The folks at the Los Angeles Times had huge news to report this afternoon: Christopher Dorner — that cop-killing, ex-cop fugitive who’s been on the loose for the better part of a week, now, is smack in the middle of a shootout with police in Big Bear, Calif. (In fact, the standoff is still in progress as I write this at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time/2:30 Pacific Time).
The problem: The Times was also smack in the middle of presenting an ad campaign on its web site. One that featured the gritty police show Southland. One that featured cops with guns drawn, aiming menacingly out of the photo that surrounded the online newshole.
Very unfortunate. Click for a much larger view.
As you can see, the ad consisted of a banner ad atop the news, a smaller ad atop the column of breaking news items, an even smaller ad up top with the paper’s nameplate and then a huge expanse to either side of the main window.
The actual gun battle itself got the biggest news play on the page. But the cops-with-guns ad completely overpowered the actual cops-with-guns story.
The good news: Someone at the Times realized how badly this looked and apparently pulled the plug on the ad fairly quickly. My anonymous tipster — who wrote me from Oregon — wrote back four minutes later today:
To its credit, the L.A. Times appears to have dropped the Southland ad from its home page.
The Times, as you know, has a history of obtrusive advertising — at least, in print. In April 2009, the Times ran a large ad on page one for this same TV show, but the ad was designed to look somewhat like a news story.
Yes, the headline font was different and the word “Advertisement” appeared just below the NBC logo.
In 2010, the Times did this sort of thing a couple of times that I know of. This ad placement for the film Despicable Me wrapped around three sides of the Calendar page…
…however, this ad for the Alice in Wonderland movie appeared to actually leap in front of live news stories.
That’s not what readers were seeing, of course. Those were dummy stories and dummy headlines. This page, in fact, wrapped around that day’s Los Angeles Times.
Perhaps the most egregious use of obtrusive advertising in the LAT was this false section that inserted in July of 2010.
That was the front of a four-page special advertising section. The pictures and stories — which all detailed an unspecified disaster in the metro region — wasn’t fully explained until readers got to the final page, in which they discovered the whole thing was caused by an escapee from Universal Studios amusement park.
The problem was in how real the section looked. The nameplate and fonts in the faux section were nearly identical to those used on the actual local news front.
This got so bad for a while that the Los Angeles county board of supervisors called upon the LAT to knock it off.
In fairness, the Times is hardly the only paper struggling with these issues. In November 2011, the New York Times web site featured a Coca-Cola ad that blotted out the entire screen for several seconds before freeing it up again.
Find lots of examples of obtrusive advertising — in print and online — here.