In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb. 27, 2006 / 29 Shevat, 5766

Product placement

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

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Is it a story or an ad?

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: Can I promote my product by having it unobtrusively written into a story?

A: A. The practice you refer to is known as "product placement". We can hardly doubt that people have been emulating the consumption practices of story heroes as long as they have been telling stories. Product placement takes advantage of this tendency by inducing story-tellers (including novelists and screenwriters) to introduce commercial products into their plots.

This type of advertising has greatly increased in recent years. In the early days of the practice it was limited to asking merchants to donate props, which in turn served as passive advertisements for the products. Later the agreements became more formal, and advertisers paid for use of their products in the story line. The practice really took off after an astute product placement in ET lead to skyrocketing sales for Reese's Pieces. (Disclaimer: I didn't get any benefits from Universal Studios or from the Hershey Company for mentioning their products here.)

The ethical problem with product placement is similar to the one with advertorials, the subject of an earlier column. We pointed out there that there's nothing wrong with advertising, as long as people know that they are facing a pitch by someone with an interest in sales. But people have a right to expect editorial content of publications to be objective, so inadequately labeled advertorials are deceptive, and ultimately counterproductive since they reflect badly on the quality of the publication.

Product placement is not quite as serious. Since the practice is so common, no one really expects the choice of brands used in a story line to be based solely on objective storytelling criteria. At the same time, there is no question that artists bear more responsibility to the audience than advertisers. This responsibility is reflected in a more privileged position as well. For example, commercial speech is subject to more regulation than artistic speech, and has more limited "freedom of speech" protection under the US Constitution.

Thus, a movie with product placement may need to be considered an advertisement. Indeed, a major 1980's film with a product placement for cigarette brand was screened with a warning against the dangers of smoking, as required for cigarette ads. (Don't expect my column to give added publicity to the film or the cigarettes.)

I don't think there's any need to forbid product placement, but I do think that two safeguards are necessary:

1. Product placement should be transparent. The front matter of the book, or the trailer of the movie, should state that brands X, Y and Z are included in the story as paid promotions.

2. Artistic works with product placement have to conform to the more limited freedom of commercial works. If ads are forbidden to peddle junk food to kids or cigarettes to adults, then movies should be forbidden too. The movies have to avoid exaggerated claims, misleading comparisons, and all the other strictures observed by ethical advertisers.

Of course the danger exists that once these limits are observed, audiences will start asking themselves why they are paying ten dollars to see a two-hour long commercial. Perhaps they will conclude that the studio should be paying them. On the other hand, maybe they will find the ads unobtrusive and the added budget a welcome contribution to film quality. Either way, introducing safeguards will ensure accountability to the audience.

In Judaism, the ideal is a reverse kind of product placement. Not a crass materialism whereby hidden messages degrades a story into a commercial, but rather a noble spirituality which elevates a mere story into a lesson for life. After all, even without commercials a story is only a story; the inner moral and spiritual message is what gives it a soul. Our tradition is filled with statements explaining that the events of the Torah are not merely stories, but rather carry a profound and often hidden message.

Commenting on the detailed description in the Torah of the encounter between Abraham's servant and the family of Rebecca, the intended wife of Isaac, Rashi writes: "The everyday speech of the servants of the Patriarchs is even more beautiful to God than the laws of the sons." Studying this story provides not diversion, but guidance for life, like the holy Law itself. (1)

And the Zohar teaches us that the stories of the Torah are like the garments of a person, and the laws like the body. But the inner spiritual message of the text is the very soul of the Torah. Like a subliminal message, this soul is not evident to the casual reader yet it has a powerful impact on his actions.

Our society loves a good story. There's nothing wrong with a story, but we should be careful not to let hidden messages turn stories into commercials. If we reflect carefully on the sad state of the entertainment industry, we can aspire to something higher: hidden ethical and spiritual messages that turn mere stories into uplifting and inspirational examples.

SOURCES: (1) Rashi's commentary on Genesis 24:42. (2) Zohar, Behaalotcha III:152a.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.


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