A Cover Ad That Mimics a Newspaper's Front Page
By Richard Perez-Pena, The New York Times
Published: March 5, 2010
A garishly multicolored image of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, in the film "Alice in Wonderland," occupies most of the paper's cover page, superimposed over what looks like the usual, sober front page. Above him is the "Los Angeles Times" banner, and bracketing his face are actual, recent articles.The top editor of The Times, Russ Stanton, and several of his deputies vigorously opposed the ad before it was published, but they were overruled by the paper's business executives, according to people with direct knowledge of the dispute.
John Conroy, a spokesman for The Times, said, "Stretching the boundaries was what we were going for."
Ads that completely cover a publication's front page, or are made to look like part of it — or both — are not unusual for trade magazines and some tabloid newspapers, but broadsheets have generally shunned them. But Mr. Conroy noted that however unorthodox the ad may be for print, it mirrors a common practice online of having an ad cover part or all of a Web site's home page for a few seconds. "It's taking a concept that we normally apply to new media and reimagining it to a concept in a newspaper," he said.
Traditional limits on advertising have relaxed across the industry as newspapers struggle to cope with steep ad declines. In the last few years, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal all began publishing ads on the lower parts of their front pages.
But The Los Angeles Times has gone several steps further. In April, it published a front-page ad for the TV series "Southland" that was made to look like a news article, prompting harsh criticism from media critics and its own journalists. Two months later, it published its first full front-page wrap-around ad, for the series "True Blood."
The "Alice in Wonderland" ad, which also wraps around the paper, introduces a new wrinkle, lending the name and work of The Times to an advertiser. For that reason, some Times journalists said they found it more troubling than the previous ads. "People are worried about what it does with the brand, the paper's name," said one reporter. "On the other hand, it's money that we badly need."
Geneva Overholser, director of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, said the new ad was "not quite as clearly offensive" as the "Southland" ad, "because nobody could be fooled into thinking this was real editorial content."
"It's a little troubling that they're blending editorial content with advertising," she said. "This isn't newspapering as it used to be, but that can't be the determinant any more."