The Bravo Channel is known for its use of product placement in its series “Top Chef” and the first season of “Top Chef: Just Desserts” is no different. Several advertisements are present in each episode of the series, but in the October 27th episode titled “Dessert Wars” there was a particularly obvious example of product placement.
After a long day of preparation for the elimination challenge, the contestants return to their apartment. The scene then cuts to an image of a hand opening the freezer with a half-gallon of Breyer’s ice cream on the shelf. The next clip shows a hand grabbing a Godiva chocolate bar from a candy basket. However, there is no reference to these products and the contestants are never shown eating either product or even discussing it. The advertisements for these 2 products are so awkwardly placed in the episode that it leads to the suspicion that the hands shown are not even the hands of the actual contestants. It is pretty obvious that these 2 clips were added after the filming of the show and are meant to be strategic product advertisements. However, it would be more useful for Breyer’s or Godiva if the episode actually showed the contestants consuming the ice cream or the candy being advertised.
This leads to the issue of product placement in television. The Top Chef series ranks high on Nielsen’s list of most effective product placements. The Nielson Company is a global leader in providing research, ratings, and data for all types of media. In 2008, Nielson spend 2.25 million dollars to acquire IAG Research, a company that measures the effectiveness of advertising and product placement on over 210K episodes and over 250K commercial executions. Nielson IAG conducts thousands of surveys daily to measure viewer’s engagement and the effectiveness of every advertisement, product placement and sponsorship in primetime across all broadcast and major cable networks. These scores represent an audience’s level of awareness for the product placement, whether the exposure created positive or negative feelings toward the brand, and whether it raised interest to purchase that product. With the use of Nielson’s IAG research, an advertising company can target its products directly to its most receptive audience.
For 2009, 3 products advertised on Top Chef made Nielson’s top 10 list for the most effective product placements on brand opinion. The show also ranked #7 in the top 10 programs with product placement activity. The series relies heavily on product placement and brand integration for the challenges and tasks in each episode and several companies utilize a combination of product integration to advertise products during the show. Dawn hand care, Albertsons supermarkets, and Breyer’s are all examples of companies that air commercials, place products in scenes of the show, and have banners on the homepage of the Top Chef: Just Desserts website. Due to the success of this show’s product placement, it is no shock that many companies use the show as a vehicle to advertise.
With the increasing popularity of digital recording devices, many viewers are forwarding through the 30-second commercial spots. Advertising within television episodes is increasing drastically due to this trend. This raises the issue of if and how the government should manage advertisers. The Federal Communications Commission currently regulates sponsored programming under the Communications Act of 1934 and requires broadcasters to disclose to viewers if any content of the broadcast has been made in exchange for money, services, or other valuable consideration. These “sponsorship identification rules” are applied and enforced by the FCC in the context of product placement. Broadcasters typically comply with the FCC’s regulations by making a single disclosure at the end of the program that states the sponsors’ name or product. The Federal Trade Commission is only responsible for the regulation of product placements that include false or misleading objective, material claims about products. Consumer protection activists argue that the government should creates more stringent restrictions to prevent deceptive advertising techniques. However, commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment and more stringent regulations would likely violate broadcasters’ and advertisers’ rights. The government should not regulate at the cost of violating the Constitutional right of free expression, especially if the existing regulations are sufficient to address the potential deceptive nature of product placements. The government’s purpose in regulating product placements is to clearly identify any commercial sponsor to television viewers in order to avoid deception. With such blatant advertising as seen in the most recent episode of the newest Top Chef series, it is hard to imagine a viewer who will not realize such blatant product placements.