I waited until the Times arrived today to write about its decision to wrap its Sunday Magazine cover in an advertisement. It has a U.S. Trust ad on a separate piece of magazine newsprint that wraps around the spine of the cover.
The TImes' move is lightly controversial, in that it has indicated as recently as last spring that it didn't want to participate (or, at least, that it didn't want to go as far as others) in a growing trend toward masking editorial content with advertising. Last week it was putting a much more positive message out.
As goes the Times, so are likely to fall any remaining media objections to commingling the presentation of editorial content with advertising.
In recent years we've seen everything from full-page ads obscuring front pages to so-called spadea folds overlapping parts of fronts to full-on promotional spots for advertisers masking as editorial.
Advertisers pay a substantial premium for any kind of non-traditional format, whether it's these covers, placement on the front page, or so-called flex ads that adopt shapes for the advertiser that cause the editorial departments to flow copy around them. Newsrooms have preferred to have the option of leading the design of their pages, and when ads break a modular look, they essentially take charge of the page.
Whether newsrooms like to admit it or not, two things are working against them in this issue: the revenue is much-needed and the audience isn't complaining. Other media offer far more aggressive advertising, particularly product placement, and that likely plays a role in defusing audience complaints. There are worthwhile boundaries, but the Times' move today indicates that these kind of ads are not outside the lines.