John Oliver zeroed in on local news stations selling sponsored content during news broadcasts on Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” and to prove how shockingly easy it is to get on a channel with any illegitimate product, Oliver created a fake sexual wellness blanket called the Venus Veil and got it covered on three shows.
With the help of a hired actress who hawked the product on several shows, Oliver and the “Last Week Tonight” team were able to get the Venus Veil advertised on legitimate news program on KVUE Austin, ABC4 Utah, and Denver-based Mile High Living.
Oliver’s Venus Veil is literally just a blanket — but it claims it “works confidentially to fix erectile issues and improve vaginal lubrication” using “magnetogenetics.”
“Right now, it’s far too easy to make a ridiculous product that makes outlandish claims and get it onto local TV. And the reason I know that is, we did,” Oliver said. “We started a company called Venus Inventions and created something called the Venus Veil, an absurd medical product based on technology that absolutely doesn’t exist.”
Clips of the “Last Week Tonight” actress selling the Venus Veil can be found on their new website, Venusinventions.com which features this amazing graphic, that presumably is supposed to illustrate the blanket’s, uh, alleged sexual healing properties.
John Oliver then pointed out that many news stations “swap figures between their newsroom and their sponsored content shows,” just like ABC4 Utah’s Surae Chinn, who serves as the station’s chief medical correspondent and also anchors several of its sponsored content bits. Chinn actually was one of the anchors in a sponsored content segment for the Venus Veil and Oliver noted that she didn’t ask as many questions about the blanket’s supposed sexual benefits as you’d expect a chief medical correspondent to.
“I would love to tell you it was difficult to get on but it really wasn’t,” Oliver said, noting the HBO show paid less than $7,200 to appear on all three shows.
Oliver said he took inspiration from PR firm Presley Media‘s brand ambassador and “lifestyle expert” Michelle Yarn, who hawks all sorts of (as he put it) “terrifying products” on local TV, including deep-fried Doritos nachos and a life-size Velveeta fondue fountain.
If you’re not really familiar with what sponsored content is, don’t worry, you’re not supposed to be. The entire point of sponsored content is that it’s a form of media advertising the viewers or readers don’t immediately recognize as an ad. Essentially, it’s when advertisers pay news programs to integrate their product into the rest of their coverage as seamlessly as possible.
John Oliver argued during his show Sunday evening that blurring the line between news and ads with sponsored content damages a news program’s credibility. He also argued that it also allows any old product to buy access to viewer’s loyalty and trust for usually absurdly low prices, potentially devaluing any other actually legitimate information that might be shown on the news station.
Watch Oliver’s full segment above.