What's Wrong With Putting A Fake Ad In A Newspaper?

from the people-are-too-sensitive dept

Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News (both owned by the same media company) ran full page ads for a "new" airline called Derrie-Air that had a unique selling point: pay what you weigh. Different routes had different prices that were all per pound. The idea was that the lighter you (and your luggage) were, the less you would have to pay. The only thing is that the airline doesn't actually exist (which I assume anyone with a very slight knowledge of the French language could probably figure out from the name of the airline).

So why did the newspapers do this? It was actually as a test, to see how well advertisements in the paper could drive people to a website. The whole thing sounds like a good (and funny) way to test that out. But, of course, any time you trick some people, someone's going to get upset -- and that's exactly what's happening. Suddenly people are charging the company with some sort of ethical lapse for not making it clear the ad was fake. Of course, if they did that, the whole purpose of the ad would have been lost.

Plus, it's difficult to see what the "harm" is. If a few people thought it was real, they would quickly be disabused of that notion, with no harm done. The people complaining that this would somehow make people trust the news in the paper less apparently haven't been paying attention to the various reporting scandals over the past few years. People have plenty of reasons not to trust the news that they read. Seeing a fake (and mildly amusing) ad in a paper isn't going to make them trust the newspapers any less.

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  1. identicon
    Hulser, 12 Jun 2008 @ 10:37am

    Wrong vs. good business practice

    While it may not be morally wrong for a newspaper to host a fake ad, what about the impact on its own business? Specifically, if you are a company looking to advertise, would you want to pay for a spot in a newspaper that is known for "faking out" its readers? If I was running an ad compaign that was a little off-the-wall (but still real), I don't think I'd want to risk there being any confusion in the readers' minds as to whether or not my ad was some kind of prank or research item.

    It's a bit like crying wolf. A newspaper hosts fake ads to the point where someone buys a real ad and the reaction from the readers is "Oh, that must be fake. I'm not even going to bother visiting that web site." Remember, "Today's satire is tomorrow's normal." Just wait until gas prices are even more insane and some airline actually does start charging by the pound. Then ads like this won't seem so silly.

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