'The Ambassador' Diplomatically Won't Call It Advertising

Channel 2 viewers may not be familiar with the following names - Dr. David Ilan, Shimon Reisher, Esti Appelboim-Polani, Yossi Barel, Dr. Iris Kanor, Nissan Balkin and Dr. Ronen Hoffman - but in the coming weeks, they will be encountering them on a weekly basis. The academic track of the College of Administration paid Keshet television tens of thousands of dollars so that members of its faculty could serve as experts in their field on the television program "The Ambassador 2" and be presented as those chosen to train the contestants.

When Channel 1 invited politicians to appear on the station in order to get the Israel Broadcast Authority's annual budget approved or just to win a few personal points, this was disparaged as being "screen bribery." The same practice on commercial television, which in recent years has mushroomed to monstrous proportions, is neutrally designated as "marketing content." This is apparently how the creators - marketing executives, advertising agents and broadcasting executives - have managed to make it much less disturbing from a public aspect.

They fulminate at the use of the terms "hidden advertising" and demand to set the record straight. According to Telma Bino, CEO of the Israeli Advertisers Union, "It is important to call this kind of cooperation on television 'marketing content' in order to distinguish between it and 'sponsorship' and in order to avoid the term "hidden advertising" - a term that has negative, misunderstood and unsavory connotations." Consequently, the second season of "The Ambassador," which after two installments has received unexpectedly low ratings, is rich in "marketing content," really hidden advertising integrated into the program, but which is officially presented on a "sponsorship" slide almost as long as a regular commercial. Golden Lines, Samsung and other companies sponsor the program and have their products promoted by means of Israel's public relations problems in the world.

In fact, the vast possibilities for hidden advertising offered by reality programs are an economic incentive that is contributing to the proliferation of this type of programming (the budget of a single episode of "The Ambassador" is about $200,000, a huge sum in local TV terms). This further increases the mystery surrounding the involvement of commercial bodies in television programs. The "sponsorship" provided by the College of Administration to "The Ambassador" is of particular interest because it is a school that grants academic degrees and is thereby pushing a human product on the screen.

The lecturers of the College of Administration prepared the contestants before the filming of the program. Dr. Ilan, for example, gave a workshop on public speaking before foreign brokers; Appelboim-Polani specializes in preparing people to face a hostile audience and in personal branding; and Barel is an expert in interpersonal persuasion. One might expect the program production to pay for all this training, but instead it is the college that is paying the program so that its experts can give the contestants tips and analyze their behavior.

The deal with Keshet also includes special spots to be broadcast on weekends in which a different lecturer from the college will speak each week about the task facing the contestants and the skills that it will require. Danny Yaakobi, deputy CEO of marketing in the College of Administration's academic track, says that the initiative for the deal came from Keshet and that the college gladly agreed.

"We didn't want to just provide sponsorship," he says. "We looked for a natural connection. We are in charge of training the contestants to stand in front of an audience, persuade and prepare advertising material. Our message is that we are connected to what is happening out there, in addition to the academic level. The viewers can see for themselves if we were successful in teaching the contestants how to speak and persuade. The program suits us from a value aspect, as well as its prestige and ratings, too. The integration of our lecturers in the program identifies us with the program, besides the sponsorship slide that appears there each time."

According to the rules of the Second Broadcast Authority, "A franchisee may not broadcast any kind of advertising except in the form of a commercial announcement. [...] A franchisee may not broadcast masked advertising, subconscious advertising or incidental advertising." Masked advertising is defined as such when "it is broadcast in a way that a reasonable viewer may not identify it as containing advertising for a product or service."

But it would appear that these rules have not been binding on the broadcast bodies for some time now. The Second Broadcast Authority has established a committee that will look into the issue of hidden advertisement, thereby almost completely freeing itself from having to engage in enforcement in this area. Whereas in the first season of "The Ambassador," the Second Broadcast Authority still tried to demand that Keshet blur the large number of products that had been integrated so crudely into the program, in the second season, the Authority appears to have given up.

Asked about this report, Keshet responded: "The academic track of the College of Administration is one of the program's sponsors and its experts in the field of communications are involved in the program and train the contestants for their appearance before the camera and large audiences. All cooperation of this kind is carried out with the authorization of the Second Broadcast Authority and subject to its rules."

The Second Broadcast Authority said: "The subject is being looked into. In the places where there are violations of the code, the Authority will deal with them by means of the existing procedures."