Magazines’ Handling of Bode Miller: A Case Study in Athlete Product Placement, Exclusivity
Outside's February issue reveals a staggering amount of non-ad page logos.
Newsweek and Time duel for Miller’s face-time. Newsweek’s editor Mark Whitaker, meanwhile, defends his editor’s note’s "exclusive" claim.
It’s a given that athletes competing in outside, fringe, extreme (skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking and any litany of death-dodging undertakings) sports live by product endorsement deals, but the magazines who profile them are often caught walking an ethical line along the jagged ridge of product placement. To whit: Bode Miller, and the magazines who profile him.
With the Winter Olympics just weeks away, U.S. skier Bode Miller’s recent admission to having raced "wasted" was big news. Several magazines—including Outside, Newsweek and Time—profiled Miller on their covers, and their treatment of both the skier and his endorser, Nike, on their covers and in their pages reveal three approaches to handling an athlete’s own product placement, and access to the athlete himself.
Miller’s chest-flexing Nike jacket placement on Outside magazine’s February issue cover was noticeable, if not unusual. But a look across the newsstand at Time and Newsweek’s treatment of Miller and the Nike logo appear a bit more suspect. Miller appears on Time’s cover striking a similar pose, but the Nike logo is covered up by its cover lines. Time managing editor Jim Kelly says obscuring the logo "wasn’t a conscious thing." Says Kelly: "We wanted a closeup, and the shot we picked, that’s just the way it worked out designwise." Newsweek depicted a bare-chested, snow-befallen Miller clutching a pair of unidentified ski goggles. "If we’re providing clothing for a shoot, we generally try to avoid conspicuous logos," Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker wrote in an e-mail.
Outside’s profile of Miller;and subsequent preview of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy;is teeming with product placements in various photo spreads.
A quick scan of the 112-page magazine reveals a staggering amount of non-ad page product placement:
Nike (its logo appearing 8 times not including a full-page ad featuring Miller on p. 27)
Fischer skis (4)
Red Bull (2)
Spy eyeware (2)
Tommy Hilfiger (2)
Under Armour (2)
Surprisingly, a number of the logos appear on the athlete’s clothing worn during interior profile shots, something Outside presumably had control over. (Many, too, appear in action shots of the athletes during competition.) And that’s not counting the product reviews;featuring such outdoor stalwart brands as Patagonia, The North Face, Cloudveil and Mountain Hardwear.
"Typically, sponsored athletes have an agreement with their sponsor and how they represent their logos," says Josephine Parr, an Outside spokeswoman. "We focus on the athletes themselves and representing them in an artistic way. We can’t control any of the branding requirements they have."
Miller also appears in Newsweek’s opening spread without the Nike logo (the Barilla-logo on his hat only partially visible.) "In this case, the sweatshirt was what Bode showed up in, and we didn’t think it was an issue," Whitaker wrote. "Perhaps if Nike were a big advertiser with lots of ads in the issue, we might have had reservations, but they’re not, so we didn’t see a conflict."
Inside Time, Miller’s Nike affiliation is readily apparent in the feature spread. "My assumption is that athletes have agreements to wear certain things when they do publicity," says Kelly. "It never bothered me one way or the other."
Magazines have appeared to have plenty of access to Miller;both before and after Miller’s now-infamous 60 Minutes interview—but that didn’t stop Whitaker from making a puzzling declaration in his editor’s note: "Knowing that the press-averse alpinist would be the most sought-after athlete of the Games, and that he was refusing to talk to anyone except one TV show and one magazine, [writer] Devin [Gordon] patiently lobbied until the skier agreed to grant an exclusive interview and pose for Newsweek."
"Our understanding was that Bode had only talked to 60 Minutes and Sports Illustrated, so that his talk with us was at least a newsmagazine exclusive," Whitaker wrote in an e-mail to FOLIO:. "It’s unclear from reading Time’s story whether Bode had also agreed to sit down with them we he talked to us (in which case—what a shock!—we were both misled) or if they swooped in after we had talked to him. Obviously, however, if I had known they also had an interview I would not have used the word ‘exclusive.’"