The idea of paying for promotional consideration in online videos these days has become something of a cause celebre, particularly in recent days. No matter what side of the issue one lands on—and there's plenty of room for debate here—there are some critical points that bear considering before really establishing a stance on the idea of paying content creators for consideration in video of any sort.
Essentially, it could be described that some game companies—notably Microsoft
and Electronic Arts—were offering a kind of product placement arrangement with YouTube video creators, with the unexpected difference that the creators were asked not to note the relationship that had been established, something that led some to wonder if the companies, or the YouTube creators, could be cited under Federal Trade Commission
guidelines that discussed this kind of thing. But with the FTC's Betsy Lordan recently coming out to say that the guidelines were “not legally enforceable,” and following that up with “there are no monetary penalties or penalties of any kind associated with them”, that sort of took a lot of wind out of the sails of the concept that this might somehow be wrong.
However, while the guidelines have zero teeth, Lordan further explained that the guides were written to provide something of an early-warning mechanism related to actual law with actual penalties. The FTC would, essentially, act to notify a company that actually was violating guidelines that could lead to legal problems, which would give the company in question an opportunity to make changes that keep said company out of legal trouble.
That being said, I don't have a problem with paid promotional opportunities. Advertisers are having a tough time of it because they're beginning to discover something that us regular folk have known for like four decades now: we don't like advertising. We change the channel when the ads fire up on the radio. We use the DVR to skip commercials on television—Dish Network
sells a whole platform around it in the Hopper—and we fire up the ad blocker on our computers. Sure, we'll put up with ads because they're the only things that prevent us having to pay to get our content fix or our dose of the weather forecast, but we're not happy about ads. That's making advertisers have to think twice about how to get advertising in front of people's faces without running afoul of the change / flip / block / tune out that we normally do whenever they start shouting about how awesome their toilet paper is during our favorite shows.
Thus a kind of advertising that was featured in “Return of the Killer Tomatoes”, of all places, became popular: product placement. Take the product or service in question and display it, prominently, directly in the content itself. It can't be tuned out, it can't be lost without losing the content itself. For other examples, check out the “Wayne's World” movie as well as “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist,” where it gets a short musical number, and several more can be found. For Microsoft and Electronic Arts to use such a strategy is a smart idea, though for the sake of transparency, there really should be some kind of notation in the video, or on the page where the video is hosted.
This is no different really, and it's a win-win for pretty much everybody. The advertisers get the word out in a fashion that can't be readily ignored, the viewers get free content, and the content makers can eat and continue to make content instead of having to sacrifice their dreams on the altar of the nearest Seven-Eleven, sacrificed to the spirit known as “Living Indoors.” It's a pretty good arrangement, and though it's an arrangement that should be disclosed, it's still fundamentally sound. I'm not going to express distaste for this, because frankly, it's too good an idea.