If you’ve seen the ads from telecom companies in recent times, you must be wondering why media companies have been crying about a recession. Aircel, Airtel, the Vodafone Zoozoos, BSNL, MTNL, Loop Mobile... they are all over television and newspapers. Last week, many national and local dailies had actor Hrithik Roshan announcing Reliance Mobile’s GSM cellphone service. Nothing wrong with it except that the ad occupied more than half of the Page 1 on broadsheets prompting me to put up a status tag on Facebook on when I saw it in The Times of India’s Mumbai edition on June 1: “Reliance GSM takes up good part of TOI p1 today, and with no 'real' p1 inside. Next is what? No p1? Front page moves to the last?”
Here are some of the responses I received, a few of them from seasoned media professionals. Since I wasn’t able to seek permission to carry their comments, I haven’t revealed their names. Comments have been edited for clarity and relevance.
AD: Unfortunate part is genuine journalism is dying. Not a single newspaper and magazine around which can match bold reporting of the 80s Indian Express or Sunday group magazines... new generation of journos is groomed on glamour and money and not on genuine reports.
RG: Where is the real news, man... everything is up for grabs there...
AB: See, being into adsales myself, all these clients are constantly looking at doing 'innovations' to stand out. Their agencies also push these clients to go for 'first ever' stuff, to win awards... Every national plan invariably has 3-4 national dailies....so then comes pushing and negotiation for the chosen one. On the other hand, media houses also do not mind such ads, as these get revenues worth 4-5 normal front-page ads....
NS: I really do not see anything wrong in this given that ad revenues are tough to get these days. If you ask any journalist, it is better to have a half Page 1 ad at good rates than not have one at all. Or, worse, let it go to competition and let the staff suffer further cuts and pressures on emoluments of all kinds. So I guess we see it in that light.
VB: My views: 1. It’s different. Is it bad? Not necessarily. Is it a compromise? Debatable. The day’s front page didn't compromise on news quality as such.
2. A front page is a font page. Period. I think the habit of having two front pages, with one being the "bought" one and the "real" one being inside makes no great sense anyway.
3. Yes, the news ... Read morepresentation style is different, innovative as someone else mentioned, and definitely catchy. It got all of us debating it. So the ad has achieved what it intends to do...
NS: I quite agree with VB there. i also read almost all the items despite they looking part of the ad.
SMV: List the newspapers that have kept the standards. It’s all for the monies..
VT: Reliance also offers GSM is now known to people. I guess the ad was for that purpose only. It was a poorly designed one. Old school tenet of ad being clearly distinct from edit seems to be out of vogue. Did you check if the 20-age group had any objection? They just don't care!
MM: Seriously.. .where are we heading???
CP: I am never ceased to be amazed by purists...
It’s CP’s remark as against the many others that set me thinking. Is Page 1 really sacrosanct in that an innovation like this devalues the newspaper? Most papers would carry ads on Page 1 around the 1950s, so what’s wrong if they do it now?
I remember there was much outrage in the ‘80s when the Behram Contractor-edited Afternoon Despatch & Courier (ADC) in Mumbai sold its Page 1 to Nestle for Kit Kat launch. The Times of India too sold its ear panels to have the masthead read ‘Let The Times of India Wait’. The ADC ad had reportedly also gone to Mid-Day which then proclaimed it would never sell its front page. Life’s changed dramatically since and so have the values of newspaper owners and editors. Mid-Day carried the Reliance GSM ad mid-week and frequently has ads on p1.
I must confess my own views have changed on the issue. Hence, when a Dainik Bhaskar came to impact recently for a no-masthead ‘false cover’, I agreed to it as the real cover was a turn away. I would’ve possibly said a ‘no’ five years back.
Does all of this mean that newspaper publishers and editors have started selling their soul? I don’t think it does. I wouldn’t carry an ad that’s guised as a news story with or without a prominent ‘Advertorial’ tag on the front page of a newspaper. I’m ok with carrying one inside – ideally in a typeface different from the one used for editorial content and as long as an ‘Advertorial’ label features at the beginning or end of the report thereby informing readers that the said story is carried not for its editorial/news value, but because it’s paid-for by an advertiser. It would also be nice for the newspaper to carry a notice somewhere explaining the concept of advertorials or whatever it tags paid-for edit matter.
It’s finally the call of the brand-owners and editors of a news media entity to decide whether the innovations upset the sensibilities of readers. Not an easy decision to take, especially when the extra monies could help tide over the tough times.
The views expressed here are my own.