Did WSJ.com and NYTimes.com cross the line last week?

0DyrbUu_dxsPzzfMMoG3GmWNcQ3qhST2XVvCPK9xktsLast week, I wrote that while I believed it was brilliant, the animated Apple advertisement that appeared on the front page of NYTimes.com and, especially, the Wall Street Journal website, may have crossed some as-yet-determined line of what is okay — or not okay — with online advertising on news-media websites. In that post, I wrote: “The ad’s headline is in a little ruled box, but it’s in a font that is extremely similar to the actual headlines on the page…it’s obvious to you and me and probably 99% of the WSJ.com and NYTimes.com readers that this is an ad, but if this had appeared in a magazine, well, let’s just say it would have at least needed some clarification or a major ASME bruhaha would be taking place today.” Later, David Kaplan of PaidContent.org noted that the folks at NYTimes.com had decided to limit the giant ads to “once a month.”

I thought by displaying the current news-screaming front page of WSJ.com with last week’s “ad giant” front page may demonstrate why it’s a challenge to experiment with editorial real-estate and conventions that you have trained readers to believe are reserved for only the most major news story. In this case, I think the experiment — despite its brilliance as advertising — needs some re-thinking.

  • I’ve just found your blog and have enjoyed spending a few minutes catching up. Nice work.

    I’ve got a question and a couple of comments.

    First, in reading this post and your post of the 17th, you’ve made references to this being “brilliance in advertising.” How do you know? I haven’t seen any indications from Apple that this ad has measurably improved brand perception or purchase consideration scores. Nor have I seen any indication (yet) that sales–the only measure of advertising brilliance that I track–has gone up. Do you know something that we haven’t heard yet?

    Now the comments. The sad truth is that homepage takeovers like this are going to become much more common as more content moves to free. Something’s got to pay the bills and with the sales department always pressing for rich media takeovers and with editorial teams having less pull, I can see the scale slowly tipping toward more intrusive units which also blur the church/state line.

    As far as the church/state line, I think **maybe** I like the Apple type of ad than what CNET’s done. Yeah, the Apple ad typeface looks a lot like WSJ, but as soon as I saw the Mac and PC guy, I got the picture. When I go to CNET, I’m even fooled when trying to tell between editorial and paid placements. So much that I don’t trust them at all anymore.

  • Rex Hammock

    Huh? “Measurable brand perception or purchase consideration scores”? Purchase consideration scores? What has purchase consideration got to do with this?

    Why not just track purchases?

    While you may be measuring “brand perception,” here’s what happened in the “brand reality” department: From October to December, Apple shipped the most Macs ever in one quarter: 2.32 million, a 7 percent increase over the previous quarter and a 38 percent increase year-over-year. Desktop sales increased 20 percent from the previous quarter. Year-over-year, laptop sales rose 38 percent and desktops 53 percent. Mac desktop rate of growth was over five times that projected for the overall PC desktop market (estimated at 10 percent in the most recent IDC figures). Sales of Leopard (the focus of the ad) were 5 million units, the most ever in the same time period of any roll-out of a Mac OS version.

    Can Apple attribute all that increase to the Mac vs. PC advertising campaign just because the increase in sales coincided with the advertising campaign? Uh, well, I’m not a research department, but I don’t need the weather bureau to tell me it’s raining outside. No, I don’t have access to any internal “brand perception” research on the specific ad campaign, but year-over-year sales increases of +50% suggests to me the research must be fairly dandy.

    Here’s my research assignment for you: Go hang out at an Apple Store and do some “intercepts” on first-time Mac purchasers. Ask them why they want to purchase a Mac. They will feed you back point-by-point the reasons articulated in the advertising campaign. How do I know? Well, I know someone who knows someone. And that someone has signed the same non-disclosure agreement that all Apple employees sign.

    For the record, as I’ve said in my posts and many times on this blog, I’ve got lots of problems with Apple’s arrogance and, specifically, with this campaign’s insincerity and mean-spirit. But give me a break — this campaign’s brilliance is blinding.

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