Sunday was a surreal night of television viewing for me. After reading a story about how Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) had managed to buy the right to weave an essay contest promoting its tomato soup into a series of episodes on NBC's drama American Dreams, I probably shouldn't have been surprised at what I saw when I tuned in to Fox (NYSE:FOX) for a bit.

First, it was Malcolm in the Middle pitching Applebee's (NASDAQ:APPB) as a place to meet for great food and great service. Then Arrested Development managed to get away with a pair of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) screen shots and a favorable mention of the new Ford (NYSE:F) Mustang. While The Simpsons was clearly lampooning Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) when Homer Simpson started working at Sprawl-Mart, I was so cynical by this point that I almost started to question the show's own brand of cynicism.

I don't think this is just a backlash against TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) and other digital video recorders that allow viewers to fly through commercials. The brand immersion works for many other reasons. For starters, it comes off as a genuine endorsement from the show's cast, which the viewer already finds endearing. It also gives the spot longevity as the show winds its way through reruns, syndication, and DVD sales.

So I can see why advertisers want in. I also see why producers of a popular show would be willing to take the extra money to slip in some carefully crafted product mentions. But that doesn't mean I have to like it as a consumer.

I don't like the recent wave of intrusive ads during sporting broadcasts, either, but at least those distractions don't take away from the quality of the athletic performance. The scripted ads in TV shows, even when they're worked in seamlessly, compromise the show's credibility. They feel forced. And I imagine this problem getting worse -- a lot worse -- before it gets better. But the networks, show producers, and sponsors may be in for a cruel surprise when viewers abandon shows that lack integrity. A television set won't make anyone any money if it's turned off.

Before you decide whether product placements have gone too far, consider the following:

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz let Marge Simpson get away with a Reese's Pieces quip on Sunday night, but he won't be as forgiving the next time around. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story -- so there! The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.