Dear FTC: Should 24 Disclose Writing Its Show Around Products?

Dear FTC. Instead of worrying about whether bloggers are disclosing all they should when writing about products, perhaps a little more attention should be focused on TV programs and product placement? This season’s 24 took things to a new level, where plot points were constructed around featuring a product. Is a tiny mention in credits at the end really disclosure enough?

I love 24. I’m sad to see it go. I’m used to exercising a huge degree of suspension of disbelief about some plot points, because I’ve enjoyed the show so much. But the plot points designed only to position products were one twist too far.

In one episode, Chloe and Arlo decide they need to work together secretly,  outside the CTU network but while within the CTU offices. “I know!,” Chloe says. “We’ll set up a mobile hotspot.” She pulls out a Sprint mobile modem, and they get working.

Um, all that modem is really designed to do is let one or more people get out on to the open web. So was she using that to go outside, then log back into CTU’s network, which they were trying to avoid in the first place?

It was a plot point solely because someone was told, “Write something in about Sprint hotspots.” It was awkward and stood out (and didn’t go unnoticed).

In the finale, Cole’s sitting in his car finishing up a phone conversation when a big truck pulls up alongside him. Ohh — something ominous? No, it was just designed so Cole had to backup his Hyundai using its rear TV camera in it to navigate away from the truck.

There was no reason for the truck to be there, other than to highlight that camera segment.

You want to show me ads during breaks in my TV shows? Fine. Want to have some products get camera time. I guess I’ll live with that. But writing the plots around products, in exchange for payment. That’s not on.


  1. Dude really says

    Hey Mr Sullivan,

    I enjoyed this article as I am a fan of 24 and had noted the same spammy ad placements. But then just reading the blurb before posting this I have just decided, without meeting you, that you sir are a plum.

    Why dont you just say: “Matt Cutts is my mate and I will threaten people with my powerful position whilst also showing my closeness to Google and my anger at spam (like Google, my friend)”

    Get over yourself.

  2. says

    Yes, it is a threat. I sure hope it’s a threat. That’s the point. Spam sucks. I don’t want spammers feeling comfortable spamming. Unless you have a great love of spammers, you can do the same threat.

    In fact, I explained all this when I put my warning up, including instructions on how anyone could make the same threat:

    I should add a link to that to my warning, because the post gives more context. I get no special favors from Google. Maybe they do something; maybe they don’t. I also don’t bother with sending a direct report unless someone is really, really annoying, like this:

    Sorry you took it as a “look at me, I’m special type of thing.” It wasn’t mean to be that way.

  3. says

    24 is good for their product placements, as is 30 Rock, but if you’d really like to see it being instrumental to the plot, I suggest that you pull up the last two episodes of the cartoonish Human Target on Hulu.

    A big plot point was their use of OnStar and how it comes in the newer GMs, though as I put in the Hulu comments when someone balked, I actually learned about the product’s capabilities from it and a quick check showed that their use correct.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, if a couple of sales didn’t come from it.

  4. says

    The product placements in 24, and lots of other shows is probably not obvious to the casual viewer. I would love to see a crawl appear with each paid appearance. Have you ever watched NCIS(i might be the only dork to watch, but hey) they carry around coffee cups and i am willing to bet they are pitching starbucks or pete’s or whoever – to show how many times they can show a cup, mention coffee or include it in. Get someone to investigate that for me!