Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Like William Hurt in Broadcast News, I don't know what crosses the line if the line keeps moving

The Caffeine Goddess tackles the subject of product placement in magazines and highlights this AdAge quote from a very self-assured Jane columnist: "I want readers to know my content hasn’t been dictated by advertising."

Oops. Too late.

I hardly have a good memory. Still, just in the past few days -- just while avoiding actual work to read the usual blogs -- several remarks seem to indicate that content is, let's say, shaped by advertisers. There's this Glenn Reynolds reaction to a Richard Posner article on blogs in which Posner argues the NYTimes, in order to "finance its large staff depends on advertising revenues and hence on the good will of advertisers.... These dependences constrain a newspaper in a variety of ways."

Or in a KausFiles post about Chrysler, there's this throwaway line: "Mercedes reliability did go to hell under Schrempp. The AP story run by WaPo ignores this rather important factor. (It's not the sort of thing newspapers are comfortable saying.)"

You say "comfortable." I say "dictated."

Reynolds himself asks "when did you last see a local paper do a big expose on car dealers or grocery stores?" Well, a local Dallas station did try reporting on Ford but when faced with losing ad dollars, they used their sister newspaper to repair the damage. And we're not even talking about magazines like InStyle or the lifestyle section of local papers, which are pure, pure product placements. (Aren't beauty editors, when not stocking their own shelves with swag, merely ad facilitators?) There may be real ethics to hash out here, but there's a lot of alarmist, self-important rhetoric that gets in the way. Hell, even ads get in the way. Yesterday, AdRants invited readers to comment on Gawker's unappealing sponsored date placers but to read the comments, you have to scroll past a Hewlett-Packard ad that looks just like, you guessed it, a regular AdRants post.

I guess it's good in a way. It's progress, right? After all, we've come a long way from the advertorial.

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