Inside the Box
Embedded Branding in Israeli Commercial Television
Policy Paper No. 95
- Written By: Anat Balint
- Supervisor: Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer
- Publication Date:
- Cover Type: E-Book
- Number Of Pages: 142 Pages
Although Israeli television channels ostensibly separate programming from commercials, Israeli television viewers are exposed to overt and covert commercial messages almost continuously, from the moment they turn on the TV. This phenomenon of "embedded advertising," which has emerged in Israeli commercial television over the past decade, is part of a global trend toward increased commercialization of media content, and is the subject of this study by Anat Balint.
This study by Anat Balint reveals the sweeping changes that have taken place in Israeli commercial television over the past decade, unbeknownst to viewers. Although Israeli television channels ostensibly make a clear division between the time that is allocated to programming and the time allocated to commercials, television programs are actually full of commercial messages—whether overt or covert—to which viewers are exposed almost continuously from the moment they turn on the TV. This phenomenon of "embedded advertising," also known as "branded content," is part of a global trend toward the increasing commercialization of media content.
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, embedded branding has become one of Israeli commercial television’s most dominant and problematic features. The line between programs and commercials is becoming increasingly blurred as commercial messages are regularly integrated into programming in various ways, such as through the inclusion of paid interviewees and experts, creation of fictional characters in TV drama and comedy series in line with commercial campaigns, designing sets according to a brand’s look and feel, product placement, and more. Thus, while there is ostensibly a clear division between the time allocated to programming and the time allocated to commercials, in actual fact viewers are exposed to an almost constant stream of commercial messages, both overt and covert.
This phenomenon is symptomatic of the rise of a new sector of the media and advertising industries, commonly called “branded content.” The agents active in this sector negotiate commercial deals between advertisers, broadcasting bodies, and production companies, even though such transactions are essentially against the law in Israel (according to the Second Authority for Radio and Television Act for Broadcasters, and the Communications Act for Multi-channel Platforms). According to Anat Balint, the author of this research, the term “branded content” is an oxymoron intended to conceal the true nature of these activities and their public impact, and to prevent any further critical discussion of the topic. Consequently, Balint has chosen the term “embedded branding.”
Embedded branding practices emerge as part of a global trend toward the increasing commercialization of media content, and are a focus of concern for regulatory bodies throughout the world. Their emergence is linked to economic and technological changes that threaten the traditional model of commercial television, which is based on mass viewing and the airing of commercials.
Two trends have led to the development of embedded branding:
- The transition of media bodies to cross-platform activity (television, Internet, and mobile telephony).
- The emerging dominance of brands in the marketing world and the assimilation of their values and visual representations in the everyday life of consumers.
- Embedded branding saturates television programming with commercial messages, and, from the viewer’s point of view, blurs the line between advertising and content to the point where the two become indistinguishable.
- Broadcasting bodies use a variety of methods to integrate advertisers, some permissible by regulation (sponsorship announcements and prizes for contests) and others prohibited (e.g., paid interviewees and experts or the creation of fictional characters). In other words, brand names are incorporated into media content continuously, in multi-layered and surreptitious way.
- Embedded branding can be found in virtually every genre in Israeli television. It is especially common in reality shows, soap operas and lifestyle programs, but is also found in drama series and documentaries, and affects the choice of topics covered by them or excluded from them.
- The news companies of Channels 2 and 10 have remained relatively insulated from commercialization because of their structural separation from the commercial franchise holders. Nevertheless, there have been some cases in which advertisers have infiltrated news content, particularly in the area of business programming.
- Embedded branding—in defiance of the Consumer Protection Act—violates viewers’ rights as consumers to identify commercial messages and address them critically.
- Embedded branding adversely affects viewers as media consumers because it demands “double payment” for television broadcasts—through watching commercials during scheduled commercial breaks, and also being exposed to advertising during the program itself—in exchange for a “product” (the program) that is now essentially biased in favor of commercial interests.
- The main damage is incurred to viewers in their role as citizens. Communicative messages promote discourse among citizens in the public sphere, while commercial messages seek to influence citizens for the benefit of private interests. When communicative messages become indistinguishable from commercial messages, public discourse cannot be based on the sincerity and authenticity of its participants. With time, suspicions may grow and viewers may become distrustful of any mediated communication.
Loss of trust in the media’s ability to serve as a central arena for public discourse is the most severe of the harms resulting from embedded branding practices. Mistrust not only threatens the democratic climate but can also have a boomerang effect on the broadcasting bodies that nurture these practices, as the broadcasting bodies’ very existence depends primarily on the trust of viewers.