Ads disguised as editorial no longer shocking in the 'L.A. Times'

Posted on Fri Jul 2 2010


There's been a rampage through Universal Studios Hollywood—King Kong is the prime (unnamed) suspect—but the theme park is staying open despite the devastation. So reads LATEXTRA, the weird, sad section of the Los Angeles Times that's become a catchall for any news that breaks past mid-afternoon. But this LATEXTRA is a fake, even though it looks just like the regular section I thumb through every day. This time, I only do a minor double take as I realize it's a four-page ad for the revamped tram ride at Universal Studios, which features "King Kong 360 3-D created by Peter Jackson." The Times has made it a habit over the past year or so to collaborate with advertisers and dress up their media buys to look like legitimate news stories. Significant criticism, along with staff revolts and high-profile firings, have ensued. But I've become accustomed to this after seeing the now-canceled NBC drama Southland, HBO's hit True Blood, the Paramount three-hankie flick The Soloist and other entertainment offerings get the same treatment. The practice has lost its ability to stop me in my tracks. That's not to say the paper won't still take some heat for its continual, deliberate blurring of the news/advertising line. But honestly, it's become old hat. So, the question would be: Is it worth it, for either the paper or the marketer? Something tells me there will be a new, more church-and-state-obliterating version any day now. For the time being, I'm reading all about the gorilla-caused devastation at Dodger Stadium and the "colossal footprints found on the beach." Not impressed. But I hear the ride's awesome.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

Newspapers, and their advertisers, want a piece of the 3-D craze

Posted on Mon Jun 14 2010


3-D is taking over. First it was the movies (Avatar), then magazines (Esquire). Samsung introduced the first 3-D TV. Now, the super-hot, cutting-edge animation technology is coming to newspapers and television. The Philadelphia Inquirer, aka "The Inky" (BrandFreak's hometown paper), published a 3-D section in yesterday's Sunday paper, complete with special 3-D glasses for viewing. A number of advertisers, including ING Direct, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, the Pennsylvania Lottery, Hewlett-Packard and Best Buy, took out 3-D ads in the section. The new-school technology didn't prevent some old-school puns, including this groaner from ING: "Checking. Now in Free-D!" Not to be outdone, ESPN has also launched its 3-D sports channel, beginning with coverage of the World Cup. Reports so far have been encouraging, though the most wide-angle shots featured in soccer coverage might not be the best showcase for the new technology.

—Posted by Elaine Wong

'L.A. Times' gets mad as a hatter with 'Alice in Wonderland' wrap

Posted on Fri Mar 5 2010


The Mad Hatter has taken over the front page of my newspaper, and I don't know what's more unsettling—the kabuki-faced Johnny Depp staring at me before I've had coffee or the Los Angeles Times orchestrating another six-figure sell-out. Today's ad for Disney's 3-D Alice in Wonderland is superimposed over real news copy under the paper's iconic masthead, taking ad sales a step further than the in-bankruptcy company has ever done before. (And that's saying something.) A closer look shows the "advertisement" tag over the picture of Depp's colorful character. The four-page Alice ad wraps around the outside of the regular paper. The Times has found itself in ethical hot water on numerous occasions recently as it tries to cater to Hollywood studios that want clutter-busting ad opportunities. For instance, HBO's True Blood bought its own front-page wraparound this summer, also under the Times logo, but its vampire images weren't mingled with news copy. And last spring, an ad for NBC's cop show Southland appeared as a faux story on the front page. The latter example caused a staff furor and an executive shakeup. Each time, the line gets blurrier between content and commercial. That's by design. And readers have to be on their toes to separate the two because the Times, as a spokesman tells The Wrap, is just getting started. Caffeine, please!

