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Product placement pushes into print

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 29, 2005

On the new reality TV show "Three Wishes," host Amy Grant helps small-town folks solve their problems with the help of several familiar brand-name products, whose makers chip in goods or services in order to have them mentioned on the show. On "Meet Mister Mom," dads compete at running households while their wives are away, and the men use only authorized brands: They all clean with one household product, drive the kids in one brand of minivan, and shop at one predetermined department store.

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Such commercial arrangements, called product placements, have become ubiquitous since "Survivor" launched the reality TV craze five years ago. Analyzing the fall season, CBS television chairman Les Moonves declared in June, "I think you're going to see a quantum leap in the number of products integrated into your television shows this year."

Now some signs indicate that these practices may be infiltrating a much older medium: magazines and newspapers.

Revenue from product placements in magazine editorial copy - the stories and photographs - is expected to rise 17.5 percent to $160.9 million this year, and in newspapers by 16.9 percent to $65 million, says a report from PQ Media in Stamford, Conn., released in July.

The study measured all placements of products, whether paid for, exchanged in a barter arrangement, or included without compensation to the publication. It also counted such things as product reviews and photos of products provided by companies without charge.

Product placements, if done in exchange for payment, would violate the operating guidelines of most publications, which usually insist on a clear division between stories or "editorial copy" and advertising as a mark of responsible journalism.

An executive summary of the PQ Media report, titled "Product Placement Spending in Media 2005," did not specify any specific instances where products had been placed in a particular newspaper or magazine in return for payment. It did identify Ford Motor Co. and American Express as among those companies that participate in product placement in magazines.

"Magazines and newspapers are loath to discuss these types of deals publicly," says Patrick Quinn, founder and president of PQ Media. The advertising trade press, he says, has been reporting on other such arrangements.

In August, reported that Lexus, Toyota's luxury automobile brand, was in negotiations with unnamed publishers to try to find ways to integrate mentions of its cars into stories. One proposal from Lexus was that staff writers of the publication be employed to write "advertorials" that looked like stories but were really advertising copy. In another proposal, the company would pay to ensure that photos of its cars were included with stories. (Manufacturer-supplied photos are often used by publications, but at the publication's discretion and without payment.)

Product placement has a longer history in movies.

The paid placement of Reese's Pieces candy into the storyline of the children's movie "E.T." is often cited as a prime example. Books and musical recordings have seen their share of paid mentions of products too. Even Broadway plays are getting into the act.

On television, efforts to slip products into programs are a reaction to the growing popularity of digital video recorders, which enable viewers to effortlessly skip commercials.