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Chris Chase

Is NBC going too far with integrated advertising?

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Critics are slamming Olympic broadcaster NBC for its shameless use of product placement during coverage of the Winter Games. The 30-second spots for an upcoming Dreamworks film have been integrated into live coverage of the Olympics and have enraged viewers with their blurring of the sacred line between editorial news coverage and advertising.

Monday, Bob Costas wrapped up a brief commentary on Bode Miller and segued into what appeared to be a preview of the snowboardcross competition. But, without warning, it turned into a shill for the new Dreamworks movie, How To Train Your Dragon. Costas said:

Still to come, the first day of snowboarding competition at Cypress. Though the sport has only been in the Olympics for about a decade, it has a much longer history. In fact, the people of Dreamworks have imagined what it would have been like in the times of the Vikings of old. So old we're not talking about Brett Favre or even Fran Tarkenton, take a look.

A 30-second vignette, specially made for the Olympics, followed. It was narrated by late night talk show host Craig Ferguson and detailed how viking snowboarding was created in 1010 by a young man who just happens to be the main character of the upcoming dragon movie. (Oddly, his name and role was never mentioned in the spot. It was more of a stand-alone spot rather than a preview of the movie.)

He gets chased by monsters and then accidentally finds himself snowboarding down a mountain and I'm pretty sure you can guess where it went from there. The animation was nice, but the Wile E. Coyote-like fall the kid takes in the end was a bit derivative.

Product integration and placement is by now old hat on television. It's no accident that Simon Cowell drinks from a Coke cup that always has its logo pointed toward the cameras on American Idol. That's different though. It's subtle advertising that doesn't offend the viewer. To blatantly misdirect people during a news portion of a broadcast is completely different. It's an insult.

We don't begrudge NBC the right to make money and for Dreamworks to promote its film, but it should be done in the proper forums. The network later touted a "special preview" of Martin Scorcese's "Shutter Island" later in the evening, and it didn't seem to bother anyone since it was done with a proper delineation between the Olympics and advertising on the Olympics.

To his credit, Costas looked pretty disgusted when reading the script that led into the preview. If there was a font for "dripping with disdain," I would have included it in the blockquote above.

The ads have been running since Friday and are set to continue through Thursday.

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