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Advertising Masquerades as Program Content on Local TV Shows

Over the years, we have repeatedly spotlighted examples of national television programs that broadcast stories or segments where they were “secretly” being paid by the subject featured and pretty much kept viewers in the dark about that practice:

  • Bargain segments on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and The View;

  • Health segments on Inside Edition pitching cosmetics;

  • Doctor segments on The Talk pitching cosmetics;

  • Health insurance information segment on Dr. Phil.

    These types of shenanigans are not limited to national talk shows. A recent episode of John Oliver’s This Week Tonight gave example after example of local television program segments bought and paid for by the subject of the broadcast with often poor disclosure of that fact to the viewing audience.

    To demonstrate how some local stations will just blindly broadcast informational segments by anyone willing to pay the price, his producers created a phony product — the Venus Veil sexual health blanket — a medical blanket infused with magnetic fibers that claimed to stimulate blood flow for improved sexual performance and pleasure. And believe it or not, three local television stations in Utah, Texas, and Colorado actually broadcast interviews with a spokesperson for this phony product. [Warning: this video contains coarse language.]

    To see the elaborate lengths that this program went to in order to create a phony product and get it aired on local stations, visit Venus Inventions.

    When real products are being featured on local television, the consumer issue is whether the product’s maker has paid for the appearance and if the viewing audience has been adequately made aware of that fact. Viewers have a right to know if they are really watching a commercial rather than a regular program feature. At least at these local stations, not much appears to have been done to vet the product shown, and it is unclear how well the audience was informed that this was sponsored content.

    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. Similarly, the FTC has two sets of advertising guidelines. They both require clear and timely disclosure — in other words, no mouse print if (1) there is any financial connection between a presenter and the products being touted (endorsement and testimonial guidelines) and (2) the presentation looks like a regular part of the program but is in fact commercial in nature (native advertising guidelines). Of particular relevance is the FTC’s Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements.

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    5 thoughts on “Advertising Masquerades as Program Content on Local TV Shows”

      • Yeah this is true. Ever wonder why some categories seem to be suspiciously relevant?

        You can bet pretty much any time there’s a “Marvel” category, “Disney”, “Lego”, or many other different brands/companies that are a category.

        Reply