Deceptive or smart? The LA Times’ Southland ad

The LA Times got itself in some hot water last week, not once, but twice, for passing off advertising as news.

On Thursday, it ran a mock news article promoting NBC’s Southland on the front page:

la-times-southland-nbc-ad
View PDF version from the Wall Street Journal
On Sunday, the L.A. Times ran a four-page ad for the movie “The Soloist,” laid out like a news section.

Passing off advertising as content has been done before. We discussed a far more clever execution last year when AMC bought several pages and the cover of Ad Age to promote its Mad Men series last summer.

Is it smart?

The fact is passing off advertising as content is seldom this brazen, but it is common. There’s good reason to do it: nobody watches TV, listens to the radio or reads a newspaper for the ads. They are there for the content.

This is one way to slip advertising past the consumer before they change the channel, turn the page or boop it forward on the TiVO.

Or deceptive?

Geneva Overholser, director of the school of journalism at the USC, called the ad “deeply offensive,” and went on to say—

Readers don’t want to be fooled, they don’t like the notion that someone is attempting to deceive them. This breaks perhaps the most important bond that newspapers have with their readers, which, to me, is a bond of trust.


So what do you think?

Is passing off advertising as content deceptive and to be avoided or smart and to be applauded?

Comment below to weigh in.

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. . .
Thanks to Martin Pierce for the tip.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Lissa Boles says:

    Any wonder consumer distrust’s at an all-time high? Who likes being played for profit? Anyone?

  • Martin says:

    I don’t care what desperate financial situation newspapers are in, there’s no excuse for this. They’ve sacrificed any journalistic integrity they had for a buck. If that’s what they have to do to stay afloat then they don’t deserve to stay afloat.

    How anyone could possibly consider this smart and to be applauded is beyond me. This is the kind of garbage that makes me embarrassed to be a part of this industry.

  • Eric Layland says:

    Desperate Times call for desperate measures – I couldn’t resist. Newspapers have been heading towards extinction for 10 years. I wouldn’t say it’s deceptive but would I say it’s dumb – on NBC’s part. My question is for NBC or whomever approved the ad buy – what did you get for it? Any way to correlate the placement to real user activity? Yeah…I didn’t think so. Whatever you spent should have gone into digital media that was tracked properly. Maybe the Time’s ad sales staff is smart or they just found a sucker in NBC.

  • Just discovered your blog, courtesy of Drew McLellan…good stuff!

    You’re absolutely right: This sort of thing happens all the time. And, sadly, calling attention to deceptive uses of media like this one does little to prevent it from happening again.

    I agree with Eric — there’s an element of desperation on the part of traditional media at play here. From my brief stint as an advertising sales rep, I learned there’s nothing that can’t be bought or sold. I’m suprised the Times (or someone else) hasn’t tried selling the name of the publication to an advertiser.

    On second thought, maybe they HAVE tried…

    Thanks for pointing this out. Pretty distasteful.

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