The Situationist

Advertisement space for sale! Call now!

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 30, 2010

I have written in the past about the dangers of corporate sponsorship and the blurring of the lines between advertising and “content.”  Three years ago, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, for example, I was highly critical of several corporate deals for shows at the National Gallery of Art—in particular, Target’s prominent sponsorship of an exhibit of Jasper John’s target paintings.  As I argued,

The corporation as art critic may be inevitable. The wealthy members of society, in their role as patrons, have always had a profound influence on the course of art. But the current trend does not sit well with me. If financial realities force museums to cede control to corporate America, art may lose its magic. The artists and works to be celebrated will not be those that inspire, explain or expose, but those that get people to buy more Taco Bell burritos, iPods and Michelin radials. The very definition of art will be that which maximizes shareholder profit.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem that the leadership at the Post paid much attention to the various dangers suggested in the article.  Indeed, visiting D.C. last week, I was shocked to see the paper happily selling its journalistic integrity to the highest bidder.

On the front cover of the Sunday Parade magazine (which the Post chooses to circulate along with several hundred other papers), Lance Armstrong, offering his optimistic smile for a story about cancer, was shown wearing his racing jersey emblazoned with eight visible examples of the RadioShack name and corporate logo.  On the back cover, Armstrong appeared, again, wearing the same jersey in an actual advertisement for RadioShack.  Open up the pages of the magazine and there was a small headshot of Armstrong, cut down carefully so you could still read “The Shack” on his collar.

Back in the first half of the twentieth century, Robert McCormick, the famous publisher of the Chicago Tribune, mandated that those working on the business side of the paper take separate elevators from those making editorial judgments.  McCormick understood that a paper lived or died based on its reputation for independence and objectivity.  Yes, times are a lot tougher today in the newspaper business, but the Post should realize that some things just aren’t for sale.  It’s time to cut Parade magazine loose.

While Parade magazine has never been known for its high quality journalism and has always been advertisement-heavy, it’s not living up to its purported mission:

Parade begins with a single, powerful image that draws readers in and then holds them with stories that educate, entertain and empower.  Joining the right writer to the right idea, Parade consistently provides its readers with quality stories.  That quality itself is defined by three elements: clarity, authority and substance.  Each article must be clear in design and content and well researched and written with a voice of authority.  It must also have substance, telling readers something they didn’t know before and giving them an opportunity to effect change.

Or, maybe, Parade is living up to the mission—and I’ve just misinterpreted all of that . . . The image of Armstrong covered in the RadioShack logo certainly is powerful and I suppose that readers are given the opportunity to effect change, if you take “effect change” to mean “go to RadioShack to buy some great, high quality products” . . . Maybe I just need to relax and get myself a LIVESTRONG carbon fiber case for my new iPhone 4.

* * *

For  a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Rent this Space,” “The Unseen Behavioral Influence of Company Logos,” Marketing Revolution?,” “The Changing Face of Marketing?,”  “The Situation of Medical Research,” The Situation of University Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” “Subliminal Ads on the Brain,” and “The Big Game: What Corporation Are Learning about the Human Brain.” To review numerous Situationist posts discussing marketing and its effect, click here.

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4 Responses to “Advertisement space for sale! Call now!”

  1. Tamara Piety said

    Adam – I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a toxic blend of product placement and advertising in not just entertainment but in the places where we expect to get real information. While as you note, Parade has also been rather light reading, the casual blending of advertiser interests in editorial content is deeply disturbing. It parallels the way drug companies influence medical education and continuing medical education. It makes us eternally skeptical and for me anyway, mars even entertainment. Every time I go to a movie now I wonder what products are product placements and which are not. Nine times out of ten, if I ask the question, when I research it I find out that it is a product placement. That sort of skepticism applied to traditional sources of news makes it ever more difficult to sort out real information from promotion and I think contributes to the population’s cynicism and feelings of being ineffectual, that political activism is futile, because no one knows who to trust. Some of that sort of fear may underlie some of those who support the “Tea Party” movement. I disagree with their positions and tactics but I think some of the distrust of government is fomented by an environment in which it is generally difficult to discern who to trust and altruism is inherently suspect. Anyway, nice post!

  2. Brian H. said

    I love corporations to a point, but I really dislike their sponsorship, of not just art, but of ballparks too, especially ballparks. If they ever change the name of Wrigley Field, I’ll be sick. I know that already is a corporate name, but ….

    Also, look at product placement in movies. I always wonder, every time I see a Pepsi or a box of Wheaties, how much it cost the company to have it placed in that scene.

    It seems as if sometimes, life is just one big advertisement. Egads.

  3. Adam Benforado said

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments! I think what is particularly disheartening to me is that these types of decisions (to create an exhibit at a gallery that caters to a particular corporate sponsor or to blend the line between advertising and editorial content at a paper) have such an important (and negative) impact but can be initiated by people with the best of intentions.

  4. Willa said

    I pay a quick visit everyday some blogs and websites to read posts,
    except this weblog offers feature based content.

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