Stop the press, they’re putting ads on the page!

Full image.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel “Hot-L”.

a WHILE back The New York Times, announcing that it was going to put ads on the front of the Business section,* mentioned, with a shudder, that the Wall Street Journal was actually going to put ads on their Page One.

This unspoken aversion dates from the 30s, when Henry Luce declared that the separation between the business side and the editorial side should be like the separation between Church and State. The rule of course did not apply to Luce himself, any more than it had to William Randolph Hearst. Nor have later magazine editor-publishers, such as Hugh Hefner, Jann Wenner, or Felix Dennis paid any attention to the idea.

But it played well in the newsrooms, and in the journalism schools of 50s, by which time newspapers had become assumed such an air of institutional permanence that they could afford a little Marxism among the working hacks.

The notion that some readers buy the product as much for the ads as the editorial content does not occur to most J-school grads. I’ve even met fashion editors at Vogue magazine who reject the assertion that some people buy the magazine solely for the ads.

But, at least in Far West Texas, people can immediately tell the difference between ads and news, or ads and gossip or whatever content you’re publishing. There is always something unreal, like the smile of a car salesman, that tips you off, even subconsciously.

In any case now the separation is breaking down, and the J-school crowd is troubled, but I wonder if the readers are.

Our friends at Newsdesigner presented, without comment, a “Hot-L” Macy’s ad in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. There is nothing in a traditional rate card against such an ad, except that the editorial space should always be above advertising.

A big argument broke out in Houston this spring when Capital One sent in an insertion order for an ad that broke this rule, big time. It went across two pages, and left three cut outs at the bottom for editorial copy. The newsroom was in a dither.

Asked my opinion by a Chronicle editor, I suggested that there was nothing wrong with the ad, except that it was upside down. Readers seemed to like it, and I have to say I had no trouble telling the difference between ad and edit. This is the ultimate issue. The trend argues for even stronger branding for newspaper typography, what I call shark-baiting.

Newsdesigner points to a Jack Shafer column in Slate which ridicules the anti-advertising sentiment in newsrooms, pointing out that the front pages of quite distinguished papers used to consist completely of ads. Shafer says that the web has conditioned people to accept intrusive advertising.

Well at least, in print the ads are not blinking at you.

The question is what are newspapers (or magazines) getting out of these intrusions. ?

*     *     *

We’ve Established Your Profession—
Now We Are Just Haggling Over Price

  • Can you tell the difference between advertising and editorial?
  • What’s the premium? Is the ad department just moving revenue from one page to another, or is there a net gain in revenue? This particularly important for the front page. I don't sell ads, but I would price a front page ad at double the cost of a color page inside.
  • What are the rules of engagement? I’m still put off by adds on top, but hey, I am a Baby Boomer. The key is for ads to be placed consistently. Much worse than these funny-shaped ads are the ragged “keystone” layout of the ads in most dailies. How much better they would look if the ads stacked in units of columns—in descending order of size, so the big ads are on top.
  • Much more hideous than this are the print classified sections. No wonder customers are turning to Craigslist. The want ads in most papers look like government forms in third-world counties. More on that, later.

* The Times item is archived behind the subscriber wall.

Your Thoughts (3 comments)

2006-09-14 by Sheldon Kotyk

Nothing wrong with ads

I believe advertising is necessary and therefore not a problem as long as it is not trickery. For example, advertising that looks like a regular news item with a very small note saying that it is advertising.

2006-09-15 by Steve Brooks

Front Page Headlines

Not to be cynical, isn't the headline that appears on the front page written as an ad...uh, to attract readers. I mean newsstand sales is still factored into circulation, no?

2006-10-10 by Tiffany

A comment in regards to buying magazine for the ads: I'm guilty of this for the September issue of the so-called high fashion mags, like W and Vogue. There is some great work in that issue, in particular, and I wonder why advertising doesn't try harder year round.

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