Although media consumers have not always been comfortable with advertising, they developed a…

Although
media consumers have not always been comfortable with advertising, they
developed a resigned acceptance of it because it “pays the bills” of the media
system. Yet media consumers have their limits. Moments in which sponsors
stepped over the usual borders of advertising into the realm of media
content—including the TV quiz show and radio payola scandals, complimentary
newspaper reports about advertisers’ businesses, and product placement in TV
and movies—have generated the greatest legal and ethical debates about
advertising. Still, as advertising has become more pervasive and consumers more
discriminating, ad practitioners have searched for ways to weave their work
more seamlessly into the social and cultural fabric. Products now blend in as
props or even as “characters” in TV shows and movies. Search engines deliver
“paid” placements along with regular search results. Product placements—some
permanent, some networked to change with the user—are woven into video games.
Among the more intriguing efforts to become enmeshed in the culture are the ads
that exploit, distort, or transform the political and cultural meanings of
popular music. When Nike used the Beatles’ song “Revolution” (1968) to promote
Nike shoes in 1987 (“Nike Air is not a shoe . . . it’s a revolution,” the ad
said), many music fans were outraged to hear the Beatles’ music being used for
the first time to sell products. That was more than twenty years ago. These
days, having a popular song used in a TV commercial is considered a good career
move—even better than radio airplay. Similarly, while product placement in TV
and movies was hotly debated in the 1980s and 1990s, the explosive growth of
paid placements in video games hardly raises an eyebrow today. Even the lessons
of the quiz show scandals, which forced advertisers out of TV program
production in the late 1950s, are forgotten or ignored today as advertisers
have been warmly invited to help develop TV programs. Are we as a society
giving up on trying to set limits on the never-ending onslaught of advertising?
Are we weary of trying to keep advertising out of media production? Why do we
now seem less concerned about the integration of advertising into the core of
media culture?