The order to publishing stalwarts such as The Financial Times, The Economist, BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal is tantamount to warning news outlets that coverage of this legitimate news story may suffer them financial consequences. And this is indisputably a legitimate-and juicy-news story, with elements ranging from a planned ouster by dissident shareholders of CEO Philip Purcell to a court award of $1.45 billion in damages to billionaire Ron Perelman.
Morgan Stanley's demand is almost impossible to accommodate (The Journal's Karen Elliott House deemed it impractical because "the ad department has no knowledge of what stories are running in the next day's paper"). And even though Morgan Stanley denies this was the intention, the policy foolishly implies a threat. The potential multimillion dollar slaps to the likes of Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report and others was first reported by Advertising Age and itself got copious pickup as a hot story-and for that Morgan Stanley has only itself to blame.
A far more suitable and reasoned response would have been for the firm to declare an advertising hiatus until it's able to get its house in order and the coverage dies down. Or it could have upped its advertising and changed its message, reaching out to reassure clients and the public that have had their faith shaken in the firm-as its ad tagline states, "one client at a time."
After all, isn't it the role of advertising to build trust in a brand's promise to current and potential buyers? When it comes to Morgan Stanley's ad contingency plan, no one's buying it.