The New York Times allowed an online ad depicting a man on the ground with a bloody face to appear next to coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. The ad appeared next to coverage highlighting the one-week anniversary of the bombing. Not surprisingly, the placement and timing of the ad immediately received complaints.
The ad in question is promoting the show "Rectify", a program which will appear on the Sundance Channel.
The online banner received enough criticism that it forced a response from Margaret Sullivan, an editor at the New York Times, to write a lengthy reaction piece responding to the criticism. In her response, Sullivan notes the juxtaposition between the ad and the story and states that everyone involved in the decision making process understood that there might be a correlation. She believes the ad doesn't "cross the threshold" and that enough time had passed from the actual bombing (one week) for the ad to be deemed acceptable. She also notes that the original ad was much more graphic and that the one that actually ran was a tamer version.
Do you agree with her opinions?
Our issue lies in the fact that it's not immediately clear that the advertisement is actually an advertisement. Yes, it does say Breaking Bad at the top which might give you a clue the photo isn't involved in news coverage, but when examined as a whole it looks like the photo is additional coverage of the Boston bombing on first glance.
There's also the idea of common sense and how it relates to an advertisement. The New York Times knew that they'd receive complaints over this decision. They probably were preparing a response well before the ad even ran. They, and the folks behind the ad for the television show, knew that this would get people talking and debating the decision as we are right now. It was guaranteed to cause a reaction and that's priceless for an advertiser, especially one marketing a show that most people probably never heard of prior to this incident.
Sound off: Do you think the ad was tasteful? What do you make of the NYT's response?
(H/T Ad Week)