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

Tricked-out cars urge you to hook up with 79 ChicagoNow blogs

Posted on Tue Aug 25 2009


Back when people used to slap bumper stickers on their cars, there was one in R. Crumb/Big Daddy Roth style that said, "If this van's a-rockin' don't come a-knockin'." Never loses its '70s trailer-park charm. That oldie sprang to mind today when I looked at an out-of-home stunt from marketing firm Zig for the Tribune Media Group, which runs 79 (count 'em, 79) local blogs under the ChicagoNow banner. (Print's dying, hadn't you heard?) To promote a blog called Sex and the Windy City, about relationships, Zig tricked out a car so it would sway to and fro, implying that a couple inside was getting all kinds of busy. Nice added touches: a trail of undies leading up to the scene and steamy car windows. (It's humid in Chicago!) Another stunt piled cars on top of each other to tout a blog about traffic, congestion and all manner of highway headaches. It's part of a larger campaign for the blogs, whose contributors include former White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell and past Playboy Playmate Candace Jordan (also identified as a "socialite"). Seems to be working so far, as Zig says there was a 234 percent increase in homepage traffic and a nearly 50 percent jump in registered users last week alone.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

'The New York Times' hates JCPenney more and more every day

Posted on Mon Aug 24 2009


Right-wingers have held for some time that The New York Times hates real Americans. But here's some proof that the paper hates real large ones: On Aug. 11, the paper's Style section ran a sneering piece by Cintra Wilson that questioned why the "dowdy" JCPenney would dare open a store in Midtown Manhattan. Here, it's worth quoting from the piece at length: "JCPenney has always trafficked in knockoffs that aren't quite up to Canal Street's illegal standards. It was never 'Get the look for less' so much as 'Get something vaguely shaped like the designer thing you want, but cut much more conservatively, made in all-petroleum materials, and with a too-similar wannabe logo that announces your inferiority to evil classmates as surely as if you were cursed to be followed around by a tuba section.' " As a coup de grace, Wilson noted that she had a hard time finding a size 2 on the racks, though there were abundant 10, 12 and 16s. Wilson's story got such a strong negative reaction that the Times' public editor, Clark Hoyt, felt compelled to respond yesterday, citing an official apology from Wilson and feedback from executive editor Bill Keller, who said he wished the paper never ran the story. The Times, however, had better hope JCPenney didn't read yesterday's Week in Review section. Right after Hoyt's column, an op-ed by Porochista Khapour about Thirtysomething contrasted the pleated pants and Ivy League sweatshirts the characters sported on the show to what her Iranian parents wore. "My parents," she writes, "overdressed, fallen aristocrats still holding on to their ’70s-best, spiked with ever more sore-thumbish Kmart and JCPenney additions, totally fell short."

—Posted by Todd Wasserman

'L.A. Times' keeps its streak of questionable ad placements alive

Posted on Fri Jun 12 2009

Timestrueblood copy

Expecting to see a giant photo of resplendent three-point-shooter Derek Fisher on the cover of my Los Angeles Times on Friday morning, I was shocked to find instead a moody full-page shot of a vampire with a streak of blood dripping from his mouth. Has the town been taken over by the undead, and can that possibly be more important than the NBA Finals? No, it's just our paper of record selling its soul again.
  Bill the hunky vampire is part of a four-page spread touting Sunday's return of the HBO cult fave True Blood. The ad has the venerable L.A. Times logo stamped on top, making it look like the real front page, and it's wrapped around the paper, so it's the first image that readers see. The word "advertisement" is printed in tiny type below the masthead. (Fisher, in fact, is on the real front page for his stellar run in Thursday night's win over the Orlando Magic). This is the third time lately, for those keeping count, that the Times has charged into ethically suspect territory with its advertisers. Readers protested this spring over a fake news story on page one for the NBC cop drama Southland and a Paramount Pictures-sponsored ad supplement for the three-hankie movie The Soloist that carried the well-known Times logo and "editorial" content.
  At least this time the ad-sales team stuck its neck out for a quality project. Even so, it'll probably come back to bite them. Photo by i_hate_my_screen_name on Flickr.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

