Living in marketers' cross hairs

November 1990: Omni magazine's publisher, Bob Guccione, allows a hologram advertisement for Motorola to serve as the issue's cover.

Two editors quit in protest. The ad placement earns a dart from the Columbia Journalism Review.

May 1999: The ubiquitous USA Today announces that in October it will carry paid ads on its front page, a move worth millions in annual ad revenue.

A dozen or more newspapers are expected to follow suit within a year and a half, press-watchers say. And most say it with a shrug.

The difference a decade makes.

Creative advertising may represent America's best pop art. We relish the best examples of this outgrowth of competitive commerce. They shape our culture.

But we used to bristle when we spotted messages with "spin" being passed off as unbiased information, or otherwise appearing to have undue influence.

Internet search engines help blur the distinction. They pull down information searched for by "keywords," so the postings of credible outlets get offered side-by-side with your cousin Ernest's nicely packaged musings.

Other trends contribute. "Custom publishers," now enjoying a boom, put out slick, sponsored magazines that wrap corporate clients' messages into what appear to be ordinary lifestyle magazines.

Amid all this infoclutter, marketers are reaching for a new tool: "Ambient," all-around-you advertising that makes it harder to sort through the message mlange.

In the story at right, Rogier van Bakel, editor of Advertising Age's Creativity magazine, examines the trend - and measures the reception it's getting from consumers.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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