On the stealth marketing front, the U.K. and the U.S. seem to be moving in opposite directions, with the former opening the door a crack and the latter closing it a bit.

Item: British TV opens up to product placement.

The Guardian reports that British communications industry regulator Ofcom is instituting new guidelines that “will enable commercial broadcasters to access new sources of revenue, whilst providing protection for audiences.”

The guidelines contain few surprises. Broadcasters will have to alert viewers when programmes containing product placement are aired by using an on-screen logo.

This logo will be unveiled by Ofcom in the new year and will have to appear for a minimum of three seconds at the start and end of programmes that contain product placement. It will also appear after shows return from advertising breaks.

Certain categories of programmes and products are also excluded from the changes, which follow legislation passed by parliament earlier this year legalising product placement.

It will not be permitted in children’s programming or news programmes. The practice will also be barred in current affairs shows produced in the UK and from religious programmes.

But product placements can appear in films, TV series, entertainment shows, and sports programs.

Count on it.

Item: ‘Do Not Track’ Legislation on track in U.S. Congress.

A California Democrat has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that “would allow the Federal Trade Commission to force online advertisers to respect the wishes of users who do not want to be tracked for marketing purposes,” as the Los Angeles Times reports.

The “Do Not Track” bill would give the FTC 18 months to come up with a set of regulations that would require advertisers to allow users to “effectively and easily” choose not to have their online behavior tracked or recorded.

“It really is a strong pro-consumer bill,” said Ryan Calo, director of the Consumer Privacy Project at Stanford Law School, who noted that the bill’s teeth included provisions that would allow state prosecutors to go after privacy violators if the FTC didn’t have time or resources.

At the same time, the FTC is making its own push for increased Internet privacy, reports Information Week:

Will the future see a “Do Not Track” setting in browsers that prevents data brokers and Web sites from tracking a consumer’s every click?

In December, the Federal Trade Commission made that recommendation when it released “Protecting consumer privacy in an era of rapid change: A proposed framework for businesses and policymakers.” In the proposal, released for public comment, the FTC said that the previous approach, in which industry groups could self-regulate by settingand disclosing their own privacy policies, had failed.

“Current privacy policies force consumers to bear too much burden in protecting their privacy,” said the FTC. Furthermore, it warned that more advanced technologies were enabling “rapid data collection and sharing that is often invisible to consumers.”

This comes on the heels of lawsuits over companies “history sniffing,” that is, mining consumers’ Web surfing histories for marketing purposes. It also comes as marketers start fundamentally rethinking their approach,  as Mashable notes:

Privacy challenges by public interest groups and the FTC are threatening to dismantle or seriously curtail the behavioral targeting model of interactive advertising as it stands today. Fearful of damaging relationships with their readers, many publishers are removing third-party widgets and other technologies when those technologies are found to capture and sell user data without the user’s express permission.

Instead, there’s a move toward “permission marketing:”

The concept of “Permission Marketing” isn’t new; in fact, Seth Godin’s 1999 book about “turning strangers into friends and friends into customers” seems remarkably prescient in today’s age of “Friending,” “Liking,” and “Following.” Godin told the (then e-mail-dominated) interactive industry, “By talking only to volunteers, Permission Marketing guarantees that consumers pay more attention to the marketing message. It serves both customers and marketers in a symbiotic exchange.”

What a concept – not hijacking consumers, but wooing them.


John Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is a media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University.
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