Gold Medals, Paid for by the Colbert Nation

ColbertNationStephen Colbert, the funny guy whose show follows Jon Stewart’s on Comedy Central, is sponsoring the American national speedskating team.  The team faced a $300,000 budget shortfall after its primary sponsor, Dutch bank DSB, went under last month.  The Colbert Report is helping bail out the speedskating team by offering promotional consideration — including asking Colbert’s fans (a.k.a. the Colbert Nation) to send donations — and featuring speedskating segments on the show.  So far, the Colbert Nation has contributed $40,000 to the team.  In exchange, the U.S. Speedskating team is putting Colbert Nation logos on their uniforms in the run-up to the Winter Olympics.

While the pairing of The Colbert Report with the national speedskating team seems beneficial to both parties, it’s also an example of how promotional content is becoming increasingly, insidiously embedded into “real life.”  In the past couple years, advertisers have begun experimenting with paid placements and sponsorships in which promotional content is closely aligned with programming content.  Consider L’Oreal’s prominent role in Project Runway, for instance.  Or the Beijing Summer Olympics, where the U.S. team sported enormous Ralph Lauren polo ponies on their jackets during the opening ceremony.

Promotional messages have become so enmeshed with regular television programming in some cases that the FTC is considering requiring advertisers and programmers to identify when they’re doing a paid-for product pitch.  Proposals include — get this — a flashing red light on the TV screen to alert viewers that they’re being exposed to promotional material.


Last month, the FTC enacted some vague regulations requiring bloggers to disclose when they’ve been paid or given something of value to talk about a product.  Now, they’re talking about trying to protect people from insidious forms of product placement.  The simple fact is, as DVRs, Internet-streamed video and other on-demand content become the norm, advertisers will adapt their approach to get their messages heard.  The coming years will present an interesting range of ethical dilemmas in what constitutes fair disclosure of paid product promotions.  At this point, however, it may be premature to enact national regulations governing product placement.

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According to FTC bloggers also should disclose if you are secretly in love with Stephen Colbert. So, shame on you for not mentioning it.

Consumers always try to bypass the advertiser’s message… pop up blockers, ad-removers… but content owners are trying to fight back too.. e.g. Rupert Murdoch just announced he will remove all his content from Google…

Comment by Piotr

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