Limited Subliminal Ads Legalized for TV

The Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting approved Thursday new rules allowing subliminal advertising on two channels: the Music Channel and the Russian-language channel Israel Plus. The stations are obliged to make a full disclosure at the beginning and end of each program. The council approved the rules on a temporary six-month basis.

The decision signals an unprecedented policy shift regarding this hot potato issue. Until now, television channels were required to maintain an absolute division between program content and advertising. Despite this, television stations over the past few years have been awash in subliminal advertising messages, at the initiative of broadcasters, producers and advertisers.

Supervisory authorities mostly avoided enforcing the rules and levying fines, thus allowing the expansion of the product placement market.

Council chair Yoram Mokedy led the way toward approving the new rules, which forbid subliminal advertising on news, current events and investigative programs, as well as documentaries, children's programs, dramas and movies. It is also forbidden during music channel film clips. However, the rules permit it on entertainment and reality shows, and telenovelas. Shows containing product placements must state at the beginning and end of each program which companies provided funding and that their products and services were integrated into the show.

On the other hand, broadcasters do not have to tell viewers which products and messages were worked into the program and how.

Subliminal advertising is expressed in various ways. These may include designing the program in the spirit of the sponsoring company's branding (such as "A Star is Born," where the sets are designed and colored based on the Cellcom and Coca-Cola brands); placing the product into the plot ("The Ambassador," "Telenovela, Inc.," etc.); skits referring to ads ("Wonderful Country") and even direct product promotion ("Odetta").

The directors and screenplay writers unions, as well as the Israel Consumer Council (ICC) oppose approving subliminal advertising, fearing the move will harm creative freedom in favor of commercial interests and deception of viewers. The ICC recently asked the Finance Ministry consumer ombudsman to intervene to halt Mokedy.

Mokedy says that the new rules will bring order to an out-of-control field, making subliminal advertising overt through disclosure. Along with approving the new regulations, he intends to intensify enforcement among stations who have been using such advertising virtually undisturbed.