TV newscasts embracing embedded advertising


News time (buy our product!) is the time (visit our store!) we bring you (call us today!) the news.

(And be sure to say you saw our ad inside an actual news report and get 10 percent off!)

Yes, the 10-percent-off offer is a stretch. But not a far one.

Fox-5's onscreen McDonald's cups and "integrated content" -- i.e., infomercials tucked inside shows -- have been hashed over here. Enlarging our broadcast vocabulary, we advance to "stealth" or "embedded" advertising: slick code for ads hidden in plain news-story sight, playing catch-me-if-you-can -- and likely won't -- with viewers.

Example: News-3's segment in which reporter-turned-publicist Stacey Escalante, now with Orca Communications, cooed over wedding products she exhibited to Kim Wagner. Escalante was identified as an Orca employee for the few familiar with Orca's purpose, but not as a publicist for the masses who aren't. Anyone believe her items weren't the inventory of Orca clients she's paid to peddle? (If so, give our best to the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny.)

As viewers banish commercials into oblivion via fast-forwarding DVRs, stealth pitches are advertisers' end-run strategy. University of Oregon researchers called it a "threat to the long-term credibility of television news" and the Center for Media and Democracy last fall expressed alarm to the Federal Communications Commission as it reviewed sponsorship ID regulations. Viewers expect ads during breaks, not in news, just as readers recognize that advertising wraps around newspaper stories, but doesn't drift into them.

Consider Channel 13's report on a local salon's haircutting fundraiser for the American Heart Association. Laudable cause and legit segment, but embedded in the altruism was advertising: a graphic with a salon business card reading, "Book an appointment today. Check out our SPECIALS." Back at Channel 3, a piece on hot shopper deals nearly made love to Joseph A. Bank stores, a de facto ad cloaked as a consumer tip.

Researchers categorize stealth pitches as pieces with promotional tone or content, product placement and "news framing," a deal in which specific goods and companies -- increasingly including hospitals -- are inserted to illustrate stories, lending suspicion to some reports. Channel 3's allergy prevention story, interviewing a St. Rose Hospital pediatrician who has been a station source more than once? No allegations of an arrangement. But not knowing equals not trusting.

Sponsored segments are the final form: Channel 8's "Call Ed" Bernstein graphics wedged into traffic reports are a sibling to Channel 13's "Consumer Credit Counseling"/"Realty Executives" logos floating beneath five-day forecasts. Channel 8's "Boulder Cam" is a kissin' cousin to Channel 3's "Fitz Cam," "Rio Cam" and "Mandalay Bay Cam." And a recent Wagners' "Wake-Up" remote from Terrible Herbst Casino positively screamed sponsorship.

Ads were once apparent. Now you're not necessarily told you've been sold a bill of (news time) goods.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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