Blurred logic

Blurred logic: In Thursday’s Christian Science Monitor, Clayton Collins re-hashes a worn-out clichŽ reports on “what some observers of the industry call a troubling trend: the peppering of magazine articles with product brand names.”

Collins blatantly ignores over 250 years of American magazine history by implying that something dating back to Benjamin Franklin is somehow new. But I will forgive him that oversight. What I don’t excuse him for is the implication in this piece that readers are idiots. Or, for that matter, that consumer products appearing in a consumer magazine is blurring some kind of line. Clayton, pick up a copy of Cargo if you want to see product placement on steroids (not to be confused with the placement of products of steroids). Pick up a copy of Southern Living and read about their idea homes if you want to see product placement as an art form. Using an article from Ski magazine that praises an SUV is not exactly investigative journalism. (Oh, did I mention that for authoritative insight, Collins quotes an analyst from the group that issued a study revealing how conservative NPR is? A group with the word “accuracy” in its name?)

Obviously, I’m also vexed by Collins lumping custom publishing in with the “product placement” non-story. Customer magazines are clearly labeled (i.e., “Christian Science”) with the sponsor and publisher of the magazine. There are no “hidden agendas,” that is, unless, the editor pretends that it is not a customer magazine.

(Please, let me stress that, as an observer of the publishing industry, I am not at all troubled with religious denominations peppering the brands of newspapers they own with denominational brand names. And I believe them when the Christian Science Monitor claims over and over that the newspaper is independent of the church that owns it. I don’t think that the half-dozen links to information about the church that can be found on their “about us” page blurs the line between advertising and articles. Granted, it may haze it, but it does not blur it.)

  • Hudge

    > And I believe them when the Christian Science Monitor claims over and over that the newspaper is independent of the church that owns it.<

    I still miss the Sunday edition

  • Rex Hammock

    Of church? or, the newspaper?

  • Clay Collins

    Some fair points, Rex. But I had no idea that product placement dates back to the days of Poor Richard’s Almanack, as you seem to imply.

    Fact is, no less an ad-watcher than AdAge carried a piece in mid-April describing a big new push by marketers to get products embedded in storylines. That Ski story is an arbitrary, but very current example of a “travel story” in a consumer mag doing double duty as a promo piece for a firm that’s also an advertiser, parsing out the tech specs of a vehicle in ridiculous detail (you’d have to read it to believe it).

    Readers may not be as astute as you think, otherwise there’d be a little more public debate on objectivity (as if). Have you cast an eye across American culturescape of late? There are plenty of people who buy that Fox News is an objective outlet.

    And yes, corporate custom publishing often does delude itself. (I spent four years in the industry.) The Benetton example to which you link is not such an aberration. Consider that a custom-pub guru notes that stories in Bloomingdale’s mag could appear in any lifestyles publication.

    Dunno. Just think it’s worth watching.