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Advertising vs. Editorial: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

  |  March 19, 2010   |  Comments

Intel and Verizon are blending advertising and editorial content. Can it be done right?

"Explore the Innovation Hall of Fame," reads an ad for Intel's 2010 Core Processors on NYTimes.com's home page this week. It encourages Web site visitors to roll over the ad to view selected articles from the newspaper's archive.

The takeover ad - built by Venables Bell & Partners and The Visionaire Group - then expands to show a blue circle; the circle's outer radius has a timeline spanning 1910 through 2010 and it included 10 hatch marks. The first mark, placed on 1914, leads to an article from that year headlined, "Evolution of the Motor Car Has Been Meteoric." Other articles from the NYT's archives herald the arrival of the phone, TV, mobile devices, and man's first walk on the moon - and were written at the time of those developments.

Move ahead to 2010: "Intel's Bet on Innovation Pays Off in Faster Chips," reads the headline that links to an article published Jan. 14, 2010 in The New York Times.

Don't be confused: This is an ad that incorporates articles written without the influence of the advertiser. Are readers smart enough to know the difference? I'd like to think so.

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Welcome to 2010, an era when The New York Times Co. and other publishers are experimenting with advertising and publishing technologies to help shore up revenues. These efforts come at a time when ad dollars are abandoning print newspapers and magazines faster than a Toyota careening down a California freeway.

Seismic changes in advertising and media - offline and online - were also the theme at last week's 2010 Media Summit, sponsored by Bloomberg BusinessWeek. There, Richard Samson, senior counsel at The New York Times, discussed another Intel home page domination ad at NYTimes.com. That ad, promoting the theme "looking to the future," included a mock up of what The New York Times might look like in 2040. "We were very careful...to maintain the integrity of journalism and not give an appearance of influence. Our editorial department is not at all involved in the ads," he said.

The New York Times is not alone in finding new ways to work with advertisers.

An Intel ad on Cnet's home page this week sent Web site visitors to a review page. Under an Intel ad on the review page, there is a list of headlines and links to Cnet news and features about products made with Intel processors. Next to that, there is a list of headlines, published under the title, "Articles and tools from Intel" that includes links to marketing materials from the processor manufacturer.

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And this week, Gannett-owned PointRoll introduced a new banner ad unit that allows advertising content to live inside a banner adjacent to editorial content pulled from a publisher's site.

In one example, an ad for Verizon's FiOS service incorporates video clips from Discovery's show,"Everest Beyond the Limit: Avalanche Alley." When a Web site visitor activates the video player to watch "Everest," she also sees a display ad for FiOS TV that reads, "See Everest the way it should be seen. On FiOS TV."

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Publishing and Advertising in the Hot Seat

In two high-profile cases, advertising has been the key issue involving lawsuits; one involves an online review site and the other, a print trade mag.

  • Two California businesses filed suit against Yelp, alleging the site removed positive reviews about their businesses when the firms did not purchase ads. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman contended in a blog post that the claims are false and "ignore empirical evidence in favor of conspiracy theories."

  • Variety, a trade magazine, has come under fire because a negative review about the movie "Iron Cross" disappeared from its Web site. Pundits questioned whether the review was removed because the movie producers paid Variety $400,000 to help promote the movie as an Academy Awards contender. According to NYTimes.com, the producers are now suing Variety for contractual breach, negligence, fraud and deceit, and unfair business practices.

Additionally, concern that bloggers had been accepting freebies from advertisers in trade for favorable reviews prompted the Federal Trade Commission to establish voluntary guidelines for product endorsements last year. The guidelines call for endorsements made through blog posts or other social media channels to disclose any "material connections" between advertiser and endorser.

LA Times, Down the Rabbit Hole

Or consider the dust up over an ad in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times. On March 5, the newspaper published a mock front page, which was part of a promotion for the movie, "Alice in Wonderland" and featured Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. (Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief of TheWrap.com, reports the ad pulled in $700,000 for the newspaper.)

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By end of day, the Times' newsroom received 175 calls and e-mails about the ad; most people were unhappy, wrote Deirdre Edgar, reader representative at the LA Times, in a blog post.

Wrote reader Jim Hergenrather of Los Angeles:

The use of a legitimate image of the front page of The Times as the background for a movie ad is an insult to journalism. It derides the value of news and simply suggests you have adopted the position that a newspaper's editorial content is now nothing more than a vehicle for marketing.

Yet other readers were amused. Wrote Richard Vallens of Irvine, CA:

The Alice in Wonderland (false) front page is absolutely, positively the cleverest idea EVER. It totally tricked me, in the most delightful way. Brilliantly executed. Brilliantly!

Bottom Line for Advertisers and Publishers

So how flexible should publishers be when working with advertisers? Most important, how will Web site visitors, fans, followers, and others respond to new advertising approaches that include the blending of editorial and advertising?

"We have to be clear in our disclosure who we are and on whose behalf we are reporting. It should not be hidden in the fine print," said Joelle Gropper Kaufman, SVP, worldwide marketing at Adify, a vertical ad network owned by Cox. "It serves advertisers and publishers well to make it clear to the consumer. We should all be striving for that...As long as we treat consumers [and] readers with respect, they will return it."

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Anna Maria Virzi

Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.

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