Tony Pieper

On the September 10 finale of ABC's Bachelor Pad, Tony Pieper surprised his new girlfriend (and fellow castoff contestant) Blakeley Jones by getting down on one knee and popping the question.

Even more unexpected than the romantic gesture? The 2.5-carat Neil Lane engagement ring that Tony produced — worth an estimated $40K-plus — especially considering that the lumber trader, a single dad, had spent the entire season kvetching about how badly he needed money. Did the groom-to-be suddenly come into an unexpected fortune, or did he get a major assist from Neil Lane, the same jeweler that provides the bling for the Bachelor and Bachelorette finale proposals?

Reps for ABC and Neil Lane declined to comment, but according to Jeff Greenfield, co-founder and COO of C3 Metrics, an advertising measurement company in NYC, the scenario reeks of product placement. "I guarantee you he did not pay for that ring," says Greenfield, pointing out that a plug on a hit primetime show like Bachelor Pad, which delivered 4.3 million viewers on Monday night, "is worth something in the millions of dollars for Neil Lane." And thanks to all of the subsequent press surrounding the engagement, which breathlessly accounted for every detail of the sparkler, "it's the gift that keeps on giving," adds Greenfield.

Although the powers that be are under no obligation to fess up about the cozy arrangement with Neil Lane — other than a promotional consideration mention in the ending credits — it can be misleading for fans who imagine that Tony and Blakeley are following the path of a regular couple.

"Unfortunately, people believe what they see," says Greenfield. "That's why product placement is the most powerful form of advertising." The lesson for the viewer, then: When it comes to reality TV at least, fairy-tale endings should be taken with a grain of salt.

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