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Target’s ad: Tutti-frutti torture

A couple of months after introducing the banded newspaper ad (below right), the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and Target have crossed the next frontier in intrusive design with the diagonal layout (above).

Now, far be it from me to step on anyone’s airhose during the the media’s deep revenue dive. A month ago, I got a half-dozen anguished emails from newspaper fans worried Target’s circular wasn’t in the Easter paper; had the area’s biggest advertiser signed print’s death warrant?

This week’s “special” placement definitely isn’t limited to the locals — you can get a look at the Wall Street Journal’s options here. And the journalism upside is that advertisers typically pay the full-page price while leaving room for two or three stories. As papers shrink, this may be a visible, but not indefensible, compromise.

It was a perturbed reader who contacted me, but will even this level of bother last? As I wrote two months ago “maybe we’ll get used to it.” Thinking about the issue again, I recalled a two-decades-old lesson I’ll call (appropriately enough) the “Target Center” principle.

Back then, I was writing a sports business column when the Timberwolves announced they were naming their new arena for a corporation. It seems mind-boggling now, but that was an area first. Up until then, we’d named our facilities generically or tacked on a politician’s name. (It is, after all, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.)

I can’t remember if fans were appalled (remember, Target Center was a privately funded facility at that point) but I know many found it strange. I’ll never forget Wolves marketing exec Tim Leiweke telling me something to the effect of, “Yeah, it sounds weird now, but believe me, pretty soon you won’t give it a second thought.”

He was right. Ever-accommodating Wild fans have lovingly nicknamed the Xcel Energy Center the “X,” and fans openly but not hostilely speculated on which corporation would attach its name to the Twins’ new park.

So the lesson, I guess, is the commercialism that seems intrusive often becomes banal; tuning out is the customer’s ultimate defense against advertising.

Of course, the parallel lesson is that if ads become too in-your-face, people devise workarounds (TiVO and AdBlock) or give up entirely (commercial radio).

Even in a benign scenario, there’s a break-in period with pitfalls both for advertisers and newspapers. The upside of these new layouts is their ability to grab readers’ attention by maximizing the “touch” between ads and stories. The downside is more emphatically awkward associations.

The PiPress chose relatively innocuous stories to share space with the waterfall of groceries: one about early hominids; another about early star clusters. The Strib, meanwhile, accompanied the dancing pizzas and floating sandwiches with a story (at left) headlined “Torture tape hurts nuclear deal.”

The lede: “A gruesome videotape showing a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family torturing an Afghan grain merchant …”

I don’t envy layout editors these days; you don’t want the newsroom coddling specific clients, but at the same time don’t make core readers think you’re frivolous or thoughtless. Of course, we probably haven’t reached the end of this particular line. How long do you think will it be before we see a story inside a Target logo?

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 05/04/2009 - 08:22 am.

    Heh. I KNEW this would get a response from you as soon as I saw it.

    Can you imagine what the dailes would have told Target’s ad agency had they suggested something like this just 10 years ago? Five years ago?

    How the mighty have fallen.

  2. Submitted by Chris Steller on 05/04/2009 - 10:16 am.

    The Strib’s “Torture” headline on the tumbling Target-items page is answered by Target headline on full-page ad opposite: “Expect even mmmore.”

  3. Submitted by Steve Yelvington on 05/04/2009 - 10:41 am.

    Same ad is in USA Today this morning, at least in the edition I received in Florida.

  4. Submitted by Tim Walker on 05/04/2009 - 11:04 am.

    Nice Braublog. The ad today in the PiPress caught me by surprise and confused me for a bit (not hard to do at 6:30 a.m.).

    But on a nit-picky note … “lede” David? I find the usage rather pretentious and unnecessarily jargonish. Kind of like insurance companies wanting to be called “payors” instead of “payers.”

  5. Submitted by Marjorie Schalles on 05/04/2009 - 02:58 pm.

    Oh, thank you for noticing. I was beginning to think that I was the only (existing)reader still paying attention. At least I know that I can count on the (non-existent) proof readers at the Strib to make my eyes fly open even before my first cuppa coffee has started working.

  6. Submitted by Roxie Aho on 05/04/2009 - 05:30 pm.

    Was the diagonal Target ad effective?

    I read both the Clinton and torture stories in the Tribune without noticing the ad.

    When someone asked me about it, I had to study it for close to a minute until I realized it was an ad for Archer Farms or some other target house brand.

  7. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/04/2009 - 09:55 pm.

    This week’s tutti-fruitti ad was annoying. But a few Sundays ago when they ran the Dr Suess ad directly under a photo of Barack Obama, I almost cancelled what’s left of my weekend-only subscription. The president was looking down in the photo, which ran across the entire page, and there was no related story, just a brief caption, so he appeared to be looking at the Target ad. I found this insulting and inappropriate. Who’s running the store over there on Portland Ave? Are there any journalists left?

  8. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/04/2009 - 10:14 pm.

    I read the Clinton story because it seemed interesting and I was a little distracted by the tumbling food for a bit, overall reaction though was just”confused”. I’m sure that’s some kind of positive in the marketer’s handbook.
    Kind of feels like were only a few steps away from ads between every other paragraph.

  9. Submitted by Welna Welna on 05/05/2009 - 06:01 am.

    I found the tunbling ad cutting across the two articles extremely distracting. In additition, the ad copy on the facing page made little sense.

  10. Submitted by Scott Dier on 05/06/2009 - 12:31 am.

    Perhaps this is their way of ensuring someone still reads the dead-tree paper? I bet they didn’t seen an uptick in sales from the ‘print-only’ stories, thats for sure.

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