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For Sale: prime editorial space

September 28, 2009
The seemingly innocuous if not utterly confusing opening spread
I could be over-reacting about this whole thing, but I was a bit confused when I opened up to the feature in the October issue of Toronto Life to see this spread (above). I probably thought about it for five minutes, wondering whose idea it was that a picture of birds on a telephone wire perfectly visualized Fall preview?
 
When I finally turned the page I saw the answer, which was far worse than simply a confused art director.
 
 
 
 
this is what $40,000 buys you. A nice piece of editorial

Now talk about an uncomfortable editorial and sales relationship. Toronto Life literally sold the opening spread to their cover story, something that is frowned upon by the media community, but heralded by the marketing one (figures).

I found out that Subaru paid somewhere in the area of $40,000 for this ad, which would explain why Toronto Life justified this utterly confusing spread for its cover. It turns out they’re far from the first people to be doing this though.

As reported over at Masthead Online, House and Home is being nominated for marketing awards for its clear breach of the sacred editorial/sales divide. The thing is, media is supposed to be objective, not covertly endorsing products. And the Toronto Life ad is definitely an example of what D.B Scott, the author of the Canadian Magazines blog who is quoted in the Masthead piece, would say is against Canadian magazine-editorial guidelines:

“Any advertisement that contains text or design elements that have an editorial appearance must be conspicuously identified with the word ‘advertising’ or ‘advertisement'”, he wrote.

That’s definitely not the case with this one.

But with reports that ad revenue is on a downward spiral everywhere, this is obviously a desperate effort to bring in the dollars. This may come off as naive, but to me it seems like it’s a clear case of selling your soul. Then again, looking at it from the other point of view, without revenue I guess your mag would have no soul (or anything, really) to sell.

Apparently the mag sees this as a big success though, and they’ve sold editorial space (or whatever you want to call this. It’s sort of a grey area) in the next two issues to GM for a cool $120,000 ($60K per isssue).

What are your thoughts? Has Toronto Life crossed over into the dark side, or is this just reality and I should suck it up and go buy a Subaru?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon permalink*
    September 28, 2009 4:10 pm

    This reminds me of two things:

    1) Macleans’ even more blatant ad on their front cover (http://canadianmags.blogspot.com/2009/04/omg-macleans-what-happened-to-your.html)

    2) Music written by birds on a wire: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10357175-52.html

    Personally, I’m strangely non-plussed by advertising reaching into the grey areas of magazines. You can argue either side until the cows come home, but sometimes making money is the means to achieve more justifiable ends.

  2. Dust permalink
    September 28, 2009 4:26 pm

    I’m betting TL would have done some consumer testing beforehand to predict the response of their subscribers before taking a risk. The fact that they’re selling GM next means that they were right and nobody gives a shit.

    Anyway, I’m a great fan of change – especially ones that break convention and tradition. I say we should see where this takes us.

    -d

    • Simon permalink*
      September 28, 2009 10:16 pm

      Possible, but I doubt it… readers tend not to really care about editorial objectivity (unless it directly impacts their lives, which is rare). Also, if magazines need to sell ad space on their cover and features, they probably can’t afford consumer testing.

      The reaction to the Macleans ad I posted above was so negative they’ve changed to a half gatefold since, not going anywhere near that scratch and sniff panel type dealy.

      It’s definitely a slippery slope. I almost want the ad to be less design oriented, so it’s more advertorial like. Subtle ads that blend into layout really are the tricky ricky. Is product placement and subconscious advertising the next frontier?

  3. jessekg permalink*
    September 28, 2009 4:36 pm

    Simon, That birds on a wire song is actually, for a brief minute, where I thought they were going with it. Then I realized that composing music to birds on a wire is fairly limiting, if not one-off thing, so an unlikely fall preview contender.

    As for that grey area, if it worked design-wise I wouldnt have been phased nearly as much. The fact that it didn’t though…

    unrelated note: just bought a subaru.

    • Dust permalink
      September 29, 2009 8:59 am

      Congrats! Remember, though – those were professional drivers on a closed course…

      -d

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