News Hits was a bit surprised at what we found after an intrepid reporter from a metro area daily newspaper tipped us off to a highly unusual, possibly groundbreaking ad placement in the Friday business section of the Detroit Free Press. There, on the business front page, is a story from The New York Times wire service about how Wal-Mart is cutting prices to invigorate sluggish sales. And in the story, which starts out, “The Empire strikes back,” the writer talks about Wal-Mart’s “unusual advertising blitz,” to include full-page newspaper ads in 15 major markets and 35 secondary markets, with new TV spots to come. Wow. At the end of the story, there’s an Elmo doll, with these words next to it: “Sesame Street’s Elmo is cheaper. See Page 6C.”
And what do you find on page 6C? A full-page ad for Wal-Mart.
Now, this might not be shocking news to the throngs of readers out there who believe that advertisers buy editorial space in newspapers like the Freep and Metro Times. But for all us journalists who beat our collective heads against the wall to convince our family, friends and readers otherwise … well, it really doesn’t look good.
We didn’t hear back immediately from the Free Press, but here are our questions: Did Wal-Mart pay for the business department to refer to its ad on the back page? (Cynics though we are, News Hits is quite sure the answer is no.) Does this indicate a new policy at the Free Press? Can we expect articles about Meijer and car dealers that refer you to their latest ads?
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