Our friends at the Progress & Freedom Foundation have filed comments with the FCC demonstrating why its proposed regulations against using product placement as a source of advertising revenues are unnecessary. I covered this ground in a commentary in July, but PFF goes onto press the FCC to show that consumers are harmed by the practice, one of many ways broadcasters and advertisers are trying to reach buyers in an age of DVRs and DVDs. “When brand names are used in program material, the public generally understands that some form of commercial sponsorship is involved,” the authors Ken Ferree and Adam Thierer explain. “Indeed, it is hard even to imagine that the American public could be as ignorant or naÃ?Â¯ve as a majority of the Commission appears to believe they are.” Still, the answer to the question I posed back in July, “Does the FCC think we’re all zombies?” appears to be an emphatic “Yes!” In line with this, Ferree and Thierer raise the “third-person” effect, a psychological phenomenon that has been cited for about 25 years as a prime driver of censorship and other paternalistic content and behavior regulation. “‘People tend to think that other people are fooled by what they themselves understand perfectly,'” they write, quoting research. “A rich literature exists on the myriad ways in which the third-person effect has predicated calls for speech controls and media regulation. “As discussed above, product placement and product integration have never been found to be false, misleading, or unlawful; there is no government interest in regulating commercial speech simply because it might be effective. Unless it is addressing some real and demonstrable harm to consumers, the FCC has no business interfering with private commercial speech.”
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.