Last updated: April 2, 2009 - 8:19am
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation known for gifts to libraries and projects to promote health and education is less known as a behind-the-scenes influencer of public attitudes toward these issues by helping to shape story lines and insert messages into popular entertainment. Foundation money was used to develop the script for a recent episode of "ER" that featured the return of George Clooney. Now the Gates Foundation is set to expand its involvement and spend more money on influencing popular culture through a deal with Viacom, the parent company of MTV and its sister networks VH1, Nickelodeon and BET. It could be called "message placement": the social or philanthropic corollary to product placement deals in which marketers pay to feature products in shows and movies. Instead of selling Coca-Cola or G.M. cars, they promote education and healthy living.