Monday, October 31, 2005

Another Stealth Marketing Variant: Advertising Disguised as TV News

The Washington Times reported how government agencies and corporations have paid television stations to insert marketing into news reports, and for endorsements by news reporters. Some of the examples cited were health care related:
  • The Washington, DC Department of Human Services contracted with CBS affiliated WUSA to mention the Buddy Check 9 program (to get people to remind friends to perform breast self-examination on the ninth day of the month) during newscasts, and to direct viewer's to the Department's web-site. The Department paid the station $100,000 per year in 2002 and 2003.
  • WUSA reporter Peggy Fox participated on broadcast advertising for an anti-obesity campaign, "Lighten Up, Washington, by the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute. The advertising appeared to be public service announcements, but included pictures of the Institute, and the Inova logo.
  • George Washington University Hospital sponsored a "High Tech Health" segment durings the 10 PM news broadcast by Fox affiliated WTTG-TV.
Regardless of the content of these messages, delivering advertising in a way to make it look like news is fundamentally deceptive. The Times noted that this practice violates two ethical principles of broadcast news: "TV stations should not use their newscasts to advertise products and services, and news anchors should not appear in paid commercials." It is particularly unfortunate that hospitals and local government health care agencies are the organizations supporting this dishonesty.

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