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Product placement pushes into print

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"Magazines and newspapers are loath to discuss these types of deals publicly," says Patrick Quinn, founder and president of PQ Media. The advertising trade press, he says, has been reporting on other such arrangements.

In August, reported that Lexus, Toyota's luxury automobile brand, was in negotiations with unnamed publishers to try to find ways to integrate mentions of its cars into stories. One proposal from Lexus was that staff writers of the publication be employed to write "advertorials" that looked like stories but were really advertising copy. In another proposal, the company would pay to ensure that photos of its cars were included with stories. (Manufacturer-supplied photos are often used by publications, but at the publication's discretion and without payment.)

Product placement has a longer history in movies.

The paid placement of Reese's Pieces candy into the storyline of the children's movie "E.T." is often cited as a prime example. Books and musical recordings have seen their share of paid mentions of products too. Even Broadway plays are getting into the act.

On television, efforts to slip products into programs are a reaction to the growing popularity of digital video recorders, which enable viewers to effortlessly skip commercials.

With advertising and circulation figures flat or worse at many publications, product-placement arrangements might be tempting to the print media, too. Prominent newspapers such as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Inquirer have announced staff cuts recently in response to a weak bottom line. But many analysts say product-placement arrangements are less likely to show up in the nation's top newspapers and news magazines than in smaller specialty publications.

Product placement already "is routine in some of the fashion magazines, because they are the quintessential corrupt publications," blurring the line between advertising and editorial content, says Edward Wasserman. He's a professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., and a columnist for the Miami Herald. When advertisers announce, "This is our fall line," he says, these publications "fall in line with the fall line" and hype their products.

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