Tuesday, March 9

Looking Glass: Los Angeles Times Dives In

It seems the Los Angeles Times (L.A. Times) has chosen short-term publicity over long-term branding in a one shot advertisement that not everyone appreciates. As described by the New York Times, the newspaper allowed a garishly multicolored image of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, in the film “Alice in Wonderland,” to occupy the paper’s cover page, complete with the L.A. Times masthead and a rerun of recent articles.

According to the story, Russ Stanton and several deputies vigorously opposed the ad but they were overruled by the paper’s business executives. John Conroy, spokesman for the L.A. Times, likened the ad to the common practice of having an ad cover part or all of a Web site’s home page for a few seconds.

Why Russ Stanton Might Be Right.

Everyone knows that the print editions of daily newspapers are struggling as their online versions have yet to retain a suitable level of replacement revenue. So some might say $700,000, the amount paid for the ad, is simply a badly needed boost.

But what the business executives at the L.A. Times might not be considering is long-term erosion of the brand. As the old saying goes: if everything is for sale, then everything is for sale. And given this isn't the first time that the daily has surrendered editorial space, that might be the case. Eventually, the willingness to supplant the brand for promotional revenue will define the publication.

It may have already. The L.A. Times promoted the sale, calling it a groundbreaking move. Certainly, the move might be groundbreaking, but not for the L.A. Times. While the newspaper is attempting to minimize the move by calling it a wrap, giving up the masthead (along with stories penned by serious journalists) means something else entirely. They may as well put a wrap around their building.

What is groundbreaking is Disney winning the bid to do it. Putting the Mad Hatter everywhere has resulted in a real coup for the movie that is outpacing Avatar with a $116.1 million opening weekend. For the L.A. Times, the publicity is a net loss.

Anytime you elevate awareness, you have to consider the sentiment that comes with it. And the question that might be asked over the long term is that if the L.A. Times doesn't take itself seriously, then why would anyone else? Usually newspapers want to be known for Pulitzers over the same sort of publicity stunts they often criticize.

The timing couldn't be worse, either. Forbes reported on a study that that while Web ads will grow another 10 percent this year, magazines are expected to see a small 1.9 percent increase in spending to. What does that mean for dailies?

Strongly branded dailies will survive in better times, especially with fewer of them. And that means the L.A. Times ought to keep taking its temperature while it experiments with being a tabloid. Tabloid competition is even tougher, I hear.

A Round-Up Of Opinions On Selling The L.A. Times

Times Sells Disney Its Front Page for $700K by Sharon Waxman

The Los Angeles Times Sells Out The Front Page by Donald Douglas

L.A. Times Splashes Mad Hatter Across Fake Front Page: No Harm, No Foul by Si Cantwell

L.A. Times sells Disney Front Page For Movie Ad by Steve Gorman

L.A. Times Runs Cover Wrap for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by MediaBuyer Planner

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