Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Media trifecta: sponsored columns, advertising banter and mega names

Normally I don’t hit a media-watch trifecta, but yesterday The New York Times served up one. One score was on the sports page; two were in the business section (of course).

The crumbling wall

First we have further erosion of the once purported impervious barrier between advertising and editorial content in newspapers. Now the Philadelphia Inquirer, under new management, is selling off “sponsored columns,” assuring its readers that the editorial integrity of said columns will be maintained.

Never mind the appearance of conflict of interest.

What’s to say that every newspaper reliant on advertising (and they all are) hadn’t sold out in its integrity long before this? Well the theory was that if you spread out the revenue source widely, no single part of the paper would suffer the loss of its independence.

Under the new game, advertisers can pick off individual columnists one by one.

I suppose there’s a model for this in broadcasting. If networks can sell whole programs to single sponsors, why can’t newspapers sell columnists to advertisers?

I fear that a newspaper industry spiraling to its demise just steepened its descent.

Shilling for dollars

Then there’s the curious situation in Dallas where our old friends at Clear Channel (they own most of Portland’s billboards and KPOJ) have dropped commercials — sort of — at its radio station, KZPS.

Instead of running real commercials, the announcers will weave plugs into their banter. “Excuse me a second while I take a gulp of my refreshing, delicious Coke” or “I sure do love the smell of my armpits today using this new Gillette roll-on” or “The traffic is bad out there this morning but I hope all you commuters are using Shell. You know I find it runs so much cleaner.”

A rose by any other name would be sponsored

Finally I'm ready to bestow my "how-many-sponsors-can-we-sell-a single-event-name-to?" award.

It goes to “the Subway Fresh Fit 500 Nextel Cup Race.”

That’s the Nascar race they ran in Arizona last Saturday.

The Times dutifully reported the entire bastardized moniker on its sports page, thereby helping lend value to the whole naming rights travesty.

But do race car fans actually call this motorized marathon between very sleek billboards on wheels "The Subway Fresh Fit 500 Nextel Cup Race"?

I don’t think so.

They leave that to the willing, laughable media.

By the way, I think I know the Subway and Nextel parts—but don’t try eating one while talking over the other.

But excuse me for a moment while I google what a “Fresh Fit 500 cup” is. I'm thinking some kind of jock strap or bra....

Well, who would have thought?

The race is 500 miles long and the “Fresh Fit” bit is actually a variety of Subway sandwich touting a lot fewer calories than Big Macs and Whoppers. Of course just about anything west of a New York cheese cake has fewer calories than the two bun burgers.

Oh, the name's unsold "Cup" part is still a container — I hope....

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