Under the Influence

Last week the Wall Street Journal published an article on the increasing insistence of advertisers to screen and approve editorial of the magazines in which they place their ads.The primary example it used was Esquire's decision to pull a story that that magazine's publisher allegedly felt might cause Chrysler to cancel four pages of ads, but of course, incidents like this are abundant. The article could have focused on the San Francisco Examiner's recent decision to kill a negative column on Nike because Nike was co-sponsoring the Examiner's annual Bay to Breakers race. Or it could have focused on the recent firing of Conde Naste Sports for Women publisher Deanna Brown because of her reluctance to accept tobacco advertising. Or it could have focused on...well, you get the picture.

While the implicit tone of the Journal article is that this trend toward advertisers "demanding advance warnings about stories" somehow speaks unfavorably of advertisers, it's hard to see why. Advertisers are just like any other customer purchasing a product or service: they'd like to get as much information as they can before making a buying decision. If in the process of buying a car you ask a car dealer how much mileage it gets and he says, "Oh, I can't tell you that," or "A lot," you'd probably go to a different car dealer.

On the web, advertiser influence seems destined only to increase; the reluctance of readers to pay for web-based subscriptions makes publishers even more desperate for advertising dollars. Of course, the interactive nature of the medium also presents a solution to the problem. Savvy publications will compile detailed profiles of their readers; they'll know a reader's stance on potentially controversial issues like abortion; they'll know all a reader's favorite brands as well.

So when that controversial pro-choice article runs, the process will be simple: if the reader is also pro-choice, he sees an ad featuring his favorite brand. If the reader is pro-life, he sees an ad featuring one of his favorite brand's competitors.

To really catch on as a viable commercial medium, this is the sort of everybody-wins value-add the web must begin to deliver.

-- G. Beato

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