Third Party Credibility: What More & More Magazines Are Lacking

Flip through your latest Vogue (or GQ) and look closely at the photo spread dictating this season’s “must-haves,” straight from the runways of Milan and the mouths of industry fashionistas (supposedly). As you might do anyway, skim past all those thousand-dollar clothes and accessories and center in on the plain Jane white t-shirt from the Gap that only costs $18.99. Hold your breath for what follows—a full-page ad from the very same company, showing off even more affordable alternatives. You’re thinking “Wow, Gap must be a really good brand if they’re advertising AND getting featured in magazine articles!”

Oh, you weren’t thinking that? Neither were we. We were thinking like many magazines nowadays, advertising weighs heavily on editorial decisions at Vogue, right down to the cheap t-shirt ploys. Our office copy of Ad Age revealed this shocking tidbit: “The sixth-annual MS&L Marketing Management Survey, done in conjunction with PRWeek, found that 19 percent of the 252 chief marketing officers and marketing directors surveyed said their organizations had bought advertising in return for a news story. That represents one in five senior marketers, up 17 percent from last year.” Even the L.A. Times, a respected publication with over a dozen Pulitzers since 2000, entrusted their newly launched magazines’ editorial content to none other than the advertising/publishing staff.

So what does this mean for readers? Well, this sort of swindling not only insults our intelligence and awareness as consumers, but ruins both the magazine’s and the advertising brand’s credibility. How are we supposed to believe the “Editor’s Picks” for makeup or electronics or carburetors aren’t footing the bill? We only hope this treacherous trend isn’t spreading too far into localized publications and the businesses advertising with them. In this economy, small businesses’ best bet is setting themselves apart as the believable expert rather than the company with deep pockets and deceitful tactics. Our work with community event Artista Vista proves credibility can go long a way — of the attendees we surveyed, the majority had heard about the event from the local and state newspapers. By providing compelling background stories on participating artists and the Vista’s rich history, Artista Vista rang true with readers as more than just another downtown event.

All this just goes to show that except in a few circumstances of mega brands, consumers can usually tell at some point when a brand relies on gimmicks. And that creates trust issues. Instead businesses should focus on the quality of their products and getting their company’s story out there. Once consumers identify with a product, it’s more noticed. Moral of the story: you can’t fake credibility no matter how much you pay!

U.S. Olympians Bulking Up, On PR That Is

We PR professionals love to see our principles put into action, especially when they draw attention from nearly every nation in the world. We love real-life examples of Herculean events applying PR to their strategic arsenal, the examples that will go down in the history books (or at least public relations textbooks).

As Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) proudly states in an August 11 article, “For the first time ever, the U.S. Olympic Committee is requiring all of its 596 Olympians to attend a two-day course on the host country’s culture before they leave for the Games.” In other words, for the first time ever, the U.S. is consciously adding tact, diplomacy and respect to Olympians’ training schedule. Warning about everything from the Chinese’s no-hug rule to how to use chopsticks, the two-day seminar equips athletes with a cultural awareness unseen in past events.

Pictures from the 2006 Winner Games in Torino, Italy revealed American skier (and PR nightmare) Bode Miller getting sloshed the night before games and making rude gestures at photographers (let’s just say he offered a peace sign sans index finger). With U.S. diplomacy plummeting as the Iraq war simmers and Georgia conflict boil over, the U.S. Olympic Committee recognized our country couldn’t afford a similar mishap this year.

Bravo! We applaud the Committee for trying to make this year’s games what they should be: world-class athletes participating in a riveting competition, one unclouded by international tensions and current conflicts. And we commend the committee for employing PR at its best, using it as a preventative measure rather than a reflex to bad behavior.

The Antithesis of Advil’s Every Pain Reliever: Tylenol’s New Public Relations Strategy

“Headache from a hard day at work. Backache from carrying the baby. I’m all Advil—because Advil works on all my pains.” That’s the kind of marketing you’d expect from an average pain reliever, right? Not since Tylenol launched their new consumer-conscious ad campaign that borders on public service announcements rather than actual commercials. Instead of encouraging you to pop a pill (their pill) for all your aches and pains, Tylenol suggests drinking a glass of water to prevent headache-causing dehydration or meditating before work to prevent tension headaches.

If Advil is the “Every Pain Reliever,” Tylenol is now the “Nothing Pain Reliever”—drink a glass of water instead. By making the use of their product almost obsolete if users follow their tips instead, Tylenol sends a befuddling message. Are they going into the advice business? Or are they simply building trust in their brand by offering themselves as a resource (and a last resort) for consumers?

From a PR standpoint, the second strategy is not half bad. Small businesses use that tactic every day by providing the media with expert commentary on pressing issues and industry news without “selling” themselves. Public relations strategy comes into question when it’s on such a large scale, though. Viewers are less likely to trust the motives of an advertiser paying millions of dollars to give them advice about pain relief.

Regardless of their reasoning, though, Tylenol has taken a bold step in the right direction for their brand. Advertising Age asked recently retired VP-advertising at Johnson & Johnson Andrea Alstrup about the advertising industry and Tylenol’s take on it. Alstrup said: “The world has changed so drastically…but yet we still want to go back to some of those core values and some of the core important things that advertising can bring.” If that means the unorthodox use of public relations strategy, then Tylenol is taking on that challenge.