Product placement in TV news

MSNBC’s sponsorship deal with Starbucks has raised new questions about the shifting line between news and sales. As you probably know, the cable network’s Morning Joe program is now branded with a Starbucks logo, and that’s not all. The show sold its name to the coffee company, so it’s now “Morning Joe Brewed by Starbucks.” The question is, what else has it sold?

Starbucks reportedly is paying MSNBC $10 million, pretty good money at a time when advertising dollars are tight.  MSNBC’s Phil Griffin defended the deal to the AP:

The world is just different…The rules of 10, 15, 20 years ago just don’t apply. You can’t live by them. You’ve got to be creative.

Griffin insists that Morning Joe won’t pull any punches when Starbucks is in the news, but viewers could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The perception that MSNBC has given up its independence can only compromise its credibility.

Three years ago, when some local stations made similar deals, I wrote a column pointing out some of the pitfalls, but I didn’t expect a national network to follow suit. As far as I can recall, NBC hasn’t had a sponsorship deal quite like this since the old Camel News Caravan went off the air more than 50 years ago.

But the recession has hammered TV news budgets and, as RTNDA’s Ryan Murphy points out, it’s becoming easier to accept what might once have been anathema:

Say, for example, my former organization decided to sell an advertising skin that wrapped the homepage – something I would have been vehemently against – but the sponsorship money alone would have saved my job. Would I have been so against jeopardizing the product then?

About the only good thing you can say for the Starbucks-MSNBC deal is that it’s out in the open. At least viewers know the coffee company is paying for all that on-air promotion it’s getting and judge the content of the program accordingly.


2 Responses

  1. Let’s say that they won’t pull any punches when it comes to Starbucks now. It’s easy to stand strong when you don’t have anything to lose.

    The bigger problem comes down the road, say, as they budget for the next quarter. They have gotten used to that Starbucks money. They have plans on how they want to spend it.

    Now Starbucks has great power. If Starbucks says, downplay this angle about our stock price or about that lawsuit by the baristas, how strong will MSNBC be then?

  2. As I said on Twitter – Camel News Caravan anyone?

    Lets just hope we are not turning the clock back that far and this doesn’t become “What Starbucks wants, Starbucks gets.”

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