Editorial: L.A. Times Ad: Print Product Placement

Apr 12, 2009  •  Post A Comment

The advertisement for “Southland” that NBC placed on the front page of the Los Angeles Times last week is either brilliant or inept—or accidentally a little of both.
Before we dissect this “Southland” ad—a print version of what would be considered a product-placement ad in the TV world—some caveats are in order. We are newspaper people. Beyond that, we’re edit-side people and we want to protect the integrity of the editorial product from commercial encroachments that could damage our credibility.
Take a look at the accompanying illustration. The ad has two elements: a vertical column of copy that looks much like a news story, and a banner across the bottom. The ad copy takes the form of a news story, reporting on a fictional ride-along with a police officer. It is set in a different typeface than the rest of the news content on the page. It is set off from the editorial content with the same thick rule that the Los Angeles Times uses to separate its stories from an index of its inside stories.
With regard to newspapering, the “Southland” ad is another sign of the apocalypse consuming daily metropolitan newspapers. It reflects the depths to which the dailies have sunk in their effort to remain commercially viable.
With regard to television marketing, we find the conception and execution of the ad troubling.
Even accounting for its “advertisement” disclaimer and NBC logo, the ad risks deceiving readers into thinking it is bona fide editorial content.
The execution of the ad also is appalling. It is analogous to the worst kind of product placement on TV, where the ad reduces the value of the content it infects. NBC should have executed this project more professionally.
There are typographical errors, a bad headline and subhead, and the narrative is difficult to follow. The thick black rule that sets the advertisement off from the rest of the page inexplicably runs down the right edge of the page.
So what about this advertisement was brilliant? It will resonate through the journalistic community, generating outrage (witness this editorial). It’s a classic case of there being no such thing as bad publicity.
But NBC should know better than anyone that a poorly executed product-placement ad can do more harm than good.


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