August 19th, 2005

Target, New Yorker Cross Line

By Lewis Lazare
Chicago Sun-Times

It can only be described as the most jaw-dropping collapse of the so-called sacred wall between editorial and advertising in modern magazine history. And it happened this week—of all places—at arguably the country’s most prestigious magazine, the New Yorker.

In the wake of a puff piece by New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott last week announcing Target had cut a deal with the New Yorker to become its sole advertiser for the magazine’s Aug. 22 edition, copies of that issue began arriving in mailboxes and hitting newsstands this week.

Now we can see exactly what the results of that deal are: A 90-page publication where it is almost impossible to discern any line of demarcation between Target’s advertising and the New Yorker editorial product.

We weren’t the only ones shocked by the Target ads and the New Yorker’s handling of them. “It’s pretty alarming,” said Time Out Chicago Editor in Chief Chad Schlegel.

New Yorker Publisher David Carey begs to differ. “I think people kind of get it,” said Carey, claiming that because many of the Target ads in the front of the issue are in “defined” ad spaces, sophisticated readers, such as those who regularly peruse the New Yorker, can readily distinguish between the editorial and advertising messages.

Still, even the New Yorker publisher conceded that the further into the editorial hole one goes, the spaces where the Target ads are found are rather less defined. Carey said about “80 to 85 percent” of the mail he’s received from readers about the issue so far has been positive.

But make no mistake. Target advertising executives must be laughing all the way to the image bank because of the ad placement coup they have pulled off, while New Yorker staffers, most notably Editor David Remnick, can only wipe the egg from their faces.

What is most stunning about the issue is the New Yorker’s refusal to clearly flag any of the pages and pages of copyless Target illustrations as “advertisements.” And in “ad” after “ad” it would be quite easy to confuse them for New Yorker editorial content, because all of them are done in a stylish format closely resembling the cartoons and illustrations for which the magazine has become famous.

Yet, perplexingly, the New Yorker seemingly went out of its way to boldly flag with the word “advertisement” a few small house ads in the issue that no one could misconstrue as anything but ads.

Whatever the damage done to the New Yorker’s vaunted editorial integrity by its first-ever single-advertiser issue, Target, already perceived as a relatively classy discount retailer thanks to its savvy advertising profile, has had its image immeasurably burnished by the practically seamless blending of its ads into the New Yorker editorial product.

But the real kicker in what has to be counted among the most shameful moments in New Yorker history is the list of illustrators involved in the Target ad campaign that appears on page 87. The ad copy above that list simply says: “Our thanks to all the illustrators who brought this project to life.”

Would it have been too much to ask for the New Yorker or Target to reference this as an “advertising project,” just to provide a tiny bit of clarity somewhere in the magazine? Instead, we are left to conclude that maybe the New Yorker and Target had decided the project was, in fact, something more deceptive.

Comments

  1. Posted by Jennifer on October 5th, 2005

    I can understand your ranting on principal, but it seems advertising does try to move outside the box. I for one was never decieved and would think that most, if not all, New Yorker readers are sophisticated enough to distinguish the ads from the editorial content. And, if that’s not enough, the bulls eye screams Target, reiterating that each piece is an ad. I thought it was a fabulous example of marketing at work and that there was no need for text to distinguish the ads from the other content because the image speaks volumes.

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