In its spring/summer issue, they got it. The magazine's editors conceived of, wrote and printed a brief article about a hot young band whose songs have received wide exposure in the carmaker's commercials. The accompanying photo pictured band members with a Hummer superimposed near their heads.
"There was and is absolutely no quid pro quo," said Eric Gertler, CEO at Black Book Media. "Great editors know that great ideas come from a multitude of sources and great editors need to know how to frame those ideas and know that they are free of any outside influence."
But there may not have been any story without the automaker's influence.
That influence is being felt more than ever this year as automakers from Toyota's Lexus to Detroit's Big Three and their agencies all apply new energy to penetrating the once-hallowed ad/edit wall. While pressure from advertisers is nothing new, the rising number of requests from car companies to magazines of all stripes seems to signal a potentially more slippery twist in the road. And automakers are increasingly being abetted by page-hungry magazines.
The clamor is building enough that the American Society of Magazine Editors, which has repeatedly said that all ad messages must be clearly marked as such, is finding it necessary to confront the issue more fully with more clearly worded guidelines to spell out its position.
"The voices barking out of the Big Three on the client side are pretty vocal," said one magazine ad re.
Not to mention agencies. Publicis Groupe's General Motors Planworks, Detroit, the automaker's planning and buying shop, is bringing GM's $477 million magazine budget to bear as it asks for product placement in magazines. Planworks did not return calls for comment.
Ford is encouraging "contextual ideas" in magazines, though it says it recognizes the ad/edit divide. And DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group is encouraging placement more actively than its media agency, Omnicom Group's PHD.
Magazines themselves, wary of sliding ad pages, are turning over every rock to offer print's largest advertisers many kinds of "added value"-including editorial placement. Automotive ad pages this year through July rose an anemic 1.8% compared with 5.3% last year.
Magazine publishers, intent on offering unique programs to attract advertisers, have begun presenting their share of ideas, said Julie Roehm, director of marketing communications for Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler.
"We've talked about it several times and had all the big publishers in," she said. One publishing house suggested a new feature about driving cars and trucks that would include a Web component that Chrysler could sponsor.
Just last week according to two executives familiar with the discussions, Conde Nast Media Group President Richard Beckman met in Detroit with Ford, which has been interested in product-placement ideas. Mr. Beckman also met with GM while there.
Mr. Beckman stressed that these meetings were part of a sales tour that had been planned months in advance and said the publisher would not consider product placement or ad integration. "Over the last year, a couple of automotive advertisers have indeed asked if we would do it and it's nothing that our company would entertain," he said.
Michelle Erwin, car-marketing communications manager at the Ford division, said she had met with Mr. Beckham but demurred when asked whether Ford had been pushing for integration, saying "It's coming from both sides. "
"We do push our print partners to help develop contextual ideas in the book, but I clearly understand the difference between editorial and advertising," she said. "We would love to be integrated, but it's the editor's decision."