Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Un-Hidden Persuaders at the Freeps

Yesterday I stopped by my local coffee bar to grab a cup. I took a peek at the newspaper rack to check out the Monday headlines of Burlington Free Press. I could not see all the headlines on the Page 1. It was not one of those annoying sticky ads that obstructed my view. No. The left half of the front page was covered totally by a newsprint ad from Unicel. Take Unicel Back to School it screamed.

This is nothing new. Commercial Alert wrote back in September, 2001...

During an economic rough patch that has led to significant erosion in advertising pages, the wall between newspapers’ editorial and business interests may not be crumbling. But it is shifting. Increasingly, ads are showing up in places - such as Page 1, the front pages of other daily sections, and the opinion pages - that have generally been off-limits for decades. And some are being sold at premium rates.
Dallas Morning News editor and president Robert W. Mong Jr. - whose paper began accepting ads on the front pages of sections last year and expanded the programs this year - said the key was to introduce advertising “tastefully” and “carefully.”

“It’s important, in this kind of competitve environment, to look for new and different ways to sell advertising and to help support our news” operation, he said.
Last year, USA Today owner, the Gannett Company, passed the word to its nearly 100 daily papers that “tasteful” front-page ads were OK.

You can read the whole article here.

Burlington Free Press is owned by Gannett. Interestingly, if you want to know Gannett's Mission and Vision [note that word order in the left-hand index on the Gannett homepage], the Vision statement...


Consumers will choose Gannett media for their news and information needs, anytime, anywhere, in any form.

... beats out the Mission statement in placement on the page....


To successfully transform Gannett to the new environment.

We will provide must-have news and information on demand across all media, ever mindful of our journalistic responsibilities.

Even in the the url vision comes before mission (check its placement again in your browser).

Dontcha just love it: "Ever mindful of our journalistic responsibilities." Yeah, right.

No doubt the Free Press had its eye on returning students at local high schools and colleges. Buy me! Buy me! For the ad industry and the newspapers beholden to them, advertisements like these fully exploit the vulnerability of people, especially the young. Walk down Burlington's Church Street or inside Vermont's largest enclosed shopping center and you'll see what I mean. Heck, you'll even see it at Burlington's ultra-hip liberal co-op!

Check out my earlier post, here.

At the end of the 1950s, author Vance Packard asked a question that resonates even more ominously today:

By encouraging people constantly to pursue the emblems of success, and by causing them to equate possessions with status, what are we doing to their emotions and their sense of values?

Thirty years ago, author Felix Greene declared:
Advertising is nothing more than a technique to keep people in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction with what they possess and in a permanent state of itchy acquisitiveness.

High time for some reader outcry!

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