'L.A. Times' really takes a shine to ethically suspect advertising

Posted on Mon Apr 13 2009

Soloist copy

It's time to check back in on the case of the Los Angeles Times vs. what's left of its ethics. Today's hubbub is over a four-page ad section promoting the upcoming Jamie Foxx/Robert Downey Jr. drama The Soloist that was tucked into the Sunday newspaper. Angelenos who still bother to read the print edition saw a section that looked much like the rest of the paper, except the film's name was stamped at the top of the front page, right under the well-known Times logo. The pages, from "Special Advertising Section" writers, detail the backstory of the best-selling book from L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, his friendship with a mentally ill, homeless musical prodigy, and the making of the Paramount film, which follows the man's return to the concert stage.
  Those who care about the distinction between advertising and editorial are none too pleased, and executive editor John Arthur said he was basically blindsided by the special section. (There seems to be some confusion internally, and now publicly, about who approves what, with ad folks saying they have the full blessing of editorial to sell such concepts. Guess no one told Arthur.) A Times sales executive also justified the Soloist ad by saying the paper produced a similar "editorial" piece for Universal's The Black Dahlia in 2006. But no one has yet pointed out this key fact: The ad for that bomb consisted of reprints of original news reports from the case—circa 1946. It looked like vintage newsprint, and that was the point. It stood out, for the right reasons. (It didn't help the box-office numbers much, though.) As I pointed out on Friday, the Times is exercising some dismal judgment here, recently running a front-page ad that looked like a news story for the derivative cop drama Southland. Now it's going to bat for a weepy Mr. Holland's Opus-looking flick that's generating little buzz in the industry. Worse than its bad decisions? Its bad taste. 

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

'L.A. Times' shoots itself in the foot ... for show like 'Southland'?

Posted on Fri Apr 10 2009

LATimesFrontPageNBCad copy

The Los Angeles Times supposedly stuck its neck out, ethically speaking, for a front-page ad that looked a lot like a regular news story. That is, except for the word "advertisement" and the NBC peacock on top.
  Did anyone really confuse the below-the-fold ad for Southland, a midseason cop drama, with real front-page news stories on Somali pirates and local immigration sweeps? Or were they fazed by the (now-routine) placement of a print ad on page one? Not the point, said 70 readers who complained and the paper's editor, who objected ahead of time to the ad, which was written from the perspective of a "reporter" riding along with a rookie cop (played by O.C. alum Ben McKenzie).
  The publisher, Eddy Hartenstein, defended the ad in a story in Friday's business section. After all, the paper's parent, Tribune Co., filed for bankruptcy a few months ago, and ad revenue's tough to come by. That's why the Times' ad sales team suggested the tactic to NBC, which hadn't planned to do any print ads for the much-touted Southland. A line was crossed here, and it's maybe the most egregious example of church/state shenanigans in the newspaper business. But I'm mostly miffed that the Times took a risk like this on a show so cliché-ridden and lame it resorted to cuss words (bleeped out) in the premiere to try to seem badass. If you're going to rip down the wall that separates ads from content, it'd better be for the return of Hill Street Blues. Or Homicide. But Southland? The fallout from the ad will probably last a lot longer than the series does.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

Further proof that the newspaper industry has gone to the dogs

Posted on Mon Mar 30 2009


People, as we're told again and again, just don't want to read newspapers anymore. That dismal reality has meant drastic cutbacks at most every tabloid and broadsheet. But things couldn't be better over at the West Highland Herald, which launched just today and is already being nosed through by panting readers across the country. Haven't heard of it? Oh, that's because you're not a dog.
  To add some woof to the launch of its new Sunrise breakfast-entree line, dog-food company Cesar (which makes "canine cuisine" exclusively for small breeds) is printing the first-ever newspaper that pledges to "portray the world from a small dog's point of view." The inaugural issue, created by BBDO's San Francisco office, features stories about new software that enables dogs to understand humans, an Oregon bulldog's quest to see in color, and a scandal piece about a dachshund photographed inside a hot-dog bun. What's a newspaper got to do with gourmet dog chow? Ceasar's top dog of marketing says that "breakfast time can be a bonding experience for small dogs and their owners." Even more so, presumably, when Fido has a paper to read, just like his master. The idea is cute, even if the master has canceled his own subscription. Street teams will distribute the Herald—including a possible second edition—until the end of next month. And when it's all over, well, you know Fido uses the newspaper for more than reading, anyway.

—Posted by Robert Klara



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