New $10 Million Campaign Blurs Advertising and Editorial Content

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NEW YORK ( -- The Web site of The New York Times has refused to accept new ads from Sony
The New York Times declined to accept Sony's ads.
Electronics that blur the line between advertising and editorial content.

The unusual ads -- in the form of what appear to be journalistic articles -- are part of the new "feature by Sony" campaign that launches this week. The articles are written by freelance writers and are designed to appear as editorial content on popular Web sites. The pieces are geared toward Sony's specific consumer segments to show how consumers can integrate technology into their lives.

No advertorial label
The main stories read like features, while the sidebars incorporate links to products and send readers to, the Sony Web site, for more information. The only other Sony identifier is a small subhead at the top of each main story that reads "feature by Sony."

A spokeswoman for the Times on Friday

said New York Times Digital was approached by Sony about running the online campaign but declined because "on, advertorial content must be clearly labeled to distinguish it from editorial content, and we were unable to agree upon a program ... that would meet these advertising acceptability guidelines."

"All advertisers are looking for richer ways to communicate with their consumers," said T. Scott Edwards, consumer segment marketing officer for Sony Electronics. "Richer in our case also means educational. ... It's hard to do in a 30- or 60-second commercial."

'Breaking paradigms'
"We're breaking paradigms here," Mr. Edwards said. "We consider ourselves a content provider -- we are buying the space."

"We're trying to blur the line between the advertising and editorial boundary," said David Cohen, senior vice president and interactive media director on Sony at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann. "This is certainly not a traditional online media campaign."

"The idea of content integration

A 'Feature by Sony' in a National Geographic Web site news template. A National Geographic has always included an additional small line in the upper right hand corner of the page that says "A feature by Sony Advertising Series."
Click to see larger image.

is not necessarily revolutionary," Mr. Cohen said, "but the level to which we are taking it is unheard of -- we're customizing articles to the particular publisher."

$10 million plan
The Park Ridge, N.J., electronics unit of Sony Corp. will spend an estimated $10 million over nine months on the interactive effort, its largest Web media spend ever. In doing so, Sony has purchased Web real estate for roughly 60 stories on up to 40 content properties including AOL Time Warner's America Online and sibling Time Inc. sites, various Yahoo! channels and niche publications.

Lifestyle vignettes
The lifestyle vignettes will appear in some cases on the home pages of the Web sites, but also deeper within the sites depending on the habit of each venue's readership.

Sony partnered until last year with Time Custom Publishing to produce the quarterly Sony Style, which had newsstand distribution. But it wanted to improve distribution of the content while also more effectively targeting consumers.

Denise White, the Sony project's editorial director, said, "The strategy was

reader-based: Go where people ... seek out information about their lifestyle and passions."

New marketing approach
With Sony's shift this year to a consumer-segment-based marketing approach, the company identified six different consumer targets: Alphas (early adopters and technology influencers); Gen Y; Families; Young Professionals; Small Office/Home Office; and Zoomers, (ages 55 plus). A multimillion-dollar marketing push due by early fall from WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, will deliver six distinct campaigns.

One "story" targeting Zoomers on details the lifestyle of a retired NASA engineer and his wife as they cross the country in an Airstream camper. The couple shoots digital pictures along the way and shares them via the Internet. Gen Y will be targeted on

Jack Haire, an executive vice president at Time Inc., had no rate card for such a program, but he rallied executives from Time Inc. and AOL to come up with a plan for distributing Sony's content.

'Relevant content'
Mr. Haire doesn't think the editorial content by Sony will confuse readers. "It will be interesting, it's relevant content," he said. Among the sites where the content will run:,, targeting young professionals, and on AOL through MovieFone and AOL Music, targeting Gen Y.

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