content on TV talk and information programs. Over the years, we’ve seen other sponsored segments with often poor disclosures on The Doctors, Rachel Ray, Steve Harvey, and other shows. We hope that the FTC will direct some of its enforcement efforts to the television networks that engage in these sneaky practices.

Next week we check out a segment on the Dr. Phil show that just aired a few weeks ago.

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6 thoughts on “Advertising Masquerades as Program Content on TV Talk Shows – Part 3”

  1. The Wendy Williams show is all about selling, not only her own products, but all the “new” beauty and fashion merchandise available. That, plus an interview with a relatively unknown celebrity and some “juicy gossip” constitutes the whole show.

  2. P. T. Barnum’s legacy lives. Let fools watch, if they wish. All this daytime crapola is nothing more than Bread and Circuses to keep the populace from seeing a world worth seeing.

  3. Our local “lifestyle” programs base their revenue off segments such as this, however, they tend to announce at the beginning of the “interview” that the segment is sponsored by the interviewee, so their transparency is valid.

  4. “The View” does a lot of these too – both these “paid” medical segments and their “View Your Deal” product sales efforts. I’ve wondered if they violate FCC rules about advertising. And do they exceed the amount of commercial time a program can contain?

    Edgar replies: Alan, we covered the deal segments on The View in our previous story (see link in first paragraph above). I have seen only one medical demonstration on that show. If you can point me to others, that would be great. Thx.

  5. I am curious about Alan’s comment “And do they exceed the amount of commercial time a program can contain?”

    Not even considering promotional advertising within a show, but just regular commercial breaks, I have watched the advertising time go from about 8-10 minutes per hour in the days before cable, to up to 25 minutes per hour after the networks gained their captive cable audience. Isn’t it strange how we have progressed from the days when TV was free, paid for by advertising, to a time now when we pay to watch commercials?

    But getting back to Alan’s comment, is there actually a legal limit to the amount of advertising time a show can contain? I wasn’t aware anything like that existed.

    Edgar replies: It appears that the FCC no longer has rules that limit the number of commercials, except with respect to children’s programming on cable television. That limit is between 10.5 and 12 minutes per hour.

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