Editorial: Selling integrity

In medieval England, advertising primarily consisted of a town crier shouting political proclamations in the public square. In today’s world, a dapper gentleman in a tricorne hat shouting, “Hear ye! Hear ye! Just do it!” would be written off as either part of an innovative–and puzzling–new marketing campaign, or as a schizophrenic. Over the last 400 years, media has changed immensely. The Internet has made individuals privy to a wealth of information at any given moment–and print media is scrambling to stay relevant.

With the same progression leading readers to the Internet for information they once obtained from newspapers or specialty magazines, advertisers have also felt the push to diversify their means. Pop-up ads were once a way for marketers to peddle their wares via the internet–albeit obnoxiously–but the irritating nature of the medium in combination with increasingly savvy software blocks have foiled their success.

It’s an example of a phenomenon known as ad creep, in which pop culture becomes increasingly commercialized. As technological advances like TiVos and iPods have made it easier for consumers to avoid ads, marketers have been forced to become more pervasive, placing ads where consumers can’t miss them. Similarly, but far more sinister, is the appearance of product placement in print.

Frustrated with the lack of success from the ad firms they’d been throwing cash at; marketers instead go straight to the source. The idea is to compensate editors and writers for casual mentions of products in editorial content, thus engaging readers who would otherwise overlook a traditional ad.

These are very murky waters. Casually mentioning products already tends to arise in print as a symptom of incorporating pop culture references into writing. As an example, referring to “blowing up hookers on the latest third-person free-roamer,” lacks the punch and reader accord that could be achieved with a quick mention of Grand Theft Auto. Ethical qualms arise, however, when financial compensation becomes involved. A publication’s readership is likely to lose respect for a rag willing to compromise content for cash. And rightly so.

While casual product mention is a more clandestine method of avant-garde advertising, marketers haven’t shied away from more blatant venues, either. Referring to it as “Prime real estate,” publisher Noah Godfrey sold the cover of the now defunct CanWest publication, Dose, several times during its lifetime. While the full-cover ad may have helped Telus sell a few more cell phones over the holiday season, the premium paid to Dose, evidently, was not substantial enough to keep the rag in business. In spite of advertising cover-wraps and rampant product placement–including a Batman-themed issue with 70 brand integration points when Batman Begins was released–Dose’s print version still went under last May.

The Gauntlet has been approached about both casually mentioning various products in articles and selling our cover to advertisers. Suffice to say; we refused. While the offers are tempting, publications must avoid compromising their integrity in exchange for revenue. Selling editorial content compromises everything good print media stands for. Keep in mind, however, that it happens–a lot. As for the Gauntlet, however, we assure you any product mention is pure coincidence. Now excuse me while I go enjoy an ice-cold guarana-infused energy drink.

-Kate Foote,
Opinions Editor

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