Product-placement debate boils

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Rick Sirvaitis, president-chief operating officer of General Motors Corp.'s media-buying arm GM Mediaworks, told the American Magazine Conference that he was intrigued by the prospect of product-placement in magazine editorial. He told the publishers that he found such prospects "very relevant."

He said product placements in editorial content would have to be done "in the right way," with, as he described, some sensitivity toward readers'perceptions.

Mr. Sirvaitis' remarks were disputed by Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN ABC Sports customer marketing and sales and a former group publisher of Advertising Age. Mr. Erhardt repeatedly questioned the value of product placement in magazines, saying he was "not sure product placement is going to drive sales, just because a vehicle" turns up in a photo shoot.

`not real'

"It does help," Mr. Sirvaitis shot back. He cautioned against intrusiveness, perhaps referring to a moment from the TV show "Alias" in which a character in a parking lot exclaims "Let's take the F-150!"

"Not real," Mr. Erhardt said.

Mr. Erhardt also said the potential for magazines to be wholly sponsored by an advertiser raised thorny questions, such as: Would the advertiser demand editorial control, or at least an early glimpse at the contents?

The remarks from Mr. Sirvaitis, who represents one of the largest advertisers in magazines, was not the only jolt magazine executives received from a mid-morning panel, "Reality Check: What Magazine Ad Sales Can Learn From Other Media."

Some of the panel's most tart comments came from Greg Coleman, a former top executive at Reader's Digest, who is now Yahoo's exec VP-media and sales. In the midst of one discussion about how advertisers find significance in the average prices paid by a magazine's subscribers, Mr. Coleman said, "I've got no problems with people saying, `You're free,"' and thus doubting Yahoo's value.